How To Make A Tattoo Sleeve Flow

  • Written By Dan Hunter on August 17, 2019
    Last Updated: November 27, 2020

Your mind is made up. You’ve finally decided to take the plunge and get that tattoo sleeve you’ve wanted for so long. It’s a big decision, and you’ll want to ensure it looks great. But how do you make it flow?

With these tips, you can ensure you get the look and feel of your sleeve perfectly matched up to how you have it mapped out inside your head.

Here’s how to make a tattoo sleeve flow and look good:

  • Don’t use too many different designs
  • Stick to vertical images
  • Use flat areas effectively
  • Recognize inner and outer areas
  • Know your arm shape and design accordingly
  • Keep a balance
  • Be unique

A sleeve is a large tattoo or a compilation of smaller tattoos that cover the majority — or the entirety — of a person’s arm. The most distinguishing feature of a sleeve tattoo is that the entire design is of the same theme. The tattoos will be intertwined. 

It’s not classed as a sleeve if the arm is covered in separate style tattoos.

A perfect example of a sleeve tattoo

Types of Sleeve

Tattoo sleeves come in a variety of sizes:

  • Full: A full sleeve covers the entire arm
  • Half: This covers half of a person’s arm, and can be the upper or lower arm
  • Quarter: A quarter sleeve covers… well, you get the idea
  • Japanese: There’s also a Japanese-style sleeve called a Hikae, which includes the chest area as well

Getting Started on Your Sleeve Design

Choosing a sleeve design is a very personal experience and allows for the freedom of creativity. It’s a way to express oneself through artwork, and, for many, requires a significant amount of planning.

Think about the theme and the design and discuss this thoroughly with your tattoo artist. It’s a big decision, so plan properly to make sure you’ll be happy with the result. Here are some pointers for planning your sleeve tattoo.

Pick a Tattoo Artist Carefully 

This is probably the most important part of the planning process. Each tattoo artist has a unique style. This means no two artists will draw your design in the same way. Pick an artist whose style you like and then discuss your ideas with them. 

Research Different Styles 

Sometimes an artist will have more experience with a certain style. Perhaps you want something realistic? Maybe you’re more interested in vibrant watercolors? Research different tattoo styles to find something you like. You can then find an artist who has experience in the style you’ve chosen. 

Consider the Color Scheme 

You need to think about what colors will look best on your sleeve. When deciding this, it’s important to consider the design you’ve chosen and your skin tone. If you’re mixing colors, make sure they match together and look good.

Choose a Theme

Think about your interests and try to decide on a theme that’ll display this. It’s a personal choice, so a theme can be anything you want. Let your imagination run wild and have some fun. 

Decide on Some Motifs

A motif is a recurring idea appearing throughout a work of art. Try to think about what you want your sleeve to represent, for example, love or loss.

Top Tips for a Great Tattoo Sleeve

Search for Vertical, Not Horizontal, Images

Your arm spends most of the time in a vertical position; therefore, vertical images will match better in a sleeve design.

Less Is More

You can’t contain your excitement and are bursting from head to toe with ideas. You want to include everything in your design! We know that feeling but slow down there. If you put too many ideas into your sleeve, it could end up looking messy and confusing. 

You could always start with adding a few tattoo sections to your arm first, and connect them into a full sleeve at a later date.

Identify Flat Spaces

Your arm has four flat areas — the inner forearm, outer forearm, inner bicep and outer arm. These places are ideal for the more intricate designs you want on your tattoo. Anything drawn in these areas will be highly noticeable. 

It’s not mandatory to use all of these areas, though. Sometimes you can just use neutral colors to make the sleeve flow better. 

Inner and Outer

Any designs you choose to have on your outer forearm and outer arm will be very noticeable. This part of you will be on display most of the time. In contrast, your inner forearm and bicep are more hidden. 

Think about which designs you want everyone to see, and these can go on the outside of your arm. Any designs you would rather keep more private can go on the inside.

Work With Your Body

You’ve probably noticed that your arm isn’t flat. Unlike the paper your design is drawn on, your arm is contoured. Your tattoo artist will ensure the tattoo is drawn on your arm in such a way that it follows your shape. Remember this when you’re designing your tattoo. By working with your body, your sleeve will flow elegantly along your arm.


Avoid too much of one concept when designing your sleeve. For example, too many dark colors can make your tattoo dull and uninteresting. However, if you only use bright colors, it could look like a 7-year-old used your arm as a coloring book. Obviously, this isn’t the case with every sleeve tattoo.

It’s important to keep a balance between dark and light colors and complicated and simple patterns. 

Be Unique 

Sometimes trawling through tattoo designs on the internet can be overwhelming. You might start to get confused as to what you want.

Think about what your tattoo will convey and talk to a tattoo artist on how to achieve this. They might trigger something in your mind that will end up as the perfect sleeve design for you. Getting stuck in your head, so try and bounce ideas off the professionals.

Designing Your Perfect Sleeve

There are many do’s and don’ts when it comes to making a tattoo sleeve look good. Consider styles, colors, contrasts and the shape of your arm. Most importantly, a sleeve is a great way to express yourself. It can represent your interests and emotions. Let your personality shine through to create your very own masterpiece.

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.​

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