Some people would argue that there’s no such thing as a “sleeve tattoo,” and while this sentiment use to be more common, artists these days have mostly adopted the term because really, what else are you gonna call an arm full of tattoos? Small tattoos are cute, but nothing looks better than a beautiful sleeve full of ink. If you’re seriously considering getting inked, whether you may like it or not, some sort of sleeve may be in your future. Tattoos are addictive, and sleeves have a way of developing on their own. Let’s check out some of the best.
A floral sampler
This sleeve is one of those designs that you can just tell took some serious drafting time before any ink was even poured. This perfectly balanced sleeve incorporates a bevy of mandala work and a beautiful set of flowers which manage to stand out amongst the symmetrical chaos.
A nautical sleeve
Putting a passion into ink is a popular choice when it comes to setting a theme for a sleeve. While sleeve tattoos don’t have to house a single theme—and often don’t—planning full sleeve tattoos from a blank canvas is becoming more and more common these days.
A Thai sleeve
Whether it’s some sort of divine force or just an associative trigger, there’s something about Buddha that automatically calms the senses. This sleeve is all but guaranteed to inject peace and harmony into your daily routine.
A woman-eating tiger
Some sleeves just look better than others, and this is definitely one of them. While some people end up with sleeves on accident over a long period of time, others like to plan out their sleeve completely before a needle even touches the skin. Both can turn out awesome, but a well planned sleeve usually looks better.
There’s a few artists out there that love to ink those old classical sculptures. Greek Gods, famous works of art, and flying cupids make for some pretty cool tattoos. But what always stands out when it comes to classical sculpted tattoo designs are the beards—shading and texture is everything!
A geometric sleeve
Geometric sleeves are super common on Instagram, but I have to say, I don’t think I’ve ever seen one in person. There are a few artists who I follow which dabble only in geometric designs. Maybe it’s my constant monitoring of their portfolios that has me seeing geometric sleeves in my dreams.
A chaotic collision
Here we have a combination of geometric and mandala art. A clash of two very popular styles in the tattoo industry. Mandala designs have been popular for ages but these complex and mind-melting geometric designs we see these days are a relatively new phenomenon.
A negative space rose
Negative space art is one of my favorite techniques when it comes to sleeves. Well, to tell you the truth, you don’t really see negative space designs outside of sleeves or large pieces usually because there simply isn’t room. The pointy tips of the leaves flow perfectly into the depths of the mandala patterned shadows.
A swirling sleeve
This is one of those designs that you can stare at for hours and never get sick of. Sometimes sleeves can look overloaded but this design comes off so polished, so fascinating, and so harmonious that it just begs the viewer to stare in appreciation.
A Chinese sleeve
Excuse my ignorance if I’m wrong but this sleeve appears to feature the movie version of Sun Wukong also known as the Monkey King from Chinese folklore and cinema. I hope I got that right, but what really stands out about this tattoo is that amazing transition from black and grey ink to color.
If you weren’t one of the cool kids in high school, this sleeve definitely would have put you at that table should you have had it way back then. Ya, I know, hindsight is 20/20 but if you’re still in need of a little coolness, something along the lines of this sleeve is always an option.
A botanical sleeve
It’s no secret that this design wouldn’t be half as awesome should it not possess that beautiful little butterfly. Well, that’s what I thought at first but then I started to notice some of the smaller details and was completely blown away.
This guy flew half way around the world for this sleeve, and by the looks of it, had an awesome trip. This is another example of classical sculpture work that just oozes grandeur.
A classical sleeve
Some things are just better without color. And it doesn’t take a rocket surgeon to figure out that this gorgeous sleeve is one of them. Black and grey ink and expertly shaded, this piece boasts both depth and dimension on a level that Stephen Hawking would probably be tempted to write a book about.
A fruity sleeve
Because why the hell not, right? I mean it’s not something you see everyday but it turned out great and I’m sure it gets its fair share of attention. If you’re looking for something colorful with a unique style, Uncl Paul can definitely hook you up.
