It goes without saying that any tattoo is a major commitment. However, because of both their size and placement, sleeve tattoos can feel particularly momentous. It makes sense then that getting one isn’t just a physical undertaking but a financial one too.
How much does a sleeve tattoo cost though? Of course, every single sleeve tattoo doesn’t come with the same sticker price. “Since I moved to New York in 2013, I’ve seen people pay $900 to $65,000 for a sleeve,” Burak Moreno, tattoo artist and co-owner of Fleur Noire Tattoo Parlour in Brooklyn tells Inside Out. “It’s really very open.” The cost of a sleeve tattoo cannot be determined by one single thing. It depends on the client’s choice of design, the artist doing the tattoo, and the tattoo’s exact size. In other words, there’s a lot to break down. Here, Moreno helps us make sense of all the possible factors in a sleeve tattoo’s final price.
It depends on which artist you book.
In the same way every sleeve tattoo is different, so too is every artist’s individual hourly rate. In New York alone, Moreno says you could find someone who tattoos for $150 an hour or someone who does it for $650 an hour. He explains that it mainly depends on their popularity, rather than the quality of their work, but your average artist will likely charge between $200 and $250 per hour.
The bigger and more intricate the design, the pricier the tattoo.
A half sleeve will naturally cost less than a full sleeve, simply by merit of it being bigger and therefore taking longer to finish — but that isn’t the only way your desired design will affect what you end up paying. Moreno says a relatively simple design will cost less than, say, a highly detailed design that incorporates portraiture or a similarly complex style. And your choice of colors will have an impact on the sleeve’s cost too. “A full-color sleeve would cost double or triple that of a black and grey [sleeve],” Moreno says.
But time is the key factor.
How much does a sleeve tattoo cost? Time’s another factor and it boils down to how much time you’re asking your artist to commit. The bigger, more complex, or more colorful the piece is, the longer it will take for them to finish it — and the more they will likely charge you for it. That old adage that “time is money” really does apply to the tattoo industry. For example, Moreno says he charges about $250 per hour and, by his estimate, a simple line work design with little to no detail would probably take two or three hours while a highly detailed, color-realistic tattoo could take over 25 hours in total. Regardless of your artist’s exact rate and how quickly they work, it makes sense that the latter would cost more than the former. Or, as Moreno puts it, “a sleeve should be charged by hour to be fair to both sides.”
No matter the cost, don’t try to cut corners.
Moreno stresses that you shouldn’t turn your decision to get a sleeve tattoo into an adventure in bargain hunting. Don’t choose an artist based solely on their rate and don’t simplify your dream design in the name of cutting the cost. “Spend some time to see what kind of design you really want and, after that, find the artist who [works in] the most similar style,” he explains, adding that you shouldn’t give up hope if you do your research only to find that a sleeve is beyond your budget at the moment. “If you can’t afford that sleeve, don’t get it. Wait until you can,” Moreno says. “A sleeve is not a necessity, it’s a luxury.”
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