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How Deep Does a Tattoo Needle Go In?
Are you considering getting a tattoo, or are you a beginner tattoo artist looking for advice? Either way, it’s important to know the correct depth for a tattoo needle. How deep does a tattoo needle go in and why is this so important?
A tattoo needle should only penetrate 1.5 to 2 millimeters deep into your skin – that’s approximately one-sixteenth of an inch. Too shallow penetration will result in weak lines and fading pigment while going too deep can cause infection and “blowouts” with blurry edges around the design.
Fortunately, with practice and patience, tattooists can learn how to achieve the perfect amount of depth when applying their artwork.
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How Long Is a Tattoo Needle?
To be honest the length of the tattoo needle doesn’t really matter. It’s the length of the “penetrating” part of the needle that is important. This is controlled by the hand of the artist as they work.
The needle itself is around 2 cm but only around 1.5 to 2 mm or 1/16th of an inch actually penetrates the skin.
What Happens When You Get a Tattoo?
During the process of getting a tattoo, the needle penetrates the dermis layer of the skin. This is where pigment will be held for years to come.
The tattoo needle is penetrating the skin somewhere between 50 to 3000 times a minute. This depends on the speed the artist is running their machine at. When lining they run the machine at a faster speed. Shading tends to be done at a slower speed.
The depth of the needle penetrating the skin is controlled by the artist.
Many people think the tattoo needle has some kind of ink reservoir that holds the ink and injects it into the skin. This isn’t true. The ink is held in the cluster of needles by capillary action. The elasticity of the skin then pulls the ink off the needles.
The ink is deposited into the dermis layer of the skin. Macrophages and Fibroblasts are part of the immune system. They view the ink as a foreign invader and encapsulate it. The ink is then trapped in the skin and doesn’t fade away.
That’s why a tattoo is permanent. But for it to be permanent the ink needs to be deposited in the right layer of skin.
So How Deep Does a Tattoo Needle Go In?
The needle needs to penetrate 1.5 to 2 millimeters into the skin, which is approximately one-sixteenth of an inch deep.
Your Skin’s Layers
The skin is the biggest organ in the human body. The skin has distinct layers, The Epidermis, Dermis and HypoDermis. The tattoo ink has to be deposited into just the right precise layer.
The Epidermis – Too Shallow
The first layer or outermost layer of your skin is the epidermis. It’s composed of dead epidermal cells and an outer layer that protects you from bacteria, viruses, and other invaders. It keeps the body waterproof.
This layer of skin is constantly regenerating. Skin cells come off and falls away. This is actually what house dust is made of! Bits of skin that have sloughed off. Bleaugh!
If the needle only penetrates this epidermal layer then the tattoo won’t be permanent since it won’t reach the dermis layer. This is why the needle needs to go in deeper for a tattoo to last.
This is where the term “scratcher” comes from. A tattooist that is unskilled and doesn’t penetrate the ink far enough into the skin will make a scratchy and thin tattoo that will fall out.
The Dermis – Just Right
The Dermis layer is much thicker than the epidermis and composed of collagen and elastin. It contains tough connective tissue hair follicles, sebaceous glands, sweat glands and tiny capillaries.
The needle needs to penetrate this layer for a tattoo to last.
This depth ensures that your ink will be held in the skin and won’t fade away.
The dermis is the permanent layer for tattoo ink. The correct location for ink.
Subcutaneous Tissue or Hypodermis layer – Too Deep – A Disaster!
The subcutaneous layer or Hypodermis is under the dermis. It’s comprised of a fat layer
This is because there isn’t enough support for the ink to stay in place properly. It will spread out into other areas of the skin and fat which can cause a very ugly tattoo.
Over time the tattoo can continue to blur and eventually turn into a big blob. This is what has happened with old black tattoos that look blurred and have lost all their detail. They have been put in too deep into this deeper layer. Into the subcutaneous layer.
The subcutaneous layer is also where larger veins lie so an unskilled tattooist going heavily into this layer is at much more risk of causing serious bleeding and infection. If ink goes into the fatty tissue of the Hypodermis the risk of infection massively increases.
What Can Go Wrong with depth?
If the Tattoo Needle Goes Too Shallow…
If the needle doesn’t go deep enough into the skin then the ink won’t stay put. This means that your tattoo will look weak and could eventually fade away completely. You will be left with a patchy tattoo. It’s a waste of money to get a tattoo like this
If the Tattoo Needle Goes Too Deep…
If the needle goes too deep, into the subcutaneous layer, then it can cause a tattoo blowout. This is when the ink bleeds and smudges outside of its original outline. It creates blurry edges.
The tattoo will look bad and may continue to blur over time. It will also be a painful process, causing unnecessary pain and excessive bleeding and skin irritation.
The risk of an infected tattoo is much higher.
How to Hit the Right Needle Depth as a Tattoo Artist
As a tattoo artist, it’s important to have the right needle depth to ensure your tattoos will be permanent and look good.