A cosmic apocalypse
Okay, since I mentioned Stephen Hawking earlier, I would just like to point out that if he were to get a full sleeve, it would probably look something like this. This sleeve features everything we don’t fully understand—and probably never will.
Various patterns and textures
Two things really stand out to me when looking at this sleeve. The super intricate mandala design that gets all the details correct on the forearm. And the horse’s mane texture that comes out of the wing.
A Roman sleeve
When it comes to sleeves for men (or women for that matter), it’s really hard to find a subject matter that looks as good as this classical sculpture style. Black and grey ink is just too raw!
A pleasing pattern
If you’re easily hypnotized, this guy will probably have you eating out of the palm of his hand in no time. Just kidding. But there’s no denying the pattern has major hypnotizing effect when stared at for longer than a few seconds.
A sleeve in time
You can look at a million tattoo designs, plan your whole life, hire a professional designer and never end up with a design this cool. Each part of the design is equally fascinating and the way the artist tied it all together is simply divine. Darwin Enriquez, you got skills.
If color is your thing, then you might as well go as bright as you can. I’m not a huge fan of color tattoos (they don’t age as well), but if I was in the market for a colorful sleeve, these Japanese style designs always look good to me.
A collision of patterns
Here we have a bevy of different patterns that all collide to form one harmonious sleeve that just works. There’s nothing cooler, or more beautiful than full sleeves.
A perfect pattern
While this isn’t technically a full sleeve (well it might be), it was just too dope to exclude from the list. The whole point of this website is to put on display the best tattoo designs out there in order to inspire you to get a tattoo design you’ll love for the rest of your life.
A modern tribal take
My life is tattoos, but it seems like I never see that many impressive designs in person. Maybe it’s just the lighting, of course tattoos look better when photographed just so, but seeing a design as good as the one above makes me realize that I hardly ever witness such greatness in the flesh. That’s probably for the best because if I saw this design in person I’d most likely run up on him like he’s Michael Jackson and demand a photo.
Just because you’re getting a sleeve, doesn’t mean every inch of flesh should be covered in ink. In fact, the saying “Less is more” can ring true when it comes full sleeve tattoos. Yes, there is still a lot going on here, but it definitely has a lighter feeling to it than most of the sleeves on this list.
When it comes to sleeves, many people choose to stop the design at the wrist. But having the sleeve continue onto the hand can look just as good. However, it does make your ink almost impossible to conceal should the occasion arise.
An assortment of circular geometric patterns
This awesome sleeve, complete with no less than 1 million swirls, must have been so much fun to do (not). It will however, make you want to turn this guys arm into your own personal coloring book which I’m sure he’s done himself on more than a few occasions.
A Holy meal
In case you can’t see it, there, on the bottom of this guy’s forearm is a reproduction of Leonardo Da Vinci’s The Last Supper. It’s a little difficult to distinguish what else is going on in this picture but you can bet every detail is completely on point because, well, it’s Oscar.
A soft skull sleeve
Ya, I was thinking snowflakes as well on first glance, but upon closer inspection you’ll realize it’s just a snowflakey pattern. The gradient fade looks beautiful, and the skull on the hand is the cherry on top.
It’s always nice to see those uber creative designs where you just know the client said “do your thing.” Being decisive and knowing what you want is important but giving the artist creative freedom usually pays off in spades. Artists are usually more passionate about what they’re doing and that can make the experience more pleasurable for both client and artist.
A renaissance sleeve
Jun Cha is the king of classical sculpture tattoos. In fact, it’s basically all he does. I think he’s even in Italy right now carving statues and what not. Check out his Instagram. He’s the real deal.
A soft black and grey ink sleeve
I’m still trying to work out exactly what is going on with this sleeve but it sure is attractive. The waves are particularly interesting which really makes me want to see a sleeve made completely of ocean waves.
A few negative space leaves
During the course of my efforts to fill this list with the best tattoos I could find, I couldn’t help but notice the number of tattoos that featured a lion or tiger seemingly eating a person—or possibly wearing their pelt as a hat? Am I missing something here or is this just a popular theme?
