Are Tattoo Needles Hollow?

  • Written By Dan Hunter on November 9, 2020
    Last Updated: November 9, 2020

When thinking about the type of needle used to give a tattoo, the first thing that comes to mind might be the needle that a nurse uses to give you a shot, or a smaller version of the needle that a piercer uses. 

Today, we’re going to dive into the ins-and-outs of tattoo needles, including categories, sizes, and, most importantly, whether or not tattoo needles are hollow.


Are Tattoo Needles Hollow?

Individual tattoo needles are not hollow. Some round needles formations (groups of needles) will only have needles on the outside with an empty middle, but this is the closest to “hollow” that you’ll get when it comes to tattooing needles.

As you can see from the image below, tattoo needles are completely solid, They don’t have tiny openings that ‘suck up’ the ink. Instead, the needles are used to ‘jab’ ink into the skin.

Tattoo Needle Diameter

Many different needle diameters are available, but some of the ones used most frequently in tattoo shops are an 8, 10, or 12 gauge. 

The gauge on a tattoo needle determines the rate of ink flow. For example, if an artist is working on an intricate piece with lots of thin linework and dots, they would probably choose an eight gauge needle. The narrower and more precise the tip of the needle, the more controlled ink flow it produces.

#8 Gauge (0.25mm)

Eight gauge needles, frequently known as “bugpins,” are frequently used in linework and intricate designs. The ink flows slightly slower and is easier to control than with larger gauges.

#10 Gauge (0.30mm)

Ten gauge needles are an excellent middle ground for many tattoos. These are also used in linework because the ink flow is not as restricted as a smaller gauge needle. You may hear the term “double zeros” from time to time, referring to this size needle.

#12 Gauge (0.35mm)

A 12 gauge needle has a faster flow of ink, ideal for shading and coloring large areas. Some artists refer to them as “standards.”

Tattoo Needle Grouping

So, although tattoo needles have different diameters, an artist will not do your tattoo with a single needle (unless it’s hand-poked). Tattoo needles are grouped in different formations chosen depending on the type of work the artist is doing. This includes round liners, round shaders, magnums, and more.

Round Liners

Round liners are grouped into a circular pattern that produces crisp, clean linework. The thickness of the line produced is determined by the number of round liners chosen and the gauge of each pin.

Round liners are frequently used for dot work, lettering, geometric, and tribal tattoos.

Round Shaders

Round shaders are similar to round liners, but the needles are not as compact. They can be used for thicker lines or, of course, shading and coloring.

Round shaders are used for the same purposes as round liners.

Magnum Shaders

Magnum shaders are arranged in two alternating rows and are the go-to for any shading and coloring. They hold and deliver lots of ink. This means fewer passes over the skin, so less irritation and trauma. Variations of magnum needles include curved and double-stack magnum needles.

Magnum shaders are popular for black and white tattoos, any kind of shading and color packing, color realism, and Japanese tattoos.

Curved Magnum Shaders

Curved magnum shaders are also known as round magnums, soft edge magnums, and soft magnums. They are arranged so that the needles arch at the center, and as a result, runs along the skin with more conformity. This causes less damage to the skin and creates softer shading.

Double Stack Magnum Shaders

Double stacked magnum shaders are not used as frequently as they once were. The needles on a double stack magnum shader are not as spread out but still function similarly.

Flat Shaders

Lastly, flat shaders are soldered into a straight line. They are frequently used for lining because their formation allows for more ink to be transferred to the skin. Larger flat shaders can also be used for color filling and shading in a shorter amount of time.

Flat shaders can be used for some line work, small amounts of shading, and geometric tattoos.

Loose Needles

Loose needles are not frequently purchased or used. If they are used, loose needles are best for performing hand-poked tattoos. Hand-poked tattoos are not as common as they used to be, and it’s challenging to find a professional trained in the art.

Needle Classifications

If you’re not a tattoo artist, you don’t need to know how needles are classified because you’re not buying them, but it’s still an interesting fact to know.

Tattoo needle codes look like this: 1204RL. The first number, 12, indicates the gauge of the needles used. The next number, 4, is how many needles are used. Lastly, the letters communicate what shape the needles are in. RL stands for round liners, which we discussed previously.