How Many Needles In A Tattoo Gun?

If you’re new to tattooing, you may be confused by all the different tattoo needles available. Each type of tattoo needle — from magnum to bugpin — serves a different purpose and requires more or fewer needles accordingly. Understanding tattoo needles is easy once you familiarize yourself with the needle codes and the label system.

Each needle code identifies the different aspects of the specific needle. This usually refers to its diameter, needle count and group format. A code like 10RL might not mean anything to you at the moment. This combination of seemingly random numbers and letters provides you with all the information you need.

There’s no single amount of needles in a gun. Instead, the amount depends on:

  • Needle grouping
  • Desired effect
  • Intended purpose

Understanding Needle Codes


The letters at the end of the needle code refer to the grouping the tattoo needles are a part of. We’ll use 1004RL as our primary example. 1004RL could also be called “#10 4-Round Liner Needles.” The way the needles are grouped is defined by the letters at the end of the needle code.

In this case, RL stands for “round liner.” This indicates that these tattoo needles are intended for lining work and are grouped in a circular shape.

There are usually a bunch of different needle quantities available within each distinct grouping. For 1004RL tattoo needles, you’d receive four #10 needles in a round liner format.

Most Common Needle Grouping Abbreviations 

It’s important to know what each grouping’s abbreviation is to purchase the correct needle according to its label.

  • RL: Round liner 
  • RLXT: Super tight round liner
  • RLXP: Extra super tight round liner
  • RS: Round shader
  • *T: Textured round shader
  • F: Flat
  • M1: Magnum
  • M: Stacked magnum 

Tattoo Needle Diameters 

The first two digits — or the leading number — in a code refers to the diameter of the needle. This means that a 1004RL tattoo needle has a #10 or 0.01-inch diameter. The higher the number, the larger the diameter of the needle is.

This is important because the diameter determines the ink flow. The narrower the needle, the more control you have over the ink flow. #10 needles are the most popular for line work because they’re not too thick and not too fine.

Needles smaller than #10 have a more constricted ink flow and make it more difficult to draw smooth lines. With larger needles, such as #12 and #13, you’ll find it hard to control the stream of ink.

Tattoo Needle Count

The next two digits in a needle code refer to the number of needles in the grouping. In 1004RL, there are four, #10-diameter needles grouped. The number of needles in a tattoo gun is intrinsically related to the needle size and type.


A magnum, for example, comes in small, medium and large. The optimal number of needles for each size are:

  • Small: 5
  • Medium: Between 7 and 9
  • Large: Between 11 and 17

Round Shaders

Round shaders can be small or large. The optimal number of needles here are:

  • Small: 1 to 5
  • Large: Between 7 and 21

These create thick lines, so they’re best used for large sessions. Seven to nine needles may be used for shading.


Tights are clustered together in a circle, in groups of seven to nine needles. These can be used to create bold and dramatic outlines.


Flats can be used for a variety of things — from shading and blending to whips. They’re arranged in a straight row, which is why they’re called flats. The best number of needles for this type is between seven and eleven.


Tattoo needles are a collection of needles with various groupings depending on the desired effect or intended use. The number of needles in a tattoo gun will depend on the grouping and intended purpose. That’s why it’s critical to understand the different groupings and diameters as well.

Learning which tattoo needles to use can be overwhelming with the full range of needles available. Having a good understanding of the label system will help you immensely. The more you familiarize yourself with the complex labeling system, the more you’ll be able to ascertain precisely how many needles you need for shading, lining or blending.

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