85 Incredible Full Sleeve Tattoo Ideas – Which One is Right For You?

If you are serious about tattoos you’ll probably consider getting a sleeve tattoo at some stage. A sleeve tattoo refers to a number of similar tattoos inked closely together that covers the area almost completely, in a close-knit pattern. Today we are talking about full sleeve tattoos, but there are other kinds of sleeves as well. A half sleeve stretches from the wrist to the elbow while a full sleeve is from the wrist to the shoulder. There’s also a three-quarter sleeve which is from midway up the forearm to the shoulder. A sleeve tattoo can also refer to the legs.

A full sleeve tattoo is usually completely designed before the tattooing begins and typically takes multiple sessions to complete. This section of skin is a good canvas for the artist and the arms are also a fine placement for tattoos, as you can see and admire them too.

The majority of people like to choose a theme before they begin with a sleeve tattoo to ensure the final finished product looks well thought out and flows – too many unrelated tattoos placed closely together will look untidy and jarring. There are of course hundreds of types of themes you could choose, but let’s have a look at a few of the popular masculine sleeve designs:



To understand what a Steampunk tattoo is first you need to understand this genre. Steampunk is a wide genre that incorporates everything from movies to books to tattoos and it is characterized by images that combine technology and artistic designs inspired by the industrial steam-powered machinery of the Victorian age.

This is a funky theme and tattoo lovers are spoilt for choice when it comes to subjects for their tattoos. Examples of tattoos that fall under this Neo-Victorian style include skulls, wind and steam powered inventions, portraits of figures like Jack the Ripper, Edgar Allan Poe, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hide, scenes of Victorian England, cats, skulls, top hats, pocket watches, and much more. These tattoos usually don’t include a lot of colors, however, there are no hard and fast rules about this.

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The purpose of a biomechanical tattoo is to give the artistic impression that some parts of the body have been replaced with mechanical or robot parts. The tattoos “reveal” these inner parts. These kinds of tattoos are characterized by different components of a machine such as levers, buttons, rods, gears, pipes, and wires. Quite often these tattoos are designed as 3D tattoos so that it appears you are looking deep under the skin, which is quite a striking effect. This type of design is well suited to sleeve tattoos and some men even chose to have both arms done in this style. These tattoos usually include limited colors, like red, yellow and blue.

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The Japanese mafia, known as the Yakuza, took tattooing to the next level when they used them to show their alliance to the big crime families. The Yakuza are famous for their full body suit tattoos that cover the entire body except for a small section down the chest.

Japanese inspired sleeves look amazing and each subject is packed with meaning. If you want a sleeve that is very evocative then you can consider a Japanese theme. Popular subjects include dragons, koi fish, the phoenix, tigers, cherry blossoms, lion or fu dogs, snakes, oni or demon masks, and water or waves. These tattoos look better on a larger scale, hence why they are so suitable for full sleeve designs.

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Tribal tattoos have their origins in ancient tribal art where tattoos were used to show maturity and social status as well as being used a rite of passage. These tattoos usually consist of images that are made using solid black ink with thick geometric shapes.

In mainstream tattoo art the most popular style of tribal tattoo is the Polynesian style which includes influences from Borneo tribes, Native Americans, the Maori and Celtic tribes. These tattoos can be patterned, or made to look like animals and are easy to personalize; which adds to their popularity. Tribal sleeve designs use plenty of black ink and that means that they will not fade quickly; provided they are well cared for. There are tattoo artists who use shading and colors in their designs, especially larger scale works.

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You may think that vine tattoos are a feminine design, but this theme can also make a masculine design for a full sleeve. While female designs usually include flowers, butterflies, and colors, a male design is less colorful and if flowers are used it is done sparingly. Cherry blossoms and ivy are popular choices. Vine tattoos wind around, making them a great subject for larger scale tattoos.

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Military tattoos are extremely popular among men who have served in the armed forces. These men are often changed by their experiences and choose to remember their service in the form of tattoos. Military sleeve designs are highly personal with each subject chosen as it has specific meaning to the wearer. There are so many images that fall into this category, but military sleeves can include tanks, helicopters, guns, helmets, knives, names of fallen comrades, prayers, flags, dog tags, eagles, boots, medals, and military sayings or slogans.

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Horror / Death

Popular with heavy metal fans and men who love the darker side of life are death or horror theme sleeve tattoos.

These include images of skulls, skull, and crossbones, zombies, gravestones/graveyards, crosses, vampires, spiders, crows etc. These also usually have an element of Steampunk.

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In Short…

Choosing a theme for your full sleeve tattoo is a big choice, so don’t take it lightly. Spend time getting together the most original images that you can and listen to your artist about what will look best according to your theme. Also, make sure that your large-scale tattoo will not cause you trouble in your daily life – check with your workplace about their policies otherwise you may be restricted in the clothes you can wear.

Remember that a sleeve takes time and there are some areas of the arms that are quite painful to tattoo – these include the inner elbow, wrist, elbow, and under the armpit. Be prepared for long hours of tattooing, but know this – it’s absolutely worth it!

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