How to Connect Tattoos Into a Sleeve

  • Written By Dan Hunter on November 6, 2020
    Last Updated: November 10, 2020

Tattoo sleeves are intricate, time-consuming, and expensive. To get the most bang for your buck, you’ll want to find an artist whose style suits your taste perfectly. A sleeve is a big commitment whether you’re starting from scratch, or you’re trying to figure out how to connect tattoos into a sleeve. 

Connecting your tattoos so they form a cohesive sleeve depends on the size and location of your tattoos. If they’re small and in relatively concealed spots, such as the crook of your elbow or the underside of your wrist, your tattoo artist will have an easier time incorporating them. More extensive, bolder pieces can be more challenging to incorporate into a sleeve unless a similar style is used throughout. 


Choose Your Artist Wisely

When you’re preparing to get a tattoo as time-consuming and detailed as a sleeve, you want to make absolutely certain you’ve found the perfect artist. With the help of websites like Instagram and Yelp, you can easily find artists in your area who tattoo in your preferred style. It’s best to choose a tattoo artist who’s worked on sleeves before, especially if you’re trying to connect existing designs. 

An experienced artist has the background needed to merge your tattoos into a cohesive sleeve. Your tattooist can achieve a unified style in several ways, such as using a complementary color scheme in the background or adding similar design elements like clouds, flames, or flowers. 

If you prefer sleeves with more negative space, your artist can use the same style to give your sleeve a cohesive feel. For example, if you have a single traditional Americana piece on your forearm, your artist may continue in the same style. This will give your sleeve the appearance of a single, well thought out design rather than a patchwork quilt of tattoos in different styles. 

Consider the Design

Before you begin, you should have a general idea of what you want out of your sleeve. Are you planning to incorporate your tattoos into a full sleeve? Do you want a half sleeve? Are you looking to connect your existing tattoos with similar transition elements, or do you want the entire sleeve to have a theme? 

This is an excellent time to put together a mood board for your sleeve. If you want your sleeve to have a theme, research designs connected to it and collect inspiration to share with your tattoo artist. Keep in mind that you don’t have to bring in photos of tattoos as your only source of inspiration. Love a photo of vibrant red leaves on a tree? The color can serve as an inspiration piece. 

Have fun and indulge your creative side while you’re doing your research. Tattoos are forever, so you want to make sure you have the perfect sleeve to suit your style. Once you have a general idea of what you want, you can get more specific. 

Let’s say you have a tattoo of a butterfly on your wrist; you can go for a nature theme with trees and flowers. During your research, you may discover that you prefer a more fanciful theme that incorporates fairies, dragons, and other fantastic creatures.

Choose a Transition Theme

Transitions are essential when it comes to connecting your existing tattoos into a cohesive sleeve. Some of the most commonly used transitions are leaves, patterns, flowers, clouds, water, and smoke. 

In addition to lending cohesion to a sleeve, transitions help to fill in negative space, which can make some sleeves feel unfinished. Most tattoo artists freehand their transitions, meaning it’s vitally important for you to find a trustworthy and talented artist. Book a consultation with your artist so you can plan out your sleeve and look over their portfolio to get a better feel for their transitions. 

Your artist may sketch up the design and transfer it directly onto your skin, but some prefer to work without a transfer when incorporating existing tattoos into a sleeve. By working directly on the skin, skilled artists are better able to study the curvature of your arm. 

Tattooists like to place the most impactful portion of the sleeve on the most visible portion of the arm, and working freehand allows them to ensure your tattoo flows with the lines of your body rather than looking like it was slapped haphazardly on the skin.

Black and Gray or Color?

The color scheme of your sleeve largely depends on the color of your existing tattoos. If your tattoos are black and gray, continuing with the theme will instantly lend cohesion to your sleeve, but your tattooist can also add colorful details for visual interest and contrast. On the other hand, if your existing tattoos are vibrant, adding solid blackwork can feel disjointed, so continuing to work in color is probably your best bet.

You’ll also want to take the style of your existing tattoos into account. If your tattoos consist of hard lines and blocks of color, incorporating gentle transitions may not work as well as using bold colors and solid patterns. Your tattooist is a professional, so they can advise you on the best way to tie your sleeve together.

Where Do You Work?

Due to outdated, negative stereotypes about tattoos, some jobs have policies forbidding their employees from having visible tattoos. If your place of business has such a policy, you may want to rethink getting a full sleeve. The alternative is wearing long sleeves all year round, which may not work for you if you live in a hot climate. 

Suppose your employer doesn’t have any issues with visible tattoos. In that case, you’re free to do as you please without resigning yourself to spending the rest of your time with that company tugging at your shirtsleeves to make sure your tattoos are adequately covered. 
Looking for a job? While some employers may be less likely to hire someone with tattoos, things are changing. Unless your tattoos are offensive, you shouldn’t worry too much about your ink impacting your chances of getting a job. According to the Harvard Business Review, having tattoos doesn’t hurt your prospects.

Final Thoughts

Getting a tattoo sleeve requires thoughtful planning, time, and money. If you want to ensure you get a sleeve that will suit you perfectly, you need to find an artist who can merge your existing tattoos into a stunning, cohesive piece. 

Make sure you book a consultation, gather plenty of inspiration, and allow your tattoo artist to make suggestions. Getting a sleeve is an intricate and time-consuming process, but if you’ve covered your bases in advance, you’ll ultimately be thrilled with the result.

When you eventually go ahead with getting your dream tattoo, it’s imperative that you always follow your tattoo artist’s aftercare advice closely, and be sure to invest in a high-quality tattoo healing lotion to aid recovery.

The best tattoo lotion I’ve ever personally used is a vegan-friendly aftercare product called After Inked Tattoo Aftercare Lotion. This stuff works amazingly well during the healing process; not only by keeping your tattoo really well hydrated, but also by soothing any annoying itching and irritation. When using it from the very start of the healing process, this lotion will help to decrease tattoo healing times, and work towards eliminating any lingering dryness and scabbing.