Deciding to get a tattoo is both super exciting and super serious. It’s exciting because you’ll get that stunning, permanent piece of art on your body. On the other hand, it’s serious because it involves a painful process of repeatedly getting “stung” by the tattoo needle.
So the fact that you are reading this means you are taking your tattoo experience seriously, and that is more than commendable.
We believe that it is essential to be well informed before embarking on the adventure of tattooing. If you want to learn more about tattoo needles and how they work, you’ve come to the right place. So, without further ado, let’s get started!
The Tattoo Machine / The Needle – Explained
The tattoo machine
To understand all about 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 over the world.
The standard tattoo machine sends a tattoo needle through the skin using a specific mechanism of electromagnetic coils, which move the armature bar up and down at 6,000 strokes per minute.
However, a tattoo machine is nothing without ink. While pushing the needle in and out of the skin, it must also transfer the ink into the skin. Remember rebar? Well, a group of barred needles are connected to this bar and are responsible for pushing the ink into the skin.
Now, how does the machine ensure that the ink stays in the skin?
Well, when 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 exits the skin, it creates a vacuum seal, which draws ink into the previously created hole in the skin. Within these created holes are skin cells called macrophages and fibroblasts. This is where the ink is trapped and sealed.
As such, the ink is sealed into the skin and should remain so throughout the tattoo healing process. However, if the healing process does not go well, the ink can leave the skin at any time and create problems like tattoo infection. But, that’s a subject for another article.
The tattoo needle
Tattoo needles are usually made of steel, nickel and chrome. There are many types of tattoo needles, used for different tattoo styles, shading, coloring, dots and other tattoo practices.
For example, there are round needles used for shading and lining, flat needles used for sharper and darker lines, magnum needles used for shading, etc.
Standard needles have a thickness between 0.30 mm and 0.35 mm. Some tattoo needles are even finer than this. For example, bugpins or magnum needles are usually between 0.20mm and 0.25mm thick. They are mainly used for detailed shading.
Tattoo needles are pre-sterilized and discarded after each use.
Also Read: How to Shade a Tattoo: Best Practices and Techniques You Need to Know
How does the tattoo needle work? – Good tattoo needle depth
The layers of skin
Now that we know what a tattoo machine and a needle are, it’s time to understand the other essential factor in tattooing: the skin.
Your skin and everyone else’s skin has 3 layers;
- The epidermis (which further includes 5 sub-layers) is the surface of the skin and the outer layer of the skin. It is responsible for keeping the body waterproof and providing skin tone.
- The dermisplaced just under the epidermis, is the layer containing all the connective tissue, as well as the sweat glands and hair follicles.
- Subcutaneous tissue or hypodermis is the layer that stores fat and connective tissue.
Among these three main layers are the hair follicles, sweat glands, adipose tissue, connective tissue, and blood vessels, which together form the largest organ in the body. Did you know that your skin covers an area of about 20 square feet? Well, now you do!
So where should the needle go?
The tattoo needle should penetrate the dermis layer of the skin. This layer sits in the middle and is the perfect place to make sure the ink will stay in the skin and not “bleed” as the tattoo heals.
The epidermis is not a good place for ink because it’s too exposed and outward, while the hypodermis is too deep in the skin, meaning the ink won’t be as visible. and that the pain during the tattoo 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 penetrate the skin?
The answer is – about 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 too.
Before the tattooing process starts, the tattoo artist adjusts the tattoo machine and the needle according to the parameter of the location of the dermis layer. So the dermis layer is about 1/16th of an inch deep in the skin.
With this knowledge, the tip of the tattoo needle is adjusted to penetrate the skin only to such depth, not a millimeter shallower or deeper. This means that the tattoo needle should not stick out of the tattoo machine more than 2mm or less than 1mm.
What if the needle goes too shallow/deep?
If the needle only penetrates the epidermis or the outer layer of the skin, the ink will be transferred but will not stay in the skin.
As the needle leaves the skin and bleeding occurs, it will also expel the ink from the skin. By the time the tattoo heals, the majority of the ink will have left the skin and you will be left with a partial tattoo, messed up and faded (at best).
On the other hand, if the needle goes too deep into the skin, the hypodermic layer, it could cause more serious problems. It will be more difficult for the ink to completely leave the skin, but it will also be much less visible. Moreover, such a tattoo will hurt much more than the regular tattoo done correctly.
Because the ink is so deep in the skin, people can develop serious tattoo infections and skin irritations. There is also a chance that one will 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 blood vessels?
When it comes to tattoo needles, one of the most common questions is about the possibility of the needle penetrating and injecting the ink into the veins.
As we mentioned, the dermis layer of the skin is filled with blood vessels or veins. So, of course, there is a chance that the tattoo needle will enter a vein. However, a skilled tattoo artist knows how to properly navigate the needle and ensure that small amounts of ink are transferred into the skin. This way, even if the ink ends up in the blood vessels, it won’t cause any problems.
Truth be told, regardless of 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 blood doesn’t create a problem is because skilled tattoo artists know how deep their needle should go into the skin. If they don’t pay attention to this important detail, the amounts of ink ending up in the bloodstream could create toxicity issues, for sure.
This is why it is always important to only get tattooed by experienced professionals at reputable tattoo shops and parlors.
Hopefully this brief article has made it easier to understand how tattoo machines and needles work and answered the question of how deep needles should go into the skin. For more information on similar topics, be 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 inquire online or speak directly to your tattoo artist. They will know exactly what and how to explain to you, so that you can have the best and most enjoyable tattoo experience.
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