How to Tattoo Thick Lines

Thick lines help your tattoos stand out and “pop” off the skin. They are especially important in large tattoos like back pieces or chest pieces to make sure the design is still readable while still having lots of details. (For example, to keep the thick outline of a traditional tattoo, you need to use bigger liners for bigger tattoos.)

Most beginners find big liners difficult to use, and there are a few “tricks” to making thick lines using small needle groupings. However, these methods take a really long time and cause lots of extra trauma to your client’s skin.

That’s why, in this article, we’ll explain how to use thick liners and make sure that your thick lines turn out crisp and even. We’ll break down:

  • The best tattoo needles for thick lines
  • How to tattoo thick lines and important techniques
  • Which machines work best for tattooing thick lines

Tattoo Needles for Thick Lines

A lot of new artists wonder “What size tattoo needles work for thick lines?” 

We recommend 14 round liners and 18 round liners. Some artists will use round shaders with a lower needle count instead because it will cover the same area with fewer needles. However, this tends to make lines look “fuzzy.” 

How to Use Thick Liners Correctly

With a smaller grouping like a 7RL or even a 9RL, you don't really have to think too much in order to get that needle to puncture into the skin and to push the ink in there correctly. 

As long as you know how to tattoo a straight line, it’s pretty easy to get the job done with a small liner. However, with bigger cartridges and bigger needle groupings, it can be difficult to get the needle to puncture into the skin.


Hold Your Machine at a Bigger an Angle

The surface area of a large tattoo needle (like an 18RL) is a lot bigger than a smaller needle (like a 7RL). This means it’s a lot harder to puncture the skin with an 18RL because the skin is going to be putting up a stronger resistance. 

It also means that holding your machine at an angle like you would for a 7RL will prevent all the individual sharps on your needle from getting into the skin. (The “top layer” of needles won’t make it all the way into the second layer of skin, where you want the ink to stay.) 

The best way to make sure all the sharps are going in the perfect amount is to hold your machine at more of an upright angle.

Signs You Need to Use a Bigger Angle

If one part of your line looks a lot lighter, holding your machine closer to a 90° angle will fix this problem.


Slow Your Hand Speed

Normal Hand Speed with Large Liner

Slow Hand Speed with Large Liner

It takes more time for your machine to push a big needle into the skin. Slowing down your hand speed and slightly turning up your voltage will help make sure the needle has plenty of time in the skin to deposit ink.


Brandon uses a slower hand speed and runs his voltage at 10.5 for bigger needles. We do not recommend going over 11V.

Signs You Need to Slow Your Hand Speed

If your line looks light or faded, you’re probably not getting enough ink in the skin to make a bold, well-saturated line. Slowing down your hand speed will allow more time for ink to be deposited the right way.


Use a Machine with a Longer Stroke

The machine that you are using could be the reason you’re struggling to push big liners. 

We recommend using a direct drive machine (rotary or pen machine) to tattoo thick lines, as well as a longer stroke

For example, in the video, Brandon is using an Inkjecta tattoo machine with a hard needle bar so there is no “give” to the machine when the needle goes into the skin. He’s also using a 4mm stroke. This helps the needle puncture into the skin correctly to make a clean line.

Signs You Need to Use a Longer Stroke

If you feel like your needle isn’t going deep enough in the skin or there’s no room for you to see the needle while “floating the needle,” then you need to use a longer stroke.


Dip Your Needle More Often

When you’re using a bigger needle, you're going to use a lot more ink (because more ink will be going into those big lines). It’s important to make sure you are dipping enough. 

If you're trying to pull a long line and you run out of ink halfway through, your line's not going to be saturated and you're going to have to go over that line again. This can cause a lot of extra trauma to the skin, which could affect how the tattoo heals.

If you need to, you can either:

  • Pick up your needle where it will be less noticeable (for example, where one line connects with another), and dip in your ink before continuing.
  • Pick up your needle in the middle of a line, dip in your ink, and then start a little bit back to seamlessly continue the line.

In both cases, make sure you’re whipping your needle up and out. And when you go back to continue lining, you sweep your needle in. This keeps your lines from showing a complete stop in your linework. 


Push Your Lines



While it is personal preference, most artists find that it’s easier to “push” larger needles into the skin instead of “pulling” their lines.

Prepare for a Tattooing Career with the Artist Accelerator Program

Learning how to create crisp, bold lines is an important step in your journey, but it can also be pretty eye-opening to how difficult tattooing can be. Without the right knowledge, it’s impossible to level up your skills and become a professional tattoo artist. 

However, finding the straight-forward information you need to progress is difficult. And with so much out there online, it’s hard to avoid picking up bad habits from incorrect and outdated resources.

This is one of the biggest struggles new tattooers face, and too many talented artists have given up their goal of getting into tattooing because of the years it would take to unlearn their bad habits. 

That’s why aspiring artists are learning to tattoo with the Artist Accelerator Program’s structured course. As a student, you learn every step of the tattooing process from professional artists with the experience and advice you need to build your skills and create incredible tattoos. 

With the Artist Accelerator, you can stop wasting time searching through incorrect information. You just get the clear, easy-to-understand lessons you need to start improving fast… along with support and personalized feedback from professional artists in our online Mastermind group.

Over 2500 students have already gone through the course, with many of them opening up their own studios. If you want to join them and learn the skills you need to start tattooing full time faster…

Click here to learn more about the Artist Accelerator Program.

Looking for a tattoo apprenticeship?

Tattooing 101's Artist Accelerator 90 day program is the closest thing to a real apprenticeship

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Nathan Molenaar

Nathan is a licensed professional tattoo artist with over 8 years’ experience working at studios across the globe, including Celebrity Ink, the world's largest tattoo studio chain.

When he's not tattooing, he spends his free time sharing his experience and knowledge with aspiring artists who dream of pursuing a career in the tattooing industry.

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