Are You Ready For A Tattoo Sleeve?

by Annie Crawford

You're feeling bold, your pockets are flush, and you're ready to rock a gorgeous tattoo sleeve. You have a concept in mind, but you're wondering what part of a tattoo sleeve hurts the most and if it's a commitment you're ready to make.

Tattoos are more prevalent than ever these days. In 2010, Pew Research Center reported that 40% of millennials have a tattoo. Half of that group has two to five tattoos, and 18 percent have six or more. Being that it's five years since that report aired, we can safely infer that the number of tattooed people has continued to rise. The presence of tattoos is far less taboo than it was even five years ago. Mainstream media outlets such as USA Today report on the decrease in job discrimination against people with visible tattoos, where a decade ago their presence might have barred someone from a corporate job.

Not that any of that really matters if you know what you want and how you want it. Tattoos are the ultimate decoration — an outward expression of art that you carry with you always. If you know you want a sleeve tattoo, but are totally unsure of what comes next, I have some answers for you.

Sweet Cicely of Cyclops Tattoo in San Francisco gave me some insights on what it means to get a sleeve tattoo. Here's the scoop on where on the body tattoos hurt most, whether color ink hurts worse than black ink, the kind of commitment a sleeve requires, and other insider intel.

Here are eight things to know before you get your arm tatted up.

Where To Begin?

Sweet Cicely pictured above, dreaming up your next tattoo

Find a tattoo artist that you love. Research social media and get a feel for their style. In my conversation with Sweet Cicely, I learned that tattoo artists appreciate bringing a concept to life. It's not as practical to draw out your vision — square by square on a graph paper — and bring it in to a shop. Be respectful of their aesthetic and if someone's known for doing Japanese motifs, don't go to them for a retro pin-up girl vibe.

Does Color Hurt More Than Black Ink?

There's no difference in the sensation caused by color ink or black ink. The same machine is used, the same type of needle goes into your skin — so any rumors that a rainbow of colors on your arm will hurt more are false. Randomly, I was curious if people tend to tattoo their right arm more than their left arm, but apparently that's not really a thing...just in case you were wondering, too.

Where Does It Hurt The Most?

That's the million dollar question, right? Well, sort of. Sweet Cicely was pretty adamant that every person experiences pain in different ways. There is no hard and fast rule to what hurts the most. The ones that do seem to pop up a lot are the elbow, wrist, and armpit. She says that personally her inner elbow hurts the worst. It's subjective.

If You Can't Stand Pain, Don't Get A Sleeve Tattoo

A full sleeve tattoo is going to take a lot of time spent in a chair with a tattoo gun going into your arm. If you hate needles, have a super low tolerance for pain, or lose your mind if seated for more than 20 minutes — you may want to rethink a sleeve. Start with a small finger tattoo instead.

A Sleeve Is A Big Commitment

Tattoo sleeves take time. A lot of time. There's not really an average, because each one is so unique. But when you think of beautiful, colorful, painting-like explosions of art covering someone's arm, know that hours and hours of work went into that. Like 50+ hours. Intricate projects may take well over 150 hours. This information isn't to deter you, but Sweet Cicely suggested you be sure you're in it before starting the process.

How It Works

There isn't one right way to do a tattoo sleeve. Often, a right-handed artist will start on the lower right-most part of the design and work their way up (vice-versa for lefties). Of course, this is totally subjective cause every artist is different. Often, the entire outline will be done then color and detail filled in over (hopefully not too much) time. Some sleeves can be done bit by bit if they are more of a patchwork design, but if you have something larger — such as a woman that covers your whole arm — it's best to create the entire outline at once for fluidity.

It's Not An Impulse Purchase

This isn't the tattoo you get on a whim and walk out an hour later with a new toy. In addition to the hours in the chair, it's a serious financial commitment. Tattoo artists in San Francisco (which—let's be honest—is a damn expensive city) charge anywhere from $150-$250 an hour. So. About that 50 hour tattoo you had in mind. It ain't gonna come cheap. Or it could, but who wants a discount sleeve on their arm? This is a lifetime investment, so pick an artist you love and save up to get what you really want.

Sweet Cicely recommends saving up several thousand dollars if you're going big. Again, those prices may be different in smaller towns that aren't experiencing insane tech booms. Talk to the person you want to work with. Ask if your budget is realistic. Maybe you can come to a price agreement together.

Have Fun With It

I got all serious and stuff, but honestly, if you're thinking about celebrating your body with art, that's fantastic. Get excited. Dream about it. Think about colors and concepts and research an artist you love. The sky's the limit.

Image: Foundry/Pixabay