By Kevin Miller
If you have visible tattoos, chances are that someone has asked about how much their idea cost, how much they cost you, or the worst – how much they paid. Well, this article is for those people who are curious. The article specifically talks about a sleeve, but it applies to any tattoo really.
Huge props to Dave Tedder for taking the time to answer this on Quora…
Tattoos: How much does a full sleeve tattoo (from wrist to shoulder) cost?
Your question almost has the same answer as “How much is a sackful of groceries.?” It really depends on where you make your purchase and what’s in the sack, or sleeve.
Purchasing a tattoo is the same as making any other investment into art. Sometimes you can find an incredible artist at very reasonable rates and sometimes you can buy a polished turd for tourist prices.
Many people spend far too much on sleeves or other large scale tattoos that they will forever remain unhappy with by starting out with the exact same question you have. “How much?” Because with that mentality the next logical move once you receive an answer is to look for it somewhere else for less. Price shopping for tattoos usually leaves you in a subpar artist’s chair receiving subpar art and tattoo services. Then what do you have? A sleeve that you’re unhappy with. After a few years of looking at other sleeves that are far better most people choose to go to another artist to try and salvage the bad decision they made years prior. The smart ones have done research and decided on a competent artist at the second time, but… The truth of the matter is, at this point the tattooer is entering a fight with one arm tied behind their back. Cover ups and reworks never turn out the same quality as a tattoo that starts with blank skin. Success is determined by wether or not the tattoo looks better than it did before, not by completion of original intent.
I can assure you that the best way to get an answer to your question and a quality tattoo is to decide what you would like your sleeve to look like. Think style(i.e. Traditional Japanese or Americana, color or black and grey, realistic, geometric, etc.), think theme, think subject matter. Then spend hours and hours scouring the internet and social media sites at hundreds of hundred of tattooers work. This is a much easier task today than say 20 years ago when you physically had to travel shop to shop to look at portfolios. Don’t bother looking at the artists location, airplanes make the world a very small place, and when you find the artist that you want, I promise no distance is too great. You have your entire life to wear this tattoo and you shouldn’t sell yourself short. Make sure that every time you look at your forearm you’re satisfied. Tattoos are the only thing you have with you for the rest of your life, everywhere you go until you die. It amazes me what some people will spend on shoes or vacations and then bargain shop for a tattoo.
After you have all of the above determined, contact the artist you’ve chosen and ask about their preferred method of appointment consultation. Please keep in mind that many quality tattoo artists eat sleep and breath their jobs so sometimes answering the emails takes a little time, especially older artists that have tattooed longer than the internet has been around. Many artists work 8-12 hours a day at the studio then go home to paint or draw for the following days/weeks, so sometimes you need a little patience and persistence. During your consultation, after you’ve discussed your ideas you’ll have the opportunity for “How much?”. But most artist prefer it if you’re a wee bit smoother, as in “What’s your hourly rate?”, and “About how many sessions do you think this will take and how many hours will we be working per session?”. If this exceeds your projected budget this would be a good time to mention that and discuss other options. Be honest and up front with what you have to spend. Most good artists that I know aren’t crooks, they just want what they have determined their work is worth. Some adjust this by the laws of supply and demand and others keep a set rate their entire career. Every artist is different, and as always in the art market it’s buyer beware. Do your homework before you purchase.
Hope that helps