How Long Does It Take To Get a Tattoo?

  • Written By Dan Hunter on May 6, 2023
    Last Updated: May 10, 2023

Picture yourself walking into a tattoo shop, ready to adorn your skin with a dainty star or a provocative word – you’ll be in and out in the blink of an eye. But what if your vision entails an intricate, sprawling masterpiece? The tattooing journey could span a staggering 60 hours or more, spread across numerous sessions.

Let’s delve into the factors determining just how long it takes to bring your chosen tattoo design to life.

Tattoo Size

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 an orange. However, you can’t expect to get a full sleeve or a large back tattoo done quickly, even if it’s a fairly simple design. Make sure you’re well-nourished before your session, as your time at the tattoo shop might stretch longer than anticipated.

Larger tattoos can take up to 50, or even 60 hours in the chair to complete, and it’s not unusual for full-sleeve tattoos to take a year to finish due to schedule constraints and conflicts between you and your artist’s calendars. Small tattoos, when placed in the skilled hands of an adept artist, can be completed in as little as an hour and still yield stunning results.

Tattoo Placement

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

The body isn’t uniformly smooth. We have bones creating ridges and bumps 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 extended periods of time.

Your comfort also comes into play. Sitting or reclining in a chair for long stretches of time might not be so bad, but hunching forward while your tattoo professional inks your back might be something you can only put up with for a couple of hours in one sitting.

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


The fastest tattoos are those that have only a single color. The more colors a tattoo incorporates, the longer it will take to finish. There is a simple reason why: each time your tattoo artist switches to a different color, they have to clean out the tattoo machine to ensure that none of the pigments from the previous color mix with the new one they’re applying. If they have to do this multiple times over the course of a session, it can become a time-consuming practice.

Of course, as you get onto specialty tattoos like white ink and glow in the dark ones, the session time is going to shoot up as these techniques and colors are harder to work with. Greater care will also be required throughout the sitting to get these complex tattoos finished correctly.

Tattoo Detail

Talented tattoo artists can add extreme detail to a tattoo, but it will take time.

Drawing a simple, flash design can be done quickly, but this is not the case with an intricate tattoo. It’s not just because all of those small details require the tattoo artist to apply more ink; it’s because they involve small, precise movements that cannot be rushed.

Portrait tattoos are notorious for taking a long time to complete, as are pattern/geometric ones. One tiny mistake can have a huge impact on the outcome of the entire tattoo. The tattoo artist is going to want to slow their work right down to ensure everything is drawn out completely perfectly.

Tattoo Familiarity

Throughout the career of a tattoo artist, certain designs and themes will arise time and time again. Very popular tattoo subjects include skulls, roses, eyes and clouds, among many others.

As artists get more accustomed to what it takes to draw these designs onto the skin, they will be able to speed up their process while retaining their quality. Likewise, if you choose a design from the wall of the studio waiting room, or out of the shop’s design book, you can bet your tattooist is going to blast through the sitting as they have likely drawn the same design many times before.

However, if a tattooist comes up against a new or unfamiliar design, they are going to want to tattoo much more slowly as they familiarize themselves with how the design should flow across the chosen body part. This can add hours to a long session.

Pain Threshold

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

This is where your personal pain threshold comes into play. If you have difficulty tolerating the pain of getting tattooed, 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 wrap your ink at every session. These aren’t very time-consuming activities, but over the course of half-a-dozen sessions, they can start to add up.

If the tattoo you’re planning is your first, your artist probably won’t book you in for a full day. These long sessions are real endurance tests, so unless you already have experience with tattoos and know how much you can withstand, your artist will probably limit you to shorter sittings.

However, all artists have their own methods and implementations when it comes to session times, so don’t take this advice as gospel.

Artist and Customer Availability

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

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

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

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

Your tattoo artist should be able to accommodate restrictions to your schedule. If you can only sit for sessions after you finish work, or if 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 studio know. They might be able to space your sessions out accordingly.

How Do I Know if a Tattoo Artist Is Taking Too Long to Complete My Tattoo?

Determining if a tattoo artist is taking longer than necessary to complete your tattoo can be subjective. However, you can consider factors such as the complexity of the design, the size, and the artist’s experience to gauge whether the time spent is reasonable. Researching similar tattoos and their completion times can also provide insight. If you have concerns, communicate openly with your artist to better understand the process and ensure you’re on the same page.

Is It Possible to Have Multiple Tattoo Artists Work on the Same Tattoo?

Yes, it is possible to have multiple tattoo artists collaborate on the same piece. This approach can be particularly beneficial for large or complex tattoos, as different artists may specialize in various styles or techniques. However, it’s crucial to ensure that all artists involved have a clear understanding of the design, as well as a shared vision for the final result. Open communication and planning between artists and the client are key to achieving a cohesive and harmonious tattoo.


How long it takes to get 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, 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 tattoo aftercare does require care, attention and time to make sure your skin heals properly.

Lastly, various flaws in the tattoo can show during the healing process, so you may be required to pay your tattoo artist one last visit so they can touch up the imperfect areas.

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 (I’m sure it will be.)

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