How Long Does Getting a Tattoo Really Take?

Women getting tattooed

Eugenio Marongiu/Getty Images 

How long does it take to get a tattoo? While plenty of people choose to wonder how much tattoos cost, many aren't quite sure how long a tattoo actually takes. However, because the two go hand-in-hand, it's important to be informed on both sides of the equation. To answer these important questions for those looking to get some new ink, we reached out to experts Dillion Forte and Johnny Dagger to learn more. Read on to learn how long it takes to get a tattoo, based on a variety of factors.

Meet the Expert

  • Dillion Forte is a celebrity tattoo artist whose work can be seen on clients such as Usher, Kehlani, Kat Von D, and more.
  • Johnny Dagger is a tattoo artist in Los Angeles, California who specializes in single fine line tattoos.

How Long Does Getting a Tattoo Take?

There's no set time limit for tattoos. The time it takes to complete your tattoo will vary greatly, and it's based on many different factors. Not only is the size of your tattoo taken into consideration, but the placement and the color will play a role, both in the overall cost and time invested in your piece from start to finish. "The factors that I consider how long a tattoo will take are usually complexity, size, and location of the tattoo. Some tattoos might seem quite simple, but will take much longer on certain areas of the body," says Dagger. Forte continues, "I like to schedule by the day to accommodate design, layout, stencil, setting up, breaking down, etc. It’s a much more detailed and time-consuming process than people realize." As always, be sure to discuss your designs with your tattoo artist, and determine the time needed to complete your tattoo prior to your first session appointment so that there are no surprises. Given you are doing something permanent with your body, you don't want to rush the process due to a time crunch.

Size Considerations

A small, simple quarter-sized tattoo could take an hour, where a large back piece could take seven or 10. Size matters in this equation, and it's important to remember that time is also money. The longer it takes to finish, the more your piece will cost.

Rihanna Back Tatttoo
 Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic 

Color vs. Black and Gray Tattoos

Did you know color tattoos usually take longer to complete than black and gray? Are you familiar with the various tattoo art styles? Some artists specialize in black and gray fine line tattoos. Some specialize in word-based tattoos. Other artists offer colorful and imaginative tattoos in all different forms. So try and find the artist who works best with your favorite art style, whether that be traditional, portrait, blackwork, or something else. It's important to do your research.

Remember that details vary greatly within tattoos. The more intricate your piece, the longer the design will take to complete. For example, if you have a jewelry style tattoo with lots of small filigree details, or even a Celtic knotwork design, your artist will require more time to complete your work. The same would hold true for a portrait tattoo—where special attention to small structures such as eyelashes, lips, and the details of hair will require more concentration. "If you are doing a color tattoo that is more the traditional tattoo style where flat solid colors are required, it will be much quicker. If you are doing a more complex realistic style of color tattoo that requires layers of colors and different color gradations, it will take much longer," says Dagger. "Also, with black and gray tattoos, it depends on what technique the artist uses to tattoo black and gray. Some artists use solid gradients of gray and some people stipple their black and gray tattoos. The solid gray gradients take much longer to achieve and are much more difficult. So it depends on your artist's style and how they tattoo."

How to Plan For Your Tattoo

"Any large-scale tattoo will take multiple sessions," says Dagger. "If you are doing a sleeve, it can range from five to eight all-day sessions depending on the style of tattoo and your artist's style. I can give a time estimate on a tattoo that I can finish within a day, but with large scale tattoo work it is a little more tricky but I can gauge the piece within how many all-day sessions it will take." Take into account your personal pain tolerance when planning a tattoo, as well. (Some of us can't always push through the pain.) The longer you can sit still for your tattoo, the better, but not everyone can sit for that long. "Pain tolerance can play a factor in scheduling large scale work...tattooing requires patience and dedication," says Forte. Pain tolerance varies widely, and there is truly no indication of how well you will adapt to the pain of a tattoo until you get one.

"Ribs and torso can be more painful and more difficult to do more consecutive days," says Forte.

Due to various tattoo locations causing more pain than others, some people decide they have to come back and complete the design in more tolerable increments. "When I used to do more large scale work, an 8 to 12 hour tattoo day was pretty normal," says Dagger. If you've never been tattooed before, try to stick with a thicker part of your body the first time around. Tattooing close to the bones and across the nerve structures on areas such on as the knee, top of the foot, and spine could be quite a shock if this is your first tattoo (ouch!). "If the person is tensing up and moving a lot, it will become very difficult to tattoo the person and the tattoo will take much longer. So be mentally and physically prepared when getting a tattoo," says Dagger.

Drink plenty of water before getting a tattoo to help ensure that the surface of your skin will take ink easier.

It's also important to remember that while not part of the technical process, designing a custom tattoo will also require time. Unless you are sold on a basic flash tattoo, your artist will be spending their own time changing or adapting your design idea to coordinate with their style. Many times, this service fee is wrapped up in the cost of the completed tattoo designs. However, all artists place their own value on their work and time. If you are interested in a custom tattoo, discuss all the details prior to your appointment, including how long it will take for your artist to design the potential tattoo. You'll be on your way to making a permanent mark in no time.

The Final Takeaway

Overall, it's important to be patient and not rush the process. Your tattoo is a feature that will be with you forever. Make sure you are allotting the proper amount of time, and do your research to find an artist that you feel comfortable with.

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