Correct Tattoo Needle Depth

  • Written By Dan Hunter on November 10, 2020
    Last Updated: January 3, 2021

The correct tattoo needle depth is vital for a successful design. If the needle goes too shallow, it will deposit ink that will disappear quickly. Going too deep can lead to permanent tattoo disfigurement and excessive bleeding.

A tattoo needle should deposit the ink between 1 and 2mm into the skin to ensure it’s seated within the dermis layer and has bypassed the outer layer of skin (the epidermis). Factors such as skin type can slightly affect the required depth.

Guidelines for Correct Tattoo Needle Depth

Here is what you need to consider to find the correct tattoo needle depth. 

Understanding Skin

Human skin is more complicated than you might think. It has three distinct layers, and each performs a very different function. 

The top is the epidermis. The epidermis itself has five different layers, which you can think of as “sublayers.” These layers flake off and regenerate. The epidermis is the layer of skin that’s visible. 

The dermis is the next layer, and it is crucial for tattooing. The needle needs to penetrate the dermis. If the ink only gets to the epidermis, it will eventually fall out. However, the ink will remain permanently in the dermis. 

Subcutaneous fat is the final skin layer. It attaches the skin to your body and helps you maintain body heat. You do not want the tattoo needle to penetrate this layer. It’s not only painful, but it could lead to more bleeding than normal. 

How Deep is the Dermis?

The dermis, the target for your tattoo ink, is between 1 mm and 2 mm under the surface of the skin. (1 mm is 0.03 inches.) 

The exact depth may vary from person to person, but 1 mm will be the minimum depth and 2 mm will be the maximum. All your work must occur within this range.

You adjust the depth of the tip while the needle is attached to your tattoo machine. 

Skin thickness can vary in different parts of the body. You need to familiarize yourself with this anatomy and how the different thicknesses affect tattoos and needle depth.

Tattoo artists acquire their skills by undertaking an apprenticeship. During this time, they learn about needle depths in different parts of the body and assess the ideal depth for each client. 

The thickness of the epidermis on the arm is less than its thickness on the abdomen. Though this is true for most people, it may be different for a given individual. 

Ideally, an apprentice tattooist will learn to assess the depth and make adjustments when necessary. Experienced tattooists can adjust their needle depth to the right measurement with the naked eye. 

How Do You Set the Depth?

Tattoo needles are disposable. You have to use a different, sterile needle for each client. You will attach the needle to a bar on your tattoo machine. 

Then, you place the ink reservoir around the needle by sliding it over the tip and attaching it to the machine. The needle will stick out past the end of the reservoir. At its farthest extension point, it should be no more than 2 mm. 

You can adjust the depth as needed by tightening the lock on the needle bar. On most equipment, you do this by turning the bar clockwise. 

Adjusting Needle Depth for Different Techniques

Tattoo artists use various techniques to reach the desired result. When shading, they typically hold the needle at an angle, varying the slope to get different effects. 

They may also stretch the skin, which allows them to get better definition and sharper details. Although, this can affect the depth settings for the needle. 

Even with all these variables at play, the needle still needs to penetrate the skin to a depth of 1 to 2 mm. You will rarely move outside of these parameters. 


There are many variables at play when choosing the best depth for a tattoo needle. However, you always need to deposit ink in the dermis between 1 and 2 mm below the skin’s surface. 

The exact depth can vary depending on the skin type and the tattoo’s location on the body. A skilled tattoo artist, who received proper training during an apprenticeship, can select the appropriate depth for their tattoo needle and make adjustments while tattooing if needed.

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