How Long Do Tattoos Take To Complete?

  • Written By Dan Hunter on November 15, 2019
    Last Updated: January 19, 2021

If you’re getting a small star or a single word tattooed on you, you’ll probably be in and out of the tattoo shop in one or two hours. However, large and very detailed tattoos can take upwards of 60 hours over multiple sessions.

Take a look below to see all of the factors that can affect how long your chosen tattoo design is likely going to take.

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. You better ensure you ate appropriately before your session, because you may be at the shop for a while.

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 schedule constraints. Small tattoos, however, can take as little as an hour to finish, and still turn out great depending on the artist.

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 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 professional 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. 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.

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, and take greater care will be required throughout the sitting.

Tattoo Detail

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

Drawing a simple, flash design 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.

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, meaning that the artist is going to want slow right down throughout the sitting to ensure everything is being drawn out 100% perfectly.

Tattoo Familiarity

Throughout the career of a tattoo artist, they are going to come up against certain themes 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 subjects onto the skin efficiently, they will be able to work through these designs much more quickly. 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, many times.

However, if a tattooist comes up against a subject they have yet to draw, they are going to want to tattoo much more slowly as they familiarise themselves with how the design flows 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 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. These 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 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 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 they have 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 studio know and they might be able to space your sessions out accordingly.


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.