How Long Does It Take To Get A Tattoo?

If you’re getting a small star, a discreet heart, or a single word tattooed on you, you’ll probably be in and out of the tattoo shop in the same afternoon.

Yet, what if you wanted a full-sleeve or an elaborate design that covers your entire back? How long will you have to spend in the chair to get one of those?

Take a look below to see what factors can affect how long a tattoo takes to complete.

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How Long Does It Take To Get A 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 a brick. 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 50 hours in the chair to complete, and it’s not unusual for full sleeve tattoos to take a year to finish due to artist/customer schedule restraints.

Location

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 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 a very long time.

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.

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Color

The fastest tattoos are those that have only a single color. The more colors a tattoo uses, the longer it will take to finish. There’s a simple reason for this: 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 multiple times over the course of a session, it can become time-consuming.

Detail

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.

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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 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 wrap 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 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 artist will probably limit you to shorter sessions.

Every artist has their own methods and implementations when it comes to session times, however.

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-to-three-hour sessions every few weeks. If that’s the case, even a six-hour tattoo could end up taking months to complete.

Your artist might also travel frequently to attend conventions, workshops, and other events, which could 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 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 your sessions out accordingly.

How Long Do Tattoos Take

Summary

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.

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