How Long Does a Tattoo Take?

Woman Getting a Tattoo
Getty/ Thomas Barwick 

Rather than just wonder how much do tattoos cost, many people aren't quite sure how long a tattoo takes. Here's a brief overview of what to expect while completing your tattoo design.

The time it takes to complete your tattoo will vary greatly based on many different factors. Not only the size of your tattoo but the placement and the color will play a role in the overall cost and time invested in your piece from start to finish.

As always, 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.


The size of your tattoo will be one of the biggest indications of how long it will take to complete it. A small simple quarter-size tattoo could take an hour, where a large back piece could take seven or ten. Size matters in this equation and time is also money. The longer it takes to finish, the more your piece will cost.


Color tattoos usually take longer to complete than black and grey. Are you familiar with various tattoo art styles? Some artists specialize in black and grey fine line tattoos. Other artists offer colorful and imaginative talent, so try and find the artist that works best with your favorite art style, whether that be Traditional or Portrait.


Details vary greatly in 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 portrait tattoos where special attention to small structures such as eyelashes, lips and the details of hair, which will require more concentration.

Pain Tolerance

Another factor to consider is your personal pain tolerance. The longer you can sit still for your tattoo the better, but that's not always the case.

Pain varies and there is truly no indication how well you will adapt to the pain of a tattoo until you get one. Due to various tattoo locations bearing more pain than others, some people decide they have to come back and complete the design in more tolerable increments. 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 as the knee, top of the foot and ribs could be quite a shock if this is your first tattoo.

Custom Design

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 time changing or adapting your design idea to coordinate with theirs. Many times this service fee is wrapped up in the cost of the completed tattoo designs, but all artists place their own value on their work and time. If you are interested in a custom tattoo, discuss all the details, including how long it will take for your artist to design the potential tattoo, and you'll be on your way to making a permanent mark in no time.

Artist Schedule

Finally, some artists travel throughout the world to different conventions to share their craft with a broader spectrum of people.

If you find your artist travels frequently, or if you started a piece with an artist while at a tattooing event or convention, it may require you travel back to the artist at a later time to complete a "work in progress," all of which contribute to how long a tattoo takes.