Tattoo Needle Sizes and Types

  • Written By Dan Hunter on November 15, 2020
    Last Updated: November 16, 2020

Being a tattoo artist is no easy task, and having hundreds of different needle diameters, needle counts, groupings, and more does not make the job any easier. Whether you’ve been tattooing for years or just beginning your practice, it’s sometimes difficult to differentiate which needles to use and why. 

In this article, we break down the different tattoo needle types and sizes so you can make the most informed decisions when choosing a needle for your next tattoo.


Types of Needles

There are three main categories of needles that are important to know; round needles, magnum needles, and flat needles.

Round Needles

Round tattoo needles are grouped in a circular pattern with a center shaft. Round liner needles produce a crisp line. 

Round liner needles: Round liners are often marked with a number followed by RL, like 7RL. The number in front indicates how many pins are in the grouping. You can also buy different sizes, or gauges, which tