Tattoo Journey: Building a Tattoo Sleeve Piece By Piece

Published November 30, 2023
By Celebrity Ink

Tattoos have existed for thousands of years, and while there used to be a strong stigma surrounding them, they have become more popular and accepted over the years.

Not only are tattoos a great form of self-expression, but they’re also a creative way of telling stories. And one style stands out amongst the rest as an intricate masterpiece: the tattoo sleeve.

Building a tattoo sleeve piece by piece is an artistic journey that transforms the body into a living work of art. Each element, from the tiniest symbol to the most elaborate motif, contributes to a larger narrative, crafting a captivating story that unfolds with each new addition.

If you’re thinking about getting a tattoo sleeve but don’t know where to begin, this step-by-step guide has everything you need to know to start building your tattoo sleeve piece by piece.

Where To Start

So, how do you design a sleeve tattoo? Before you can start, you must know the different types.

There are three main types of tattoo sleeves, including

  • Full sleeve: From the shoulder to the wrist
  • Three-quarter sleeve: From the shoulder to halfway down the forearm
  • Half sleeve: From the shoulder to the elbow

Style and Colour

When it comes to tattoo sleeves, you want them to flow. So, whether you’re getting several big tribal pieces or a range of smaller traditional pieces, sticking to a single tattoo style is beneficial for designing a sleeve that makes sense as an overall piece.

Some of the most popular tattoo styles include traditional, realism, tribal, watercolour and oriental.

The colours incorporated in your design will depend on the style you choose. For example, you won’t be adding bright colours to a tribal design, nor would you use watercolours for realistic portrait designs.


Tattoo sleeves are all about being cohesive and telling a story (unless it’s a patchwork sleeve), so sticking to one or two themes is best. If you already have some oriental tattoos and want a sleeve, adding watercolour designs of Disney characters may look odd and not fit well.

When planning the design of your sleeve, you want to have tattoos that fit well together like a jigsaw puzzle.

Common themes for tattoo sleeves include

  • Vikings
  • Animals
  • Loved ones
  • Flowers
  • Heritage

However, any topic or idea you come up with can be a theme for your sleeve. For example, if you want to pay homage to your favourite movie, creating a tattoo sleeve with a range of different tattoos of the characters and motifs from the film is an idea. So is a tattoo sleeve dedicated to your family, including tattoos of their names, important dates and favourite things.

Where to Get the First Piece

While it may seem like you’ll get your sleeve tattooed in one go, often, it takes more than one session. Because of that, you’ll need to know where you’d like to get your first piece tattooed.

When tattooing sleeves, the general rule of thumb is that you start from the top and work your way down or vice versa. It’s also a good idea to start with the larger pieces and tattoo the smaller motifs afterwards.

Filling The Gaps & Smaller Spaces

A lot of the time, once the main design of your sleeve has been tattooed, some gaps and spaces need to be filled in, which is important to consider when designing your sleeve.

Often, the gaps and spaces to be filled are quite awkward or oddly shaped, so it’s a good idea to think of some unique designs you can use to fill the gaps.

If you can’t think of anything specific when it comes to filling in the gaps, some common designs for tattoo sleeve space fillers include

  • Dates
  • Flowers
  • Stars
  • Waves
  • Shading

One Artist Vs. Multiple

When building a tattoo sleeve piece by piece, one question is at the forefront of the mind: “One tattoo artist or multiple?”

Every tattoo artist has a different style, which is important to keep in mind when planning your sleeve tattoo.

If you have a cohesive design for a full-sleeve tattoo, it’s best to stick with one tattoo artist so the entire arm looks the same.

However, if you’re going for a patchwork-style sleeve, then having multiple artists is fine. Also, if you’ve already got multiple small tattoos on your arm from a range of different artists, you can continue doing so until your sleeve is complete. Many people love the idea of having different artists working on their arms to create a unique and quirky tattoo sleeve.

How Long Does A Sleeve Take?

As mentioned earlier, when going into the tattoo studio to get your sleeve, don’t expect it to be done in one session.

Depending on the type of sleeve you’re getting and the amount of detail required, your sleeve could take anywhere from 12 to 20 hours to complete. Sometimes, for really detailed pieces of art, people have sat in the studio chair for 40 hours over multiple sessions.

The reason why tattoo sleeves are broken up into multiple sessions is that it gives both you and the tattoo artist the time to take a break and manage your pain levels. The space between sessions also depends on how fast you heal. For example, most intervals between sessions are two weeks, but if you’re a slow healer, it could be longer.

Sleeve Tattoo Aftercare

To encourage positive healing between sessions and once your sleeve tattoo is complete, here are some aftercare instructions to follow:

  • For the first two days, gently cleanse your tattoo with an antibacterial cleanser and lukewarm water, and pat it dry with a clean towel
  • Apply aftercare balm twice a day for two weeks
  • Avoid sun exposure for two weeks
  • Avoid swimming in the ocean and pools of water, baths, saunas and spas for two weeks

Design Your Tattoo Sleeve With Celebrity Ink

Whether it be full, three-quarters or half, tattoo sleeves are a great way to represent your individuality or something of importance to you.

At Celebrity Ink, we understand the importance of each tattoo, and our artists strive to create incredible art that conveys the story you want to tell.

The first step towards building a tattoo sleeve piece by piece is booking your initial free design consultation. During this appointment, you’ll discuss your ideas, designs and requirements with a studio manager before finding the perfect tattoo artist to craft your sleeve.

Book an appointment at your nearest Celebrity Ink studio to let us help you design, plan and execute the tattoo sleeve you’ve always wanted.

Get your next tattoo at Celebrity Ink

The team at Celebrity Ink can provide you with not only a tattoo that tells your story but also detailed aftercare information that goes beyond the question of how long does a tattoo take to heal.

Our team sets standards in tattoo design while working alongside you to bring your vision to life. Whether you’re seeking traditional tattoos, realistic designs, mandalas, or any other, we have artists specialising in a range of tattoo styles that can provide you with the tattoo you have envisioned.

Book a consultation to discuss your tattoo design, get in contact with the crew at Celebrity Ink, and we will lock you in for your next ink session.
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