How to Do Single Needle Tattoos | Painful Pleasures Community

How to Do Single Needle Tattoos

Mastering the art of doing a single needle tattoo is no easy feat. Check out these tips for nailing single needle tattoos every time.
by Danny Tress Last Updated: May 23, 2024

Mastering the art of the single needle tattoo is a challenge—but it’s worth it. With the surge in popularity of fine line tattoos, needle tattoos are stealing the spotlight for their unparalleled precision and delicate details. But diving into this intricate art form requires finesse and know-how. So, buckle up as we take you through the top tips for nailing the art of the single needle tattoo like a pro.

What are Single Needle Tattoos?

Three Stellar needle cartridges with round liner configurations

The single needle tattoo is exactly what it sounds like: a tattoo done with a single needle (1RL). Single needle tattooing allows for the finest lines possible, the softest shading, and the subtlest detailing. You can use single needle tattooing for fine line tattoos, micro realism, or your own unique style. But when it comes to the single needle tattoo, every stroke counts and there’s NO room for error.

Single Needle Tattoo vs. Fine Line Tattoo

Let’s clear one thing up. While there’s overlap between single needle tattoos and fine line tattoos, they’re not 100% the same. A single needle tattoo is technically a fine line tattoo. However, fine line tattoos also cover any tattoo that has (you guessed it) fine lines, which can be accomplished with small needle groupings, but not necessarily a single needle.  A single needle tattoo exclusively uses a single needle, and is thus more intricate, time-consuming, and often finer.

Tip 1: Optimize Your Ink Flow

Your ink flow is a key factor for any tattoo, but most especially when it comes to single needle tattoos. When you’re working with just one needle, ensuring a steady ink flow is paramount. That’s because a single needle restricts your ink flow. On the other hand, if you’re working with a small needle grouping, your ink flow is much more free-flowing, since more ink travels through the needle groupings. Consequently, you’ll want to do a few things to ensure your ink flow is on point while using a restrictive single needle:

  1. Invest in quality cartridges and ink that complement your style. Needle cartridges like Peak Stellar, Peak Triton, and Kwadron are all known for improving your ink flow.
  2. For longer sessions, keep an eye on your ink supply to prevent drying out. Throughout the session, your ink mixes with your client’s blood and plasma, which alters the consistency. As your ink thickens, it can flow less freely. So keep refreshing that ink cap!
  3. Make sure you’re using quality tattoo ink with the right consistency. Thicker tattoo inks that flow more slowly aren’t your friend when it comes to single-needle tattooing.

Pro Tip: regular needle cleaning can work wonders in keeping your ink flowing smoothly throughout the session.

Tip 2: Lower Your Voltage

With single needle tattooing, you’re more prone to wobbling and instability. Single needles wobble more than larger groupings after all. This is why we highly recommend using high-quality needle cartridges (we name-dropped a few brands in tip one if you missed it). However, you’ll also want to lower the voltage on your machine so you can work as slowly and delicately as possible. Fast and hard is not the way to go when performing a single needle tattoo.

It’ll likely require some experimentation to find the right machine and operating voltage combo for your single needle work. To that end, we recommend practicing with different machines and voltages on APOF practice skins.

Tip 3: Use the Right Stroke

You might be frustrated by this tip because it’s a little vague. But as with any tattoo style, the right stroke for your single needle tattoos is dependent on your own preference and personal successes. So, again, try different stroke lengths on APOF practice skins to see which yields the best results for you.

If you opt for a shorter stroke length, you’ll have faster-flowing ink, which many artists find to be more helpful when working with a restrictive single needle. However, there are pros to a longer stroke length as well. Longer stroke length restricts the flow, but gives you even finer lines and detailing. You can learn everything you need to know about stroke length in our blog here.

Tip 4: Practice Hand + Depth Control

Hand control is never more important than when you’re doing single needle tattoos (unless you’re whip shading at a high speed… but that’s an entirely different beast). When tattooing with a single needle, there’s very little skin tension (or natural give) to prevent blowouts or damage. So you’ll really have to practice the amount of pressure you’re putting on the needle. You’ll also likely have to stretch the skin a lot to help put in more ink, particularly if you’re using a longer stroke and crafting super-delicate details. Stretching will also help you determine whether or not you’re using the right needle depth. Learn all about needle depth in our blog here.

Tip 5: Single Needle Tattoo Size Matters

Last but not least, let’s talk about the time it takes to do a single needle tattoo. Using a single needle is an exercise in patience. These tattoos take time—lots of it. So, when planning your next single needle masterpiece, consider the size and intricacy of the design. Usually single needle and fine line tattoos are more successful when the scale is smaller. Also, there is very little evidence yet to show how well fine line tattoos or single needle tattoos heal over the decades, particularly if they span large parts of the body. So keeping your single needle work small could be your best bet for longevity and your energy levels (who wants to do a full back piece with a single needle?!)

Try The Single Needle Tattoo for Yourself

Close up of round liner needle cartridge

In a world where attention to detail reigns supreme, mastering the art of single needle tattooing can set you apart. So, arm yourself with these top tips, practice diligently, and let your creativity run wild. Who knows? You could be a single needle tattoo aficionado.

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