Correct Needle Depth on a Rotary Tattoo Machine

  • Written By Dan Hunter on March 22, 2023
    Last Updated: April 7, 2023

Needle depth refers to the depth that the needle bar on a rotary tattoo machine penetrates the skin. It is essential to get the right needle depth, or the ink might not be delivered effectively, resulting in a patchy or inconsistent tattoo. Getting the needle depth right will also help the tattoo heal more quickly and with less scarring.

Here is a guide to setting up needle depth correctly on a rotary tattoo machine.

How Does Needle Depth Differ on Rotary Tattoo Machines Compared to Other Types of Machine?

Rotary tattoo machines are different from other types of machines, such as coil tattoo machines, in the way they determine needle depth. While coil machines rely on spring tension to determine needle depth, rotary machines use stroke length to determine needle depth.

This means that on a rotary machine, the needle depth is set by adjusting the distance that the needle bar travels, rather than by adjusting the spring tension as with coil machines. This difference is important because it affects the amount of pressure that the needle applies to the skin, and the speed at which the needle penetrates the skin.

In general, rotary machines are considered to be gentler and less aggressive than coil machines, which may be an advantage when tattooing sensitive areas of skin. However, it is still essential to get the needle depth right, regardless of the type of machine used, in order to achieve a high-quality tattoo.

Another advantage of rotary machines is that they tend to be quieter and produce less vibration than coil machines. This can be more comfortable for the artist and client, especially during long tattoo sessions.

To summarize, while the method for setting needle depth differs on rotary machines compared to other types of machines, the importance of getting the needle depth right remains the same. By understanding the differences between machines and the factors that affect needle depth, tattoo artists can deliver excellent tattoos using any type of machine.

Factors that Affect Needle Depth

Several factors affect needle depth, including the size of the needle, the area of the skin being tattooed, and the type of skin. If the needle depth is too shallow, the tattoo may not be visible or appear patchy. If the needle depth is too deep, the tattoo may be painful, the skin may bleed excessively, and the ink may be forced too far into the skin.

How to Determine the Needle Depth

The depth of the needle on a rotary tattoo machine is determined by adjusting the machine’s stroke length. The stroke length determines how far the needle bar travels, and the distance traveled by the needle bar should be equivalent to the desired depth of the needle.

For example, if the needle’s depth needs to be one millimeter, then the stroke length of the rotary tattoo machine should be adjusted accordingly. It is essential to adjust the needle depth in small increments, making small changes at a time and checking the results before making further adjustments.

Testing the Needle Depth

Before beginning the tattoo, it is necessary to test the needle depth. This can be done by using a small area of skin to make a test tattoo. This will give the artist the opportunity to adjust the needle depth if necessary before beginning the full tattoo.


In conclusion, needle depth is an essential aspect of rotary tattooing. It determines the quality of the tattoo, the healing time, and the amount of scarring. By understanding the factors that affect needle depth, how to determine the needle depth, and testing the needle depth before beginning the tattoo, tattoo artists can deliver a high-quality tattoo to their clients.

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