Tattoo Placement Terminology

Tattoo Placement Terminology

So you are planning your next tattoo this autumn/winter. You are becoming an expert in things related to trends, styles, and how to go about preparing for your session. In your quest for the next design to grace the entirely unique canvas that is you, you have most likely also come across some tattoo placement terminology. 

While some of it might be self-explanatory (a face tattoo is, well, exactly that), we thought that — as part of our mission to provide information on all things fundamental to the tattooing world — we would offer a quick run-through of some of the lingo. 


A sleeve tattoo is a type of tattoo that covers most of a person’s arm. This can be from the shoulder to the wrists (full sleeve) or from shoulder to elbow or elbow to wrist (half sleeve). They can also extend from the shoulder to halfway down the lower arm (this would be a three-quarter sleeve), or shoulder and down halfway over the bicep (quarter sleeve). 

Half sleeve tattoo with tiger eyes and rose
By Mike from Vivid Ink Worcester

Tattoo sleeves can be planned as a single cohesive piece in one specific style and executed in one go, most likely over a couple of days (although we are aware of half-sleeves being done in one full day). This is a highly labour-intensive endeavour for the tattoo artist, both in design and execution, but also very rewarding.

Man with full sleeve tattoo
By Lukasz at Vivid Ink Birmingham

Or, they can be added to either sporadically in different or the same style with some empty space (of un-inked skin) left between the pieces. The ever-increasing in popularity patchwork tattoo sleeve is an accessible and fun way to keep building your sleeve piece by piece, requiring a little less time and financial commitment right away than a full traditional sleeve. 


A backpiece is a large and often intricate tattoo that covers the wearer’s whole back. This is a cohesive design that spans from the shoulders to the sacrum or even the top of the buttocks.

full dark realism backpiece tattoo
By Liam from Vivid Ink Moseley

As it is prime tattooing real estate with little body curvature or bones to take into consideration, it provides artists with a terrific opportunity to really go for detailed and elaborate designs in their artwork. This can include various themes, such as nature scenes (forests, mountains, waterfalls), mythological or religious imagery, portraits, abstract art, or any other subject matter of the wearer’s choice.

full backpiece with dragon tattoo
By Kris from the Walsall studio

It goes without saying that a full backpiece is a time-consuming process that will require many hours at the studio. These can take place over several consecutive days, or be done in several chunks where the artist will focus on one part or aspect of the design at a time. Because of the time it requires to complete them, they are often considered a bold and confident statement.

With all tattooing, it is important to choose an artist whose style you love and that you feel you can communicate with, but perhaps even more so when going for an entire backpiece. They will also take longer to heal than smaller tattoos. But there are few things as impressive as a well-executed backpiece tattoo.

To be continued.


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