A traditional Japanese sleeve
Absolutely gorgeous on every level. The rudimentary curves of the Japanese style make for a distinctive design that’s perhaps the most recognizable style of tattoo art in the world.
A mixed mandala sleeve
I’m easily impressed with geometric designs in general, but just when I thought they couldn’t get any more fascinating, this creative piece shows up on my screen and POOF, I find myself blown away studying each and every little detail to the point where I feel like I may possibly be more familiar with this sleeve than its owner.
It’s no secret that sleeves make guys look more appealing if you know what I mean. Guys know it, and that’s probably why we rarely ever see men with full sleeves wearing shirts.
A little bit of everything
With almost everything you could possibly wish for in a sleeve, this black and grey ink beauty is pure perfection. Rachel completely hit this one out of the park. The choice to set heavy blackwork elements against a stylish sketchy backdrop gives the sleeve a dynamic feel that gives it unbelievable style and appeal.
A 7 day sleeve
According to Balazs, this sleeve was done in a marathon seven-day 56 hour week. Which is completely insane and must have been an excruciating experience for both artist and client. Personally, I know I couldn’t sit for that much work in a single week but then again I cried when I got my belly button pierced.
A pair of elegant sleeves
It’s such a shame that tattoos have to fade, because the deep blacks of this sleeve give it a velvety smooth appearance and absolutely drip elegance. These sleeves almost look like they’re part of an elegant floral evening dress. Lupo, more please!
Another classical masterpiece
This is what your sleeve will look like a year after you get it. Not quite as crisp, but in my opinion, the softening of the edges gives it a more natural look, which may not look as impressive in photos, but in person, looks way better in my opinion.
An intricate mandala sleeve
For women, mandala patterns are super popular and it’s easy to see why. In addition to their obvious beauty, artists love mandala patterns because of the creative freedom they allow. While overly intricate designs can look cluttered, this sleeve possesses a perfect balance of space and clarity which makes for a pleasant overall flow.
A dotwork mandala sleeve
Technically all tattoos are dotwork designs, but when dots are purposely left unconnected, it makes for a stylish and soft effect that has become a popular trend that many artists incorporate into their designs. This design features two large mandala flowers with some pretty neat geometric patterns as fill.
A tree line
Another partial sleeve, this cuff was such a cool concept that we couldn’t leave it off the list. Turan is an artist at Bang Bang in New York, and he loves to ink trees. In fact, it’s safe to say that he is one of the best in the business when it comes to tatting conifers.
An abstract watercolor sleeve
Sleeves don’t have to be all-encompassing. In fact, I’d take this sleeve over most of the designs on the list—but I was an art major and I’m a complete sucker for abstract art. Sleeves like the one above aren’t something you see every day, but hopefully that will change soon.
An intricate dotwork pattern
What in the world is this beautiful madness?!? The word “intricate” doesn’t even begin to describe this maze of perfectly placed dots. If you love what you see here, you’ll need to find a special kind of artist who has both the skill and patience to plan out such a complex design.
Denver tattooist Jayce Wallingford creates some of the most beautiful sleeves you’ll ever see. Her black and grey ink designs often feature naturalistic themes with animals and plenty of flora. But what really stands out about her work are the crisp, clean lines that look as if they were created by a super precise tattoo robot.
A botanical sleeve
Here we have another amazing example of why Jayce deserves your business if you’re anywhere near the state of Colorado. This botanical sleeve gives off an undeniable feminine vibe without being too girly. Pay special attention to what’s going on in the middle of the design.
A work in progress
This sleeve looks finished to me, but I’m sure whatever is yet to be added will make it even more gorgeous. Oscar Akermo is one of the best tattoo artists in the world, like top 5, seriously, so while you’ll have a difficult time finding an artist that can execute on this level, it’s still nice to look at work like this for concept ideas alone.
An amazing sculpture
The lighting on this sculpture is out of this world amazing. From the swirling Greek patterns to the stunning interpretation of light, this sleeve is one of those designs that will instantly make you the center of attention. It’s not too often that people take into consideration how well a particular design will age as the edges become a little softer, but just so you know, this is the type of tattoo that will maintain its overall look through the years.
