A full sleeve tattoo requires approximately 25 to 35 hours of tattoo work. The time necessary for completion is highly variable based upon the tattoo artist, the intricacy of the tattoo, the pain threshold of the person receiving the tattoo and the cost of the piece.
Because tattoos are artwork using the skin as canvas and a full sleeve is difficult to hide or remove, it is necessary to spend a significant amount of time selecting an artist and designing the sleeve to ensure satisfaction with the end result. This time is in addition to the hours actually spent in the chair being tattooed.
It is not possible to finish a full sleeve tattoo in a single sitting, even when the entire design is decided. The pain involved limits the number of tattoo hours per day, particularly when the design incorporates color, which is inserted with a wider gauge needle than used in line work or with black or grey. The tattoo artist places a limit on the number of hours worked per day as well.
Multiple sessions with some amount of healing time between them are required to complete a full sleeve. Payments are generally made at the end of each session, breaking the cost of the tattoo down into increments. Appointments can be scheduled as the funds are available rather than as the body is able to withstand another session.