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If you are just starting to tattoo, you may wonder how hard to press with the machine. Too light and too heavy both cause problems.
How hard do I press when Tattooing? When Tattooing, you need to press hard enough to get the ink accurately into the Dermis or middle skin layer. Too light and the Tattoo will grow out in weeks. Too heavy and it will go into the subcutaneous tissue and blur in the skin making a bad Tattoo.
Knowing how hard to press is one of the first difficulties you run into when learning to Tattoo. Thankfully there are some ways to tell if you are doing it right or not.
If you are just starting to tattoo, you may find this post helpful. The Basics of Tattooing For Beginners
Or this post What is the best material to practice tattooing on?
How hard do I press when Tattooing?
The skin is made up of 3 layers. These are
- The Epidermis
- The Dermis
- The Subcutaneous Tissue or Hypodermis
Your skill as a Tattooist is pressing just hard enough to deposit ink accurately into the Middle layer, the Dermis.
You need to develop the ability to know that you are working at just the right pressure to get the ink into the right place.
What happens if you press too lightly when Tattooing
If you press too lightly, you will deposit the Tattoo ink into the top layer of skin, the Epidermis. This is the layer of skin that regenerates and grows out.
The top layer of skin cells sheds and grows out. This process is called Desquamation.
It takes about 14 days for the cell to rise up through the skin and flake off.
This means that if you tattoo lightly into this layer, in about 14 days the Tattoo will be shed along with the skin cells.
Tattooing too lightly creates a scratchy, patchy and faded Tattoo with bits missing.
Tattooing in a scratchy way like this is what gives “scratchers” their name.
What happens if you press too heavily when Tattooing
If you press too heavily when tattooing you will deposit the ink into the subcutaneous tissue under the Dermis, the Hypodermis.
This skin layer is comprised of fat. It isn’t as stable as the Dermis.
What happens if you deposit here is that the ink moves about in the fatty skin layer. It isn’t properly encapsulated.
This results in “blowouts” and blurring. Where you can see blurry ink flowing under the skin. This results in a terrible Tattoo.
Tattooing too heavily like this is really painful for the client. They won’t want to come back. It also risks creating bad scarring as well as a higher risk of infection.
Find out more about the correct needle depth here How Deep Does A Tattoo Needle Go In?
How to tell you are in the Dermis – Listen to the machine sound
Tattooing accurately into the Dermis takes practice. There are 2 ways to tell if you are hitting the right spot.
Listen to the sound of your machine as you Tattoo. You will be able to hear the tone change as you work. This is something that only comes with experience.
If the machine sounds like it’s struggling you could be going too deep.
It will make a satisfying hum when you are tattooing accurately.
If there is no change in tone from running freely, you may be working too light.
How to tell you are in the Dermis – Feel the skin with your stretching hand
The feedback in your stretching hand is a crucial part of Tattooing.
You should be able to feel a satisfying “thrum” of the skin vibrating as you Tattoo.
Once you are tattooing at the correct depth and with the right pressure, the vibration will feel right. You shouldn’t be having to press too hard.
Again, this comes with time.
How to practice Tattooing into the right skin layer
So how can you practice tattooing with the right pressure?
One old trick is to practice tattooing bananas.
Bananas have very delicate skin. It’s easy to press too hard and rip up the surface. This will help you to develop a lighter hand when it comes to tattooing.
Tattooing pigskin can also help. Pigskin is tougher so it helps you to stop tattooing too lightly.
As always though, there is no substitute for real skin so this is a skill that you will fine-tune as you progress through your tattoo career.
How deep do you go when tattooing?
People often wonder how deep into the skin the tattoo needle penetrates. The surprising answer is that the needle only goes in between 1-2 millimetres or 1/16th inch.
The depth of skin that you will tattoo into depends on the whereabouts of the body you are tattooing.
Some layers of thin are thicker than others. The skin on the elbow and knees, fingertips and soles of the feet are thicker than in other places.
That is why it can be hard to get tattoos to hold well in these areas.
Why is the ink not staying in the skin when I tattoo?
The ink not staying in the skin is a common problem for beginner Tattoo Artists. The likelihood is that this is happening because you are tattooing too lightly. Ink deposited lightly into the top layer of skin will grow out in about 14 days. Tattooing slightly heavier will fix the problem.
Another possibility is that you are using poor quality inks. Cheap inks will fade and look 20 years old within a few weeks. They may even cause bad allergic reactions.
Never use cheap inks. They are a false investment as your tattoo quality is what gets you future work. You owe it to your clients to give them the best quality available so that they don’t get nasty allergic reactions to your work and you create the best quality Tattoo possible.
Always get the best. Invest in some high-quality inks such as the Intenze or Eternal range and your Tattoos will look brighter and less faded. I don’t recommend Moms ink
White ink causes problems for some people. Check out this post for more on using white ink.
You can find out more about the differences in tattoo inks here. Is there a difference in Tattoo Ink? What is the best tattoo ink to use?
You will get crisp tattoo lines when you position the ink neither too deep nor too shallow. Combining this with a steady and smooth hand speed will give you crisp tattoo lines.
Getting beautiful crisp lines begins with putting on a good crisp stencil. Find out how to create the perfect tattoo stencil in this post. How to use tattoo transfer paper for tattoos. With or without a thermal copier.
How hard do I press when Tattooing?
Knowing how hard to press is just something that comes with practice. As your Tattooing skills improve you will find that you instinctively know when your machine, hand speed and pressure combine to get the ink into precisely the right layer of skin.
Time and practice is everything.
If you want to start on your Tattoo path the right way download my free guide below.
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