How Long Does A Full Sleeve Tattoo Take?

by Annie Crawford

The idea of a full sleeve tattoo has been tantalizing you for years. You’ve saved up your dough, you have a concept in mind, and now you want to know how long does a full sleeve tattoo take ? Brett Baumgart at Premium Tattoo took some time out of his day to give me the skinny on full sleeve tattoos.

The amount of time to have a full sleeve tattooed on your arm is wildly subjective. The process — much like the outcome itself — is subject to so many variables. Factors to consider include the speed of the tattoo artist, the design, your personal healing time, and more.

The main factor involved in how long your booty will be in that chair is the complexity of your concept. A full sleeve featuring traditional Western-American sailor style tattoo artwork (think seafaring vessels, pin-up gals, and broken sailor’s hearts) may take as little as 10-15 hours, whereas a photo realistic tattoo like the kind Baumgart specializes in can take up to 80 hours and often more.

Here are the answers to all your burning questions about what to expect before you saddle up for a ride, how to prepare for your first sleeve tattoo session, and all the insider details to get you ready.

Does Color Work Take Longer Than Black & White?

Not necessarily. There are some techniques of blending inks to get variations of grey that can be time consuming. A black and white tattoo can be rich with shades and nuances. If you want simple outlines as opposed to intricate detail and filled in color, your time will be shorter. Baumgart stressed that "the most time-consuming part of any tattoo is the aftercare." It lasts weeks (sometimes more) after each tattoo session.

How Long Does A Full Sleeve Tattoo Take?

What I'm learning is that full sleeve tattoos (usually) don't come quick. They involve a multi-session process that really depends on the intricacy of your design. They take weeks, months, even years to be completed—depending on your budget, the detail of your vision, and how quickly your body heals between sessions.

How Long Do Tattoo Sessions Last?

The longest Baumgart has ever tattooed someone was over a 16 hour session lasting from 8pm to 12pm the next day. That is not the norm, don't worry! To date, his longest project was an 80 hour full sleeve tattoo inspired by the woman's favorite horror movies. As far as how long sessions usually last, he says it's really up to you and your body. Some people aren't able to keep still that long, others only have a set amount of time. It's flexible for what works for you.

How Often Are The Tattoo Sessions?

This really depends on how diligent you are about aftercare and how your immune system reacts to getting tattooed. An average time between sessions is two weeks. I didn't realize that a tattoo is essentially an open wound that needs tender loving care. He said a tattoo artist can't really tattoo next to skin that is still raw and healing.

What Is Tattoo Aftercare?

Eliza Florendo wrote the things you should know when caring for your new ink that can help you on your way to a healthy recovery. Basically, you need to baby the heck out of your new tattoo. Baumgart really recommends doing all your laundry before coming in for a session. Sheets, pillow cases, clothes...your tattoo is ripe for infection and you want to avoid any possible source of germs.

What's The Best Way to Prep For A Session?

Come on a full stomach! You may be there for hours, and you want your body to be strong and energized. Avoid cocktails beforehand. Be hydrated (and not intoxicated). And wear those clean clothes you just washed.

If you're ready to commit to a full sleeve tattoo, the first step is to find a tattoo artist you love. Set up a consultation and discuss the possibilities. The sky's the limit.

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