How deep should a tattoo needle go?

Written by robert howard
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How deep should a tattoo needle go?
Tattoos are made by inserting coloured pigments into the skin using a specialised needle. (dmitryzubarev/iStock/Getty Images)

The tattoo needle used to insert dye into your skin should drive about 1/16 of an inch into the skin, or through the first three layers of skin. A good, experienced tattoo artist will make sure that the ink is penetrating deeply enough into the skin to be permanent, but not so deep that the flesh is damaged and scar tissue begins to form.

Traditional tattooing techniques

Some of the traditional tattooing techniques, such as Samoan and Thai techniques, are not as subtle as the modern tattoo machines with their rapidly moving needles. In the traditional techniques, the tattoo artist uses a single needle shaped from a thin stick of bamboo to inject the ink into the skin, one strike at a time. The depth the needle reaches during this process is less consistent, and these techniques can result in scarring.

Bottom line

Most modern tattoo parlours and artists use a tattoo machine, or "gun," to inject the coloured inks rapidly into the skin. A conscientious and qualified tattoo artist will work to keep the needle to a consistent depth of about 1.5 mm (1/16th inch), or no deeper than the third layer of skin.


When considering a tattoo make sure it is of a design that you can live with for the rest of your life. Tattoo removal is painful and usually leaves a scar.

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