Mastering Tattoo Needle Depth with a Rotary Tattoo Machine - Tattoo Unleashed

Mastering Tattoo Needle Depth with a Rotary Tattoo Machine


Reaching the correct depth with your tattoo needle—the depth that is often questioned as to how deep a tattoo needle should go—is a critical element to the tattooing craft. It means the difference between the life and death of your work, and everything in between, in terms of vibrancy and longevity. Whether you are an experienced artist or an apprentice novice, "how deep to tattoo" is a query that can evoke a little bit of fear. Proper depth will mean the difference between an amateur and a professional artist. However, mastering tattoo depth is something that will help you up your game, leaving you knocking out results so amazing that your clients will be left speechless.

Importance of the Correct Needle Depth

Mastering the perfect tattoo needle depth and achieving the correct stroke length is what tattooing is all about. Your depth being too shallow will not allow your needles to pass the epidermis, and the tattoo will thus fade quickly. Over-depth will lead to the blowout of a tattoo, unnecessary pain, and excessive bleeding that bothers the customer and degrades your work.

Anatomy of Skin—Layers

The visible top layer, or the epidermis, is constantly regenerating; hence, it is not the right canvas for permanent ink. The right layer—the dermis—houses rigid cells suitable for holding ink in place for years to come. While we travel deeper and come to the subcutaneous layer, it will cause unwanted blowouts and excessive bleeding.

Rotary Tattoo Machines—The How

Rotary tattoo machines use a rotary motor that propels the needles in a smooth, consistent motion. This is an important benefit for a rotary machine because it gives better control and more accuracy in determining the stroke and needle depth. This can prove to be a great advantage mostly during the application of a tattoo for a detailed design and working on a sensitive part of the body.

What Ideally the Tattooing Needle Depth Should Be

Generally, an ideal tattoo needle depth is 1 to 2 mm, which is about 1/16th inch, as per the tattoo needle depth chart. In this thickness, the needles will go deep into the dermis but not to the subcutaneous layer, so it leaves a perfect closure that will trap the ink in place within the tight cells that are in the rigid dermis.

How to Set Tattoo Needle Depth

Needle depth setting is an important procedure, and this will help you have a safe and accurate depth.

Tubing the Tube

This is a great depth setting method for a beginner because it will give a lower risk of over-penetration. As per the tattoo needle size chart, make sure that the needles are not hanging over the tube or cartridge for more than 2 mm. This is a great step on how to set tattoo needle depth, and it will give you better accuracy and safety in the field. When tattooing, make sure that your tube is in contact with the customer's skin so the needles can be deep in the dermis. This method is what is called 'tube riding' or 'riding the tube'. This way, it will be easier to hit the depth desired. This does make it safer; however, it might be difficult to see the stencil and may also lead to smudging and ink transfer.

Floating the Needle

As the name suggests, this technique involves hovering the tip of the machine slightly above the skin's surface, typically a millimeter or less, a practice known as 'needle hang.' Adjust the needle depth and stroke length to compensate for the additional distance between the needle and the skin, a key aspect of how to adjust needle depth on a tattoo pen. Make sure a consistent distance is maintained throughout the tattooing process to avoid over penetration and possible blowouts. This affords better visibility of the stencil and a cleaner working area but requires more precision and control.

Sensory Feedback: Listening to Your Stretching Hand

With experience, your stretching hand becomes an amazing tool for gauging the correct needle depth. When the needles hit the dermis, you will feel a subtle vibration and a slight tugging sensation as the needles create a vacuum seal, trapping the ink within the rigid cells. This sensory feedback is really invaluable and in time, you will develop an innate sense of when you have the perfect depth mastered in how to know how deep to tattoo.

Adjusting for Skin Thickness Variations

Remember that skin thickness can be variable in different parts of the body. While the epidermis may be much thinner on parts such as eyelids, it will be much thicker on palms and soles. As a responsible artist, you will be able to adjust your needle depth accordingly, ensuring consistent results and avoiding potential complications, and understanding how deep do tattoos go.

Troubleshooting Common Problems

Shallow Needle Depth

If your needle depth is too shallow, the ink is only going to get as far as the epidermis. That means the tattoo will fade fast and look worn in a matter of weeks. While this is a common problem for beginners, using a step-by-step beginner tattoo needle depth chart will keep the beginner tattoo needle depth for lining on par. Little by little, adjust the needle depth so that you can feel the vibration of the machine and stretching hand characteristic from the machine. This teaches how far a tattoo needle goes in so it will ensure that it goes in at the proper depth.

Excessive Needle Depth

As discussed, over-penetration to the subcutaneous layer can result in blowouts, excessive bleeding, and heightened discomfort for your client. That is why it is so important to avoid tattoo blowout by really controlling the needle's depth. If you notice ink spreading a bit under the skin or your client jumps all of a sudden, indicating the process is painful, reduce the depth until you find that perfect middle point.

Consistent Needle Depth

Consistency is key to the perfect tattoo. Get into the habit of checking and rechecking your needle depth before starting on work. Regular tattooing and maintenance, along with paying attention to depth and speed, will ensure the consistency of the procedure and depth you have during your tattooing.

Mastering Needle Depth

Just like every other element of tattooing, needle depth is a skill developed over time, with continued practice and experience. Embrace the learning curve, look to seasoned mentors, and continue to polish your craft. It will take you a little time, but with patience and perseverance, you will be able to master the depth of the needle instinctively and be able to do timeless works of breathtaking art.


The art of mastering the right depth of the tattoo needle brings a proper comprehension of the anatomy of the skin, mechanics of the machine, and more importantly, a nice touch. Following the guidelines in this full guide will put you in a position to raise your game, reduce complications in your job that will definitely impress your clients. Embrace this journey, be dedicated, and watch your masterpieces come to life with such beautiful long-lasting vibrant colors as you know how deep does tattoo ink go.