How Long Does It Take To Get A Tattoo?

Have you ever wondered how long the tattoo you've always wanted will take from start to finish? 

If you’re getting a small star, a discreet heart, or a single word tattooed on you, you were probably in and out of the tattoo parlor in the same afternoon. Yet what if you wanted a full sleeve or an elaborate design that covered your entire back, how long would you have to spend in the chair to get one of those?

Tattoos that require multiple sessions are not unheard of, so many people worry that the large or intricate tattoo they’d like to get is going to take a lot of time to complete. If you’re in that category, this article is for you. We put together a list of the six factors that have the biggest effect on how long it takes to complete a tattoo. By considering these variables, you will be able to better estimate how many sessions you will need for the tattoo you’re dreaming of getting.


How Long Does It Take To Get A Tattoo


Unsurprisingly, size is by far the biggest factor. Even a detailed and colorful tattoo can be finished in a short session if it’s only the size of a quarter. Likewise, you can’t expect to get a full sleeve or a large back tattoo done quickly, even if it’s a fairly simple design.

Larger tattoos can take up to 20 hours in the chair to complete, and it’s not unusual for full sleeve tattoos to take a year to finish.


Where you want your tattoo will also affect how long it takes to complete it.

The body isn’t uniformly smooth. We have bones creating ridges and humps under our skin, and some areas of our skin might be tighter than others. All of this affects how easy or difficult it is to apply the tattoo. Your elbow, for instance, can be a bit of a challenge, given how much the skin moves when flexing, how the bone at your joint prevents it from smoothing out into a flat surface, and how difficult it might be to hold it in a particular position for very long.

Your comfort also comes into play. Sitting or reclining in a chair for an extended period of time might not be so bad, but hunching forward while your tattoo artist inks your back might be something you can only put up with for a couple of hours at a time.

Some areas are also more susceptible to pain, like the knee or the ribcage. Getting tattooed in a painful location might force you to keep the sessions a bit shorter.


The fastest tattoos are those that have only a single color. The more colors a tattoo uses, the longer it will take to finish. And there’s a simple reason for that: each time your tattoo artist switches to a different color, they have to clean out the tattoo machine to make sure that none of the pigments from the previous color mix with the new one they’re applying. If they have to do this several times over the course of a session, it can become quite time-consuming.


Tattoo artists can put some very detailed work into a tattoo, but it will take time.

Drawing a simple, cartoony image can be done quickly, with a few well-placed flourishes speeding things along. Nevertheless, that’s not the case with an intricate image and it’s not just because all those small details require the tattoo artist to apply more ink; it’s because they involve small, precise movements that can’t be rushed.

Pain Threshold

Tattoo sessions can last anywhere from an hour to an entire workday. Many tattoo artists will bring their customers in for four- or five-hour sessions, but some will even power through and tattoo you for seven or eight hours at a time.

This is where your personal pain threshold comes into play. If you have a hard time tolerating the pain that comes with getting tattooed, then an eight-hour session would be tantamount to torture. If that’s the case for you, your tattoo artist will likely decide to keep the sessions short, which could prolong the process. A tattoo that takes eight hours might be completed over the course of three or four sessions if you don’t have a strong tolerance for pain.

Of course, your pain tolerance probably won’t affect how long it takes to do the actual tattooing, only how many days it will take before the tattoo is complete. It could also increase the total amount of time you spend in the studio, since the tattoo artist will have to set up their equipment and then cover your tattoo before and after each session. Those aren’t very time-consuming activities, but over the course of half-a-dozen sessions, it can start to add up.

If the tattoo you’re planning is your first, your tattoo artist probably won’t book you for full-day sessions. Those full-day sessions are real endurance tests, so unless you already have experience with tattoos and know how much you can withstand, your tattoo artist will probably limit you to three- or four-hour sessions.

Artist and Customer Availability

When estimating how long it will take to complete a tattoo, people often forget to factor in the tattoo artist’s availability.

Tattoo artists usually leave two weeks or so between each session, but only if they’re not too busy. If you’re working with a tattoo artist who is in high demand, they might only be able to squeeze you in for two- or three-hour sessions every few weeks. If that’s the case, even a six-hour tattoo could end up taking two months to complete.

Your tattoo artist might also travel frequently to attend conventions, workshops, and other events, which could also lengthen the time between sessions.

Conversely, if your tattoo artist has a lot of room in their schedule, they might be able to book your sessions closer together, so even a ten-hour tattoo that will take two sessions could be finished within two weeks.

Your tattoo artist will also be able to accommodate restrictions on your schedule. If you can only sit for sessions after you finish work, or you have children to care for and can’t be away from the home for more than three or four hours at a time, let your tattoo artist know and they might be able to space out your sessions accordingly.

How Long Do Tattoos Take


How many sessions you’ll need to complete a tattoo varies significantly based on a number of factors. How large, elaborate, and colorful the tattoo is makes a big difference, but so do more mundane things like how much room your tattoo artist has in their schedule.

Plus of course, you’ll also need to factor in the time it takes for the tattoo to heal. It might not be time spent in the tattoo studio, but it does require some care and attention to make sure your skin heals properly. It’s also during the healing process that many imperfections in the tattoo will start to show up, so it might require you to visit your tattoo artist once more to have them touch it up.

As you can see from all these different variables, there’s no easy answer to how long it takes to complete a tattoo. Although now that you have a better idea of how long tattoos take in general, you’ll be able to decide for yourself whether that tattoo you’ve been planning to get is worth the time.

Thinking Of Getting A New Tattoo?

Thinking Of Getting A New Tattoo?

REMEMBER - Tattoo aftercare is extremely important, and a good quality lotion is vital to ensure fast and proper healing of your new tattoo.

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