A creative floral sleeve
Again, let’s take a look at Jayce’s magical touch with this stylish floral design. You’ll notice a collision of various florals and a pleasant mix of heavy blackwork fill and dotwork accents.
A beautiful blackwork sleeve
Many people feel the urge to fill every nook and cranny when getting a sleeve. Ya, it does look cool, but leaving empty spaces within the design looks just as good. In fact, depending on the type of sleeve you’re getting, leaving a little real estate undeveloped can compliment the overall flow of the sleeve.
An abstract landscape sleeve
Okay, maybe it’s just an abstract sleeve but to me, this design resembles a rocky mountain range. If you’re worried about having to sit for hours on end while enduring what can seem like torture to some individuals, this design is something to consider as an alternative which can look just as good as a more complex design.
An animal skull
Two skulls to be precise, but who’s counting. Most sleeves I see are what I like to call “collections.” Meaning that the individual started off with one tattoo, one turned into two, two to three, and the end result was a sleeve. This sleeve was obviously planned, and it’s a great example of how well thought out sleeves tend to look more polished.
I’m not the biggest fan of mural type sleeves that go for the whole “realistic” look, but, hey, that’s just my personal preference. Not that they don’t look great, they just aren’t my cup of tea. But for those of you looking for this sort of thing, this is an example of what they can look like.
A day in the garden
A mesmerizing mandala sun shines down upon a collection of flora and fauna. The beautiful sun was crafted in a negative space style with varying shades of dotwork fill as a backdrop. Down on the wrist, the heavy blackwork shade is expertly broken up by a couple of negative space bands.
A beautiful dotwork design
Again, we have another stunning example of why Jayce Wallingford deserves some type of award for creativity and all around awesomeness. I have a feeling Jayce tells you what you want, and not the other way around. The creative consistency throughout his work is nothing short of spectacular.
A set of black and grey ink sleeves
Okay, forget everything I said earlier about not liking realistic sleeves. These black and grey ink murals are pure heaven, and something that I’d get tomorrow if I had the chance. These tattoos are on the same person, just staged like this for dramatic effect.
An ornamental sleeve
If you’ve been searching for the perfect ornamental design, than this ornate sleeve is bound to give you some inspiration. Ornamental and mandala are broad terms that tend to overlap from time to time. This ornamental pattern contains what could be considered a few mandala flowers.
A textured sleeve cover-up
Covering up tattoos isn’t easy. Especially when they are big. Now I’ve seen a lot of people simply black out a tattoo, like solid solid black like the bottom of this sleeve—and that’s always an option. But the way the artist chose to utilize an almost gradient fade as opposed to solid black throughout is super cool.
A mehndi-esque sleeve
I say mehndi because the patterns above remind me of the pattens of those beautiful Indian Mehndi designs so popular these days. Indian style? Anyways, if you find this sort of style appealing, a quick search on Instagram for “Mehndi Ink” will get you on the right path.
A mix of geometric shapes
Let’s just take a minute to appreciate how much time it must have taken to design this piece. The maze-like pattern on the lower forearm is bonkers. Balbuena is an artist from Asturias, Spain. And I absolutely love his work.
A lot of grey ink
Is it me, or does this sleeve look uncharacteristically smooth? It’s almost like it has a metallic sheen to it. I guess that’s just how grey ink looks under certain light. It’s not too often that you see large samples of grey ink, or at least it seems that way.
A few awesome patterns
Calling all geometry lovers: you need something like this in your life, no question. With a tattoo like this, you’ll never get bored again. It’s also a great conversation piece.
A sacred geometry sleeve
Sacred geometry is associated with the belief that God is the master geometer of the entire world. These geometric patterns are often incorporated into religious structures and can most readily be found in the layout and design of stained glass windows. Many of the shapes can also be found in nature.
Patterns from lines
I know, there’s a lot of geometric type designs on this list, but I made sure not to feature any two designs which were too similar in design. The point of this article is to showcase the best designs in the world, regardless of theme or design, which led to a heck of a lot of geometric designs making the final cut.
