There are probably more ideas for sleeve tattoos for males than there are stars in the sky. Although getting a sleeve tattoo is exciting, choosing a design can be pretty hard. It requires patience and you need to respect the process of collecting ideas, deciding on a theme, prioritising elements and working with your tattoo artist to bring all your thoughts together into the perfect sleeve tattoo design. With so many great sleeve tattoos out there, where do you start?
The good news is we’ve done a lot of the hard work for you. Along our journey of collecting great tattoo designs, we’ve discovered a bit of a trend when it comes to sleeve tattoos for males. There are some designs that seem to stand the test of time and are popular requests in tattoo shops. We’ve listed them out below and created a collage of some of the best male tattoo sleeve designs on our Pinterest board, check it out below…
By far one of the most popular sleeve tattoo requests by males, tribal tattoos come with a rich history, deep meaning and are a killer design, which is what makes them so attractive to men.
Popular tribal sleeve tattoo designs include Polynesian, Maori, Aztec, Mayan, Celtic and Norse. Tribal tattoos are traditionally done in black, grey and brown ink and they tend to look best in these colours too. The tribal tattoos that we see today have often been modified and modernized from their original designs due to advances tattooing technology, artistry and to suit the tastes of the modern-day man.
Geometric tattoo design is a modern style that is rapidly gaining popularity. They use clean lines and repetitive shapes to create bigger designs or pattern; this considered and organised design makes them attractive to many tattoo collectors. To give geometric tattoos some softness, tattoo artists often combine them with realism tattoos of people, animals or flowers or shapes that have natural flowy lines. The juxtaposition of these two styles creates a unique balance of bold and whimsical, making it an interesting tattoo design.
Geometric tattoos are harder to position due to the body’s natural curves. You must work with a talented tattoo artist who has experience in geometric tattooing if you are considering this design. The best way to judge their talent is to ask to see their past work to see if you like it.
Mandala tattoos are beautiful and feminine, but their design is versatile enough to suit even the manliest of men. They are a type of geometric tattoo due to their circular shape and symmetry, which is usually made up of smaller shapes including triangles and squares. The sum of these shapes gives the mandala its beautiful flower design.
Mandala is an ancient art that was born in India and has religious roots in Hinduism and Buddhism. The word Mandala translates to circle in Sanskrit and the design represents the universe and life. A mandala is designed from the centre outwards, which also stands as a metaphor for life. We all start from one point and as we grow, we add more dimension, shape and depth to our lives.
Japanese Irezumi Tattoo
Japanese or Irezumi tattoos are an increasingly popular style for males in the western world. Irezumi is the Japanese word for ‘tattoo’ and this style is easily identifiable by their flowing designs, bold lines and distinctive motifs.
Generally speaking, Japanese tattoos symbolise positivity and there are certain symbols used to attract luck, prosperity, strength, wisdom, transition and resilience. The most popular images found on a Japanese sleeve tattoo include Koi fish, Phoenix, Tiger, Lion, Fu-Dog, Snake, cherry blossoms, Oni mask, water and clouds.
Norse/ Viking Tattoo
Viking tattoos are commonly born out of Norse mythology. The Vikings were warriors from Scandinavia who invaded the rest of Europe, Britain and parts of Asia. They were said to be tattooed with symbols that they believed protected them in battle. The meaning of these symbols have carried through to today making this design a popular choice for male sleeve tattoos. Shows such as Game of Thrones and Vikings has also increased the popularity of viking sleeve tattoos.
If you are interested in discovering more about Nordic mythology and the meaning of Runes, this book is awesome. It gives a great description on the meanings of Runes and a comprehensive background on Nordic mythology, we highly recommend!
Greek Mythology Tattoo
Pop culture has given Greek mythology great exposure over the past 50 years and many people have heard of the Greek Gods to some extent. Zeus was the God of all Gods and Poseidon ruled over the sea, Aphrodite was beautiful and seductive, Ares was brutal and destructive, and so on. What each God represented, along with their striking imagery, is what still makes Greek mythology sleeve tattoos so popular with males. Find out more!
Portrait/ Realism Tattoo
Portrait or realism tattoos are one of the hardest tattoos to perfect and they take years of practice. So if you are looking to get a portrait tattoo, invest in a super experienced and talented tattoo artist.
A few good tips to keep in mind if you are considering this tattoo style; the image quality of the tattoo will be as good as picture you provide. If the photo is on your phone, print it out to a size bigger than the tattoo you want and make sure it is high resolution. Most tattoo artists recommend an 8×10 photo for reference.
To get a gauge of the tattoo artist’s work, look at their portrait tattoo portfolio and compare the tattoo side by side to the image they were recreating. It’s also a good idea to look at healed tattoos as this will manage your expectations on how the tattoo will look long term.
Cloud tattoos can be done in a variety of ways depending on the theme of the tattoo. They tend not to be the focus of the tattoo, rather a background to create beautiful connections and flow with other elements in the sleeve tattoo.
Clouds can be tattooed realistically or abstractly, like traditional Japanese clouds. If you are interested in this style, find out about the various cloud tattoo designs and their meanings here.
Animal tattoos are a popular choice for tattoo sleeve designs because of their symbolism and they are great at conveying human expression.
The most popular animal sleeve tattoos include the lion, tiger, owl, wolf, stag and eagle- all of these animals represent qualities that are attractive to males. Many animal tattoos are produced in a realism style so just like portrait tattoos you need to do your homework before selecting a tattoo artist.
Traditional tattoos are also known as flash or Sailor Jerry tattoos. This style is cartoon-like, bold, bright and designed to be a snackable form of tattooing. They are usually drawn by the tattoo artist and displayed on the walls of a tattoo shop; these designs were originally created for walk-ins. The origin of this tattoo style came from sailors over a hundred years ago (hence the name Sailor Jerry) and although they have evolved with the times, they still have a very distinctive look and feel.
The great thing about traditional tattoos is that they require less planning than one big sleeve tattoo. They are a collection of disconnected tattoos that can be done by different artists over time, like a patch work quilt.
As you can see, the choice for male sleeve tattoos is infinite. But hopefully we have been able to give you some food for thought to get you started. Below is a collection of some of the best male tattoo sleeves we’ve come across to give you some inspiration…