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Tattoo Artists: How Hard And Deep Should You Press?

It is often hard to understand all the skill and understanding that goes into the art of tattooing. There are things that no one even thinks about tattoo artists needing to know and be aware of other than your tattoo looking pretty – for example, how hard and deep should you press when working on a tattoo?

A tattoo artist needs to push hard enough when working on a tattoo that the needle goes through to the second layer of skin called the dermis layer. Anything deeper than this can lead to infection and scarring, and anything less deep will fade too quickly.

Kate in black gloves
My tattoo work on a finger

Let us take a look at why you need to tattoo through to the dermis layer of skin and why any other layer of skin is usually a horrible idea – since you may be thinking, isn’t skin just skin? Will my tattoo not look just as good tattooed in any layer of skin? 

How Hard Should You Press When Tattooing?

When working on a tattoo, the tattoo artist should be pushing hard enough to penetrate through to the second layer of their client’s skin, which is called the “dermis” layer of skin.

It will take many hours of practice from the tattoo artist, usually during their apprenticeship with an established tattoo artist, to learn the skill of how deep they need to go/how hard they need to push when working on a tattoo. 

skin for tattooing layers
How tattooing work and which layers of skin you need to pierce according to

Anything less than this, such as only tattooing through the top layer of skin, which is called the “epidermis,” the chances are high that your tattoo will fade very quickly. Pieces of your tattoo may even come off entirely in the scabbing process of your tattoo healing.

Anything deeper than this, such as tattooing through to the deeper fatty skin layer, which is called the “hypodermis,” can lead to scarring of the skin, permanently raised areas of your tattoo, and even infection.

What this means is that your tattoo artist should be pushing hard enough to go through to the dermis, or second layer, of skin – and should not go any deeper than this, or it may lead to many unwanted complications in your tattoo.

How Much Needle Should Be Shown On A Tattoo Gun?

Each person’s skin is different, and because of this, tattoo artists will need to assess how much of the needle will be needed for each person’s tattoo, as some skin is quite hard and may need to be worked on more, meaning more needle will show.

Some people may need less needle to be used if they have very soft and easy skin to work with.

Your tattoo artist will usually assess each client’s skin type and adjust their needle length accordingly.

If your tattoo is ever bleeding in excessive amounts during a tattoo session, this is usually an indication that your tattoo artist is tattooing too deep and that there is too much needle being used. 

The general rule of thumb with how much needle should be shown is that the needle should be showing no less than 1mm, and definitely no more than 2mm.

closeup of tattoo needle
Closeup of a tattoo needle from

Your tattoo artist should be well aware of how deep they should and should not be going, and if at any point to do not feel confident in their decisions with their needle length and tattooing depth, you always have the right to ask them to stop.

It is better to ask them to stop and be wrong and then come back after the tattoo has healed and let your artist continue their work than to keep quiet and regret it later on.

What Happens If You Do Not Go Deep Enough On A Tattoo?

If your tattoo artist does not tattoo your skin deep enough, many undesirable outcomes could occur; this includes outcomes such as:

Pieces Missing From Your Tattoo

If your tattoo artist does not tattoo your skin deep enough, your body may possibly push the ink out – this usually happens through scabbing.

As the tattoo heals, it will form scabbing that will eventually fall off. When your artist does not go deep enough, your skin may push out most of the ink during this process, which will then form part of the scab, and as it falls off, it takes the ink along with it.

In this situation, when your tattoo is done healing, any area of your tattoo where this process took place will now have pieces missing from that tattoo.

It is the same reaction your skin would have to a minor cut, where it pushes out anything that may have gotten into your skin when the cut happened – your body does this to avoid infection.

Quick Fading Of Your Tattoo

Another thing that is very likely to happen if your tattoo artist does not tattoo deep enough is that any ink that does make it through the healing process will already look faded and only continue to fade.

Because it is much closer to the skin’s surface, it will be affected far more by things that cause your tattoos to fade – things such as using a loofa in the shower or frequent sun exposure. 

A tattoo should go deep enough to penetrate the second layer of skin
The tattoo must be at the proper depth of the skin

These things will generally cause any tattoo to fade when exposed to them frequently, but this will cause a tattoo that is this close to the surface to fade far more quickly.

If you get a really bad sunburn on the area of skin where your tattoo that was not done deep enough is, you may even lose some of that ink as your skin peals when your body is healing from the sunburn.

There are many outcomes that may take place on a tattoo that has not been tattooed deep enough; however, most of them are not good outcomes. A tattoo that has not been tattooed deep enough will generally not be a good tattoo, will not last, and if it does last, it will fade extremely fast when compared to a tattoo that was done deep enough.

Can You Go Too Deep Or Push Too Hard When Tattooing?

Your tattoo artist, if they do not know what they are doing, may also push too hard when tattooing a client, and this could lead to them going too deep in the skin.

If a tattoo artist tattoos too deep and goes through to the hypodermis layer of skin (a layer of skin made of connective tissue and fat), they could cause many unwanted issues in your tattoo.

Scarring In Your Tattoo

The number one issue that is caused when a tattoo artist goes too deep in the skin is scarring – when the tattoo artist is heavy-handed or merely inexperienced, it can lead to them tattooing the skin too deep. 

When the skin is tattooing too deep, it will often cause your tattoo to actually scar, which will cause the skin to raise and be lumpy even after the healing process is over.

Blowouts In Your Tattoo

Often if an artist goes too deep or pushes too hard when tattooing a client’s skin, it can cause a blowout on the tattoo.

You need to get the tattoo deep enough in the skin to avoid fading and blowout
You need to get the tattoo deep enough in the skin if you want to avoid fading and blowout

A blowout is when the ink of the tattoo “leaks” into the area around the skin that it was tattooed on. 

A blowout is caused when the ink is injected into fatty tissue instead of the skin; your skin will hold the ink in the area it is tattooed on when done correctly, whereas fatty tissue will not, which is why the ink “leaks” into other areas.


A tattoo should go deep enough that it penetrates the second layer of skin, but you should not push so hard that it goes any deeper than this, as the results of a tattoo that is done too deep are often not able to be fixed or corrected again.

With that being said, you should also not push too light, or your tattoo will not stick, and your will end up losing most of it as your body heals that area of skin.

The right depth is important in a tattoo, so make sure your tattoo artist knows what they are doing and will not go too deep or push too lightly while they are working on your skin.


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