Tattoo Needle Depth: How Deep Should A Tattoo Needle Go?

Written by: Pete

Perfecting your skills as a tattoo artist requires knowing exactly where you are depositing the ink in your client’s skin. The ink needs to be perfectly situated in the dermis rather than the epidermis or the layer of fat in the skin, so it can avoid blowout or fading when healing. Nailing down the depth of your needle takes extensive hours of practice.


Guidelines for Correct Tattoo Needle Depth

The depth of a tattoo needle should allow you to deposit ink approximately 1/16th of an inch deep into the skin. Different factors and different artistry needs may cause this depth to adjust slightly.

Understanding Skin

The key to perfecting the depth of your needle begins with understanding the anatomy of the human body, particularly the largest organ, the skin. The skin has three distinct layers:

  • The Epidermis - This layer is made up of five sublayers. Depositing ink here means your design will fade and flake off, as this layer is constantly regenerating.
  • The Dermis - This is where the needle should hit and the ink should be deposited. Ink remains permanently in this layer.
  • Subcutaneous - This is the layer of fat beneath the dermis. If you insert ink here, it will blowout and feather, and it can also lead to excessive bleeding if penetrated.

How Deep is the Dermis?

The dermis sits at that perfect 1/16th of an inch depth that you want to hit. Obviously this could vary from person to person and depending on the location on the body that is being tattooed, but that is the general depth of most dermises. An apprenticeship will help you master depth for various regions and allow you to gain a comfortable understanding of how much pressure you need to use for your gun.

Tattoo Needle Depth Diagram

How Do You Set the Tattoo Gun Needle Depth?

When you are putting a tattoo machine together or are inserting a needle cartridge into your gun, you can set how much needle is showing out of the tube. The dermis sits at 1mm to 2mm deep and so you can adjust the machine within this parameter using the armature bar.

If you are a person who is more comfortable riding the tube, that means you will set your needle at the precise 1/16th of an inch required to insert the ink into the dermis, and you will use the tube against your client’s skin as a guide for how deep it will go. Otherwise, you can position the needle at the furthest extension point and you can learn to hold your gun in a way that allows for perfect penetration depth.

For complete information on setting up your needles, check out our article, A Beginner's Guide On How To Set Up And Use A Tattoo Gun.

Adjusting Needle Depth for Different Techniques

Tattoo Needle Depth for Lining

You want a potent pigment when it comes to lining, so move slowly and carefully at the perfect dermis depth to achieve smooth and well-healed lines.

Tattoo Needle Depth for Shading

Shading doesn’t need to be potent in the dermis and it’s meant to heal a little lighter. For this reason, you can hold the needle at a slight angle so that the ink deposits slightly higher in the dermis to get different effects.

Ink should always be deposited within the 1mm to 2mm placement of the dermis, but different angles will allow for different effects in this depth.

Our Final Thoughts

The best way to learn about the perfect depth for tattooing is through practice. Using fruit or alternative skin is a great way to better master needle depth, before moving on to practice on yourself and eventually towards tattooing clients. Learning about anatomy and understanding skin is essential to becoming a professional artist, because the dermis is exactly where ink needs to be deposited for it to heal perfectly.

For more information on honing your skills to become an established artist, check out our article, How To Practice Tattooing To Become A Successful Tattoo Artist.

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