Deciding to get a tattoo is both super exciting and super serious. It is exciting because you’ll be getting this awesome permanent piece of art on your body. On the other hand, it is serious because it involves a painful process of getting repeatedly ‘stabbed’ by the tattoo needle.
So, the fact that you’re reading this means that you’re taking your tattoo experience seriously, and that is beyond commendable.
We believe it is essential to get informed properly before embarking on the journey of tattooing. If you want to know more about tattoo needles and how they work, then you’re in the right place. So, without further ado, let’s get started!
The Tattoo Machine/Needle – Explained
The Tattoo Machine
To understand the whole deal with the tattoo needle, we need to start with the basics; the tattoo machine, of course. The traditional tattoo machine is an electrical device used for tattooing, all around the world.
The standard tattoo machine pulses a tattoo needle into the skin using a specific mechanism of electromagnetic coils, which move the armature bar up and down at the rate of 6,000 motions per one minute.
However, a tattoo machine is nothing without ink. While pushing the needle in and out of the skin, it also needs to transfer the ink into the skin. Remember the armature bar? Well, a barred needle grouping is connected to this bar and is responsible for pushing the ink into the skin.
Now, how does the machine ensure the ink stays in the skin?
Well, as the tattoo machine pushes the needle into the skin, the needle pierces the skin and creates a hole where the ink will be stored. As the needle pushes out of the skin, it creates a vacuum seal, which sucks the ink into the previously created hole in the skin. In those created holes are skin cells known as macrophages and fibroblasts. That is where the ink is trapped and sealed.
As such, the ink is sealed into the skin and should stay so throughout the tattoo healing process. However, if the healing process isn’t going well, the ink can leave the skin at any time and create issues like tattoo infection. But, that is a topic for another article.
The Tattoo Needle
Tattoo needles are generally made of steel, nickel, and chrome. There are numerous types of tattoo needles, used for different tattooing styles, shading, coloring, dotting, and other tattooing practices.
For example, there are round needles used for shading and lining, flat needles used for cleaner, darker lines, magnum needles used for shading, etc.
Standard needles are between 0.30mm and 0.35mm in thickness. Some tattoo needles are even thinner than that. For example, bugpins, or magnum needles are usually between 0.20mm and 0.25mm in thickness. They are mostly used for detailed shading.
Tattoo needles are pre-sterilized and disposed of after every single use.
How Does The Tattoo Needle Work? – Proper Tattoo Needle Depth
The Skin Layers
Now that we know what a tattoo machine and needle are, it is time to understand the other essential factor in tattooing – the skin.
Your, and everyone else’s skin has 3 layers;
- The epidermis (which further comprises 5 sublayers) is the skin surface and the outer layer of the skin. It is responsible for keeping the body waterproof and ensuring the skin tone.
- The dermis, placed just beneath the epidermis, is the layer containing all the connective tissue, as well as sweat glands and hair follicles.
- Subcutaneous tissue or hypodermis is the layer that stores the fat and connective tissue.
Among these three main layers are hair follicles, sweat glands, fat tissue, connective tissue, and blood vessels, which together create the largest organ of the body. Did you know that your skin covers an area of approximately 20 square feet? Well, now you do!
So, Where Should The Needle Go?
The tattoo needle should go into the dermis layer of the skin. This layer lies in the middle, and is the perfect spot for ensuring the ink will stay in the skin, and not ‘bleed out’ as the tattoo heals.
The epidermis is not a good ink location since it is too exposed and too outward, while the hypodermis is too deep into the skin, which means the ink won’t be as visible and the pain during tattooing would be twice as intense. Also, if the needle penetrates the hypodermis, the client will most certainly experience an infection.
So, how deep, to be exact, should a needle go into the skin?
The answer is – approximately 1/16th inch deep into the skin. This means that the ink will be placed exactly between the 2mm of the dermis layer.
If you’re wondering how a tattoo artist knows where the dermis layer is in the skin, we’ve got you covered with that as well.
Before the tattooing process begins, the tattoo artist adjusts the tattoo machine and the needle in regards to the parameter of the dermis layer location. So, the dermis layer is approximately 1/16th inch deep into the skin.
With that knowledge, the tip of the tattoo needle is adjusted to only enter the skin at such depth, not a millimeter shallower or deeper. This means that the tattoo needle should not stick out the tattoo machine more than 2mm, or less than 1mm.
What If The Needle Goes Too Shallow/Deep?
If the needle only enters the epidermis or the outer layer of the skin, the ink will transfer but won’t stay in the skin.
As the needle leaves the skin and the bleeding occurs, it will push out the ink out of the skin as well. By the time the tattoo heals, the majority of the ink will have left the skin and one would end up with a partial, messed up, and faded-looking tattoo (in the best case).
On the other hand, if the needle goes in too deep into the skin, the hypodermis layer, it might cause more serious issues. It will be harder for the ink to fully leave the skin, but it will also be significantly less visible. Moreover, such tattooing will hurt significantly more than the regular one done properly.
Because the ink is so deep in the skin, as a result, people can develop serious tattoo infections and skin irritations. There is also a chance one would experience a tattoo blowout since the ink moves freely in the fat layer. So, even if you end up with a healthy tattoo, it will look distorted and messed up.
Can The Needle Transfer Ink Into The Blood Vessels?
When it comes to tattoo needles, one of the most common questions regards the possibility of the needle entering and injecting the ink into the veins.
As we mentioned, the dermis layer of the skin is filled with blood vessels or veins. So, sure, there is a chance that the tattoo needle can enter a vein. However, a skilled tattoo artist knows how to properly navigate the needle and ensure that small amounts of ink get transferred into the skin. This way, even if the ink ends up in the blood vessels, it won’t cause any issues.
Truth to be told, regardless of the blood vessels, once you get a tattoo, there will be ink in your body and bloodstream. However, the body is able to break down the ink using its powerful immune system.
The reason ink in the bloodstream doesn’t create an issue is because skilled tattoo artists know how deep their needle needs to go into the skin. If they don’t pay attention to this important detail, then the amounts of ink ending up in the bloodstream could create toxicity issues, for sure.
That is why it is always important to only get tattooed by experienced professionals at reputable tattoo shops and salons.
Hopefully, this brief article has made it easier to understand how tattoo machines and needles work and answered the question of the depth at which the needles should enter the skin. For more information about similar topics, make sure to check out our site and other interesting and educational articles.
And, remember; if you have any doubts or questions before getting a tattoo, try to get informed online, or talk directly to your tattoo artist. They will know exactly what and how to explain, so you can have the best and most pleasant tattoo experience.