How Long Does It Take To Get A Tattoo?

A common question in the tattoo world, especially with people getting their first tattoo, is about how long the process will take

As a new tattoo artist, it’s important to be able to explain to clients exactly what goes into their tattoo from the initial idea to the finished product, and give them a good estimate of the time frame.

In this article, we’ll cover:

  • Why it’s important to calculate the length of a tattoo
  • What types of things affect tattooing time
  • Other factors involved with tattoo length

Why Do People Ask This Question?

A tattoo client grimacing while being tattooed

As a tattoo artist, you will probably hear clients ask how long their tattoo will take all the time. There are a few different reasons for this: 

Pain

One of the biggest reasons why clients will ask how long their tattoo will take is that they want to be prepared for the pain, especially when getting their very first tattoo. Clients who don’t know what getting tattooed feels like might be very concerned about how much it will hurt - and how long the pain will last. 

Preparing your client for the amount and length of pain could make a huge difference in the process. Clients who are ready for the pain of a tattoo are more likely to be mentally prepared to stay still and let you do your best work.

Organization

One of the other factors involved with planning a tattoo is scheduling. Both clients and tattoo artists have busy schedules, and knowing how long the tattoo will take from start to finish will help everyone plan accordingly. 

Most small tattoos can be done in one sitting, but bigger, more detailed tattoos might need an all-day tattoo session or multiple sessions. This is a big piece of everyone’s schedule, which means the client will need to know early enough to make it work.

Nerves and Curiosity

Sometimes, clients ask a ton of questions just to calm their own nerves. People who are newer to getting a tattoo might not know what to expect, and they’ll rely on their artist to give them a better idea. 

Even though it might get old to answer this question over and over, being patient with clients and being thorough when you talk to them about their tattoo idea will help to create a better experience.

Money  

Experienced clients know getting a tattoo that requires a long session is going to cost more. Many artists charge by the hour, and it’s important for a client to know how time-consuming the tattoo will be so that they can save the money to pay for multiple sessions.

What Factors Influence The Length of a Tattoo Session?

Artist doing a tattoo on a client’s forearm with a tattoo machine

Tattoo Style

Some tattoo styles are naturally going to take longer than others because style has a big impact on the complexity of the design. Hyperrealism, dot work, and big, colorful tattoos are going to take more time than something in a simpler style.

Level of Detail

This one’s easy: a simple tattoo is going to be done much faster than a tattoo with a lot of complexity in the design. Script, simple line work, and minimalistic tattoos will be pretty quick in comparison to very detailed work.

Amount of Color

Color tattoos usually take longer than blackwork or black and gray tattoos, because the artist will need to take the time to blend out multiple colors. 

Which tattoo style you’re doing also influences how long color tattoos take. Traditional-style tattoos with flat colors will go quicker than more realistic-looking tattoos that require a lot of very delicate shading and color blending.

Tattoo Size 

Size is one of the biggest factors involved with how long a tattoo takes to complete. A small tattoo might take anywhere from one to a few hours and can likely be done during the first visit. Depending on the tattoo shop, a client might be able to walk into a tattoo shop and get their tattoo done within an hour or two. 

A large tattoo will obviously require much longer sessions. For example, a full sleeve tattoo will likely take several sessions that are multiple hours long.

Tattoo Placement

The location of a tattoo can have a really big effect on how long the tattoo takes to do. Some areas of the body are harder for an artist to tattoo than others. Some of the hardest areas of the body to tattoo are the armpit, stomach, ribs, and hands. Skin behaves differently on different parts of the body, which might require the artist to take more time to get the ink saturated correctly.

Pain Tolerance 

A client’s pain tolerance is a factor in the length of a tattoo. Clients who are able to sit for a tattoo without needing too many breaks will be done more quickly than those who need a little bit more time to get through the process. 

Tattoos in more painful places will likely take a little bit longer than tattoos in easier spots because clients will reach their pain threshold more quickly and need to take breaks or even come back another time.

Artist Preference

The time it takes to complete a tattoo is going to vary from artist to artist. Some artists specialize in the designs clients are bringing them, so they may be able to fly through a tattoo that would take another artist more time. Other artists like to be very slow and methodical about their work. 

Additionally, artists use different techniques for things like color application, black and gray work, etc., and that will influence the total time.

Talking to Your Clients About Tattoo Length  

Tattoo artist preparing to start a tattoo

Newer clients might not understand that the tattoo process is more than the time it takes to physically tattoo the design onto the body. 

There are many other parts of the tattoo process that will influence how long it takes for the tattoo to go from an idea to a finished product.

Design Process

When a client brings an idea to a tattoo artist, the artist will need time to plan. This often includes a pre-tattoo consultation to discuss the design, style, location, cost, etc. The artist will then need time to come up with a design for the tattoo.

Fitting the Client Into the Schedule

As you get more and more clients, you might have a longer list of people waiting to be tattooed. 

Sometimes, artists take bookings months in advance and close their books for a period of time in order to catch up on all the work they have scheduled. This means that a client might have to wait to even pitch their tattoo idea to an artist, and they will likely have to wait weeks or even months to get their tattoo once the appointment has been scheduled.

Healing Process 

Healing is as much a part of the tattoo process as the planning and actual tattoo application. The healing process happens in a lot of different phases and varies based on the size and complexity of the tattoo. 

Clients often want to show their tattoo off as soon as they get it, but some artists will suggest they keep the tattoo covered for a few hours. Clients also might not realize how long it takes for the skin around the tattoo to stop looking red and angry, and that tattoos peel and change appearance slightly while they heal.

The outer layer of skin typically heals within 2-3 weeks with proper tattoo aftercare, but it could take as long as 6 months for the tattoo to heal completely. Clients will need to keep up proper aftercare for months after their tattoo in order to have all of the layers of skin heal correctly, and this will add time to the process as a whole.

Prepare for a Tattooing Career with the Artist Accelerator Program

Understanding tattoo basics is an important step in your journey towards a tattoo career, but it can also be pretty eye-opening to how difficult tattooing can be. Without the right knowledge, it’s impossible to level up your skills and become a professional tattoo artist. 

However, finding the straight-forward information you need to progress is difficult. And with so much out there online, it’s hard to avoid picking up bad habits from incorrect and outdated resources.

This is one of the biggest struggles new tattooers face, and too many talented artists have given up their goal of getting into tattooing because of the years it would take to unlearn their bad habits. 

That’s why aspiring artists are learning to tattoo with the Artist Accelerator Program’s structured course. As a student, you learn every step of the tattooing process from professional artists with the experience and advice you need for your tattoo career. 

With the Artist Accelerator, you can stop wasting time searching through incorrect information. You just get the clear, easy-to-understand lessons you need to start improving fast… along with support and personalized feedback from professional artists in our online Mastermind group.

Over 2500 students have already gone through the course, with many of them opening up their own studios. If you want to join them and learn the skills you need to start tattooing full time faster…

Click here to learn more about the Artist Accelerator Program.

Looking for a tattoo apprenticeship?

Tattooing 101's Artist Accelerator 90 day program is the closest thing to a real apprenticeship

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AUTHOR
Nathan Molenaar

Nathan is a licensed professional tattoo artist with over 8 years’ experience working at studios across the globe, including Celebrity Ink, the world's largest tattoo studio chain.

When he's not tattooing, he spends his free time sharing his experience and knowledge with aspiring artists who dream of pursuing a career in the tattooing industry.

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