Tattoo needle depth & outlining information

Updated February 21, 2017

While the concept of creating a tattoo is relatively simple, it can become a disaster without the proper tools, technique and needle depth. A successful tattoo artist requires a broad range of skills and experience.

Importance of Needle Depth

The depth a tattoo needle penetrates is an important factor in how light or dark the finished product appears. Because ink that is injected more deeply affects several layers of the skin, it colours the area more thoroughly.

Outlining and Shading

Tattoo artists should use a needle depth of 1mm for solid tattoo outlining and lettering. This technique should usually be done with a round liner needle. Artists should use a round shading needle inserted to a depth of .5mm for tattoo shading.

Thick and Thin Skin

Experienced tattoo artists develop an eye for seeing whether a customer has thick or thin skin. Adjustments may be necessary according to skin thickness, but these vary from one individual to the next.


While proper needle depth is an important skill for tattoo students to learn, it is not advisable for beginners to practice on human skin. Many times, apprentices practice on grapefruits and artificial skin until they master the technique.

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About the Author

Tiffany Bennett is a recent graduate from Toccoa Falls College. While earning her degree in counseling and psychology, she discovered that she enjoys various forms of writing. She is currently living in Athens, Ga., and looking forward to beginning a graduate degree program in international affairs at the University of Georgia.