This is where practice and training come in.
Feedback through your stretching hand is very important to know that you are in the right skin layer.
When the needle is in the right skin layer you will feel satisfying vibrational feedback through your stretching hand.
This comes with time and practice and is something you develop with tattoo experience.
Riding The Tube Versus Floating the Needle.
There are two ways of Tattooing that people use to gauge their needle depth. However, one of them is a really bad idea and not something I would recommend. I’ll go through them both and explain.
Riding the Tube to set needle depth
This method was used when training apprentices back in the day. The idea was to stop them from going too deep, a bit like using training wheels when learning to ride a bike.
If you are using this method, you would set the tattoo machine to have around 2 mm of needle length sticking out of the end of the tube. You then run the plastic end of the needle cartridge along the skin which acts as a depth gauge to prevent the needle from going in further than 2mm.
However. I would never recommend working like this. Whilst it can prevent you from going too deep it sets you up for really bad habits down the line and prevents you from doing a quality tattoo.
Problems with “riding the tube”
You can’t see where you are tattooing
the tube obscures the needle tip and you are working blind
You get ink everywhere
The ink spreads by capillary action on the skin and makes a horrendous mess everywhere. Again, this makes it very difficult to see what you are doing. Then all the wiping lifts your stencil off. An all-round disaster.
You have to relearn the correct technique later
I just don’t see the point in learning the wrong way first and then the right way later. It makes sense to start as you mean to go on and do it properly from the get-go.
Floating the Needle to set needle depth
When you float the needle, you set more needle out of the tube than you are going to use. Then you use your finger as a guide to glide over the skin and keep the needle at the right depth going into the skin.
This technique is harder to do initially but once you have mastered it you will be pulling clean and sharp lines with minimal ink mess.
This is the way you will continue to tattoo so you will get better and better at it. No more having to change techniques as you learn.
If you are just starting to tattoo this post will help – What is The Best Thing To Practice Tattooing On?
Guidelines for Correct Tattoo Needle Depth
Adjusting Needle Depth for Different Techniques
The depth of the needle will vary depending on the technique you are using and the thickness of the skin you are tattooing.
For example, the skin on your wrist is much thinner than the elbow skin and needs a much lighter touch to get the proper tattoo needle depth
Tattoo needle depth for lining
When pulling a line, the needle is held at a steeper angle which allows it to penetrate the dermis a little deeper. This will give you a nice clean line with a solid deposit of ink into the dermis.
Tattoo Needle Depth for Shading
Shading on the other hand tends to go into the skin marginally shallower than lining. The tattoo machine is held at a slightly shallower angle to the skin which deposits the ink slightly higher in the dermis using flat needles or larger needle clusters.
Of course, needle depth ultimately depends on what type of shading you are doing.
This post will help – How Hard Do I Press When Tattooing?
Does The Ink Transfer to Blood Vessels?
This is a common question. Major veins and arteries are positioned deeper in the skin than a tattoo needle should be going.
A good experienced tattoo artist and reputable tattoo shop should not be going deep enough to puncture any major veins. However, there are tiny capillaries in the dermis layer. Occasionally when tattooing you can see a little flash of ink enter one of these tiny capillaries.
However, this is rare and is a minuscule amount that the body’s immune system will easily be able to deal with.
In some circumstances, people can get swollen veins such as spider veins or varicose veins which are nearer the surface. People often ask if they can be tattooed to cover them.
These type of veins are too close to the surface and should not be tattooed over due to the risk of damage and tattoo infection.
FAQS about HOW DEEP DOES A TATTOO NEEDLE GO IN
Can a tattoo needle puncture a breast implant
A tattoo needle can’t puncture a breast implant. The implant is much deeper under the surface than a tattoo needle goes. However, if you have very thin skin over the implant it’s wise to go to an experienced tattooist and speak to them to check if it is possible to tattoo.
Can a tattoo needle hit a vein?
Major veins and arteries are much deeper in the skin than the depth of a tattoo needle. However, in rare cases, a tiny amount of ink may transfer into small capillaries in the dermis. If this happens the ink is dealt with easily by the body’s immune system and is not a problem.
How do you know if your tattoo needle is deep enough
Knowing if your needle is deep enough only comes with practice. When you are in the right layer of skin you will feel the correct vibrational feedback through your stretching hand. This can feel like a smooth and satisfying vibration through the skin. Identifying this feeling only comes with time.
Conclusion – How Deep Does a Tattoo Needle Go In ?
Tattooing is an art form that requires a great deal of skill and precision to get right. How deep does a tattoo needle go in depends on what technique you are using, as well as the thickness of skin being tattooed but in general it is around 1/16th of an inch. A professional tattoo artist has learnt to hit the right depth every time as part of the tattoo process.
With practice, you can learn how to identify when the needles have reached the correct depth but this takes time and dedication.
The information on the site is for entertainment only. Anything you do is at your own risk. Consult with your own Tattooist, Piercer or Doctor for advice.
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