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The Single Needle Pixel Effect


Can you believe all the single needle sizes available in today's PMU market?  

The single needle used during the "fine line" era of traditional tattooing for entire tattoos, has been primarily used in PMU for pointillism,  hair strokes and a shaded effect known as "the pixel technique." Although most needles could be used to do the pixel technique, this video and article is mainly about the single needle sizes used to pixel and when you may choose one size over the other. 

Using a single needle or group of needles, the pixel technique is a combination of machine speed and hand speed that creates a dot like pattern in the skin. The slower the hand speed the closer the dots and the faster the hand speed the further the dots are apart. With the pixel technique, there is skin space between pixels and this lends to a soft look similar to powder.

With so many different sizes and tapers of single needles available, which sizes are optimal for pixelating?   Based on my experiences and needle theory, I would like to share some insight on the single needle sizes in relation to the pixel shading technique. To consider in the needle choice is the needle size, the skin and desired pattern and goal.

The pixel effect or dot effect changes in size and the amount of color delivered in relation to the single needle size used.

  • The bigger the needle size, the bigger the pixel size and more color is delivered to the skin.  
  • The smaller the needle size, the smaller the pixel size and less color is delivered to the skin.

You can see the most dramatic difference in the pixel size and color amount when you compare a size 06 to a 12 or 14 needle.  The 06 delivers more of a dusting of color, compared to the larger pixel pattern from the 14.  The 06 is a great needle if you want a  "mist" or "dusting" of color. It works well in the eye area where the skin is delicate and practically poreless without much oil.

The size 6 needle, due to its small diameter is a more flexible needle than a 14 and has a certain amount of give compared to a larger diameter, stiffer non-flexible needle. 

The amount of flex the needle is related to:

  • diameter of needle (size)
  • how tight the cartridge tip is around the needle
  • how far out the artist extends the needle  (needle hang or needle throw)
  • the solder point

You can pixel on most any skin type.  However, you can imagine thin tissue paper-like skin would be better off with a needle that was more flexible with some give as the needle(s) brush over the skin.  Now imagine  a thicker more resistant skin type which may have a better pixel result  with a needle that isn't so flexible.  Again, look at the above factors that determine the flexibility of the single needle.

The 6 could, of course, be used not just for the delicate eye area, but  for the brows too.  However, in my experience this is not my go-to size for an oily resistant skin type in which the color seems to dissipate . For oilier skin I usually want more color delivered with each touch of the needle than the 6 delivers. On oiler more resistant skin, I can end up overworking the skin with a size 6 needle on oily skin because I keep needing to go over it several times to get in a sufficient amount of color.  A better choice to for pixelating in oilier skin is a larger diameter needle such as an 8, 10 or 12, all of which will deliver more color quickly to the skin than a 6.

  When would I use a size 6 on the eyebrows?  Both the pores and skin type are considerations when choosing a single needle for pixelating. If the skin type is smooth, small pores, and normal to dry it would call for a 6 or an 8 to pixel for a smooth pattern with less color upon the initial passes.  The smoother and drier the skin, the more the pixel pattern and the color shows on the skin. Drier skin often takes color in quickly so the smaller diameter of a 6 or 8 seems to work well.  

When the color goal is more solid or darker, is when other needle choices come into play.  I may lean toward a larger single needle size or better yet, a different needle configuration altogether. If the goal is to get a more solid look, it's better to get in more color quickly without overworking the skin.

 In all of our needle choices, to consider would be the taper of course, as that determines the end size of any needle. There's a size difference between an 8 short taper and an 8 long taper needle. The shorter the taper the more color is put in with each needle touch and the bigger the hole.  Size and taper matter!

   To your PMU success,

PMU Artist & Needle Specialist
Inside Needle Knowledge

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Liner Shader Guide

This chart helps you pay attention to your hand speed, machine speed, and hand movements when using liners for a liner effect and shaders for a shaded effect.

It also shows how you can use:

  • Liners for a shaded effect 
  • Shaders for a liner effect

A great go-to chart is just the beginning!