A segmented sleeve
If you don’t mind everyone you meet staring at and touching your arm, go ahead and book a plane to ticket to Warsaw and try to convince Krzysztof Krajewski to hook you up. He does a lot of sleeves, and they are pretty much all as crazy and cool as the one above.
A spiritual atman
Here’s another one of those showpieces that I included on the list just to evoke a bitter rage of jealously from those who view it. There’s so much going on here that you can study every inch of it for an hour and still not appreciate every intricacy the artist laid down.
A Japanese style sleeve
This tattoo will automatically make you an accepted member of Japanese society. Okay, it probably won’t. But if there was any tattoo that would, this would definitely be it. It will also make you cut the sleeves off all of your t-shirts, because let’s face it, this bad boy needs to be on display 24/7.
A wood grain sleeve
Well, this is new. I don’t think I’ve ever come across a wood grain sleeve, or tattoo of any type for that matter, which is why I just had to include this piece on the list. While you’re probably not going to run out and get a wood themed tattoo, this design serves as an example of how a little creative thinking can lead to a new and unique design that’s never been done before.
A feminine sleeve
Wearing anything else than a strapless top with this sultry sleeve would be borderline sacrilegious. Made with what seems like never-ending layers of everything, this beautiful black and grey ink sleeve is truly a sight to behold.
A geometric design
This fairly mesmerizing and very on-trend tattoo design appears to move and shape shift if you stare at certain parts of it for more than just a few seconds. According to the massive influx of geometric tattoo designs, it may not be that far off to call these types of tattoo designs the new neo traditional.
A set of slowly progressing sleeves
While they’re not as breathtaking as some of the designs on this list, if you’re looking for a design with a cool factor of 100, these sleeves definitely fit the bill. In fact, I’m always more impressed with designs that look as if they were collected over a period of time as opposed to planned sleeves.
A radiating mandala
I’m trying to decide what I like more: the multidimensional mandala flower radiating from the elbow or the nifty halftone dots that decorate the top and bottom of the sleeve. Not only does this tattoo make me wanna shout “wow,” but it makes me want to drive to the bank, empty my bank account and hand all my money over to Mr. Namiotko.
A portrait of Mother Nature
Don’t worry, this is the last sleeve from Jayce you’ll see on this list. Wait, what am I saying, of course you want more! Again, this sleeve kind of speaks for itself. Stunning imagery and style for days.
A classical sleeve
Classical chaos is a fitting title for this sleeve—as it is with almost every other Greek/Roman sculpture-esque sleeve that I’ve encountered. The luxurious looking clash of good and evil, shadow and light, has an attractive, almost magnetic appeal to it. When most men hear the word “sleeve” something along the lines of this design is usually the first thing that comes to mind.
A chested sleeve
It’s not too often that I find myself without words, but this is turning out to be one of those moments. Everything is just perfect. Notice the elephant on the plains of Africa near the neck.
A mesh of spheres
There’s full sleeves, half sleeves, cuffs, and bracelets. So what category does this piece fall into? I’m not really sure either, but if there was a “quarter sleeve” category I’d definitely put it in there. Space tattoos are super popular these days, but it’s not too often that you see the progression into the different spheres.
A collection of art
Sleeves don’t have to be bumper to bumper. This isn’t rush hour in India. And this design is a perfect example of just how good-looking an assortment of designs can be even if they are spaced out quite a bit. Of course the quality of each stand alone design is also very important.
A spectacular pattern
I’m always impressed when I see a new and creative design that’s unlike anything I have ever seen before. Every inch of this tattoo is amazing, but what really stands out to me is that fantastic geometric pattern in the mid section with the strip of slightly lighter grey ink that almost gives the area a shiny appearance like the glare from the sun.
A creative mandala sleeve
I’m not 100 percent sure that this sleeve is finished but I am about 99.9 percent sure. But regardless if it is or isn’t finished, let’s just take a second to appreciate how awesome those barely-there patterns look. Definitely saving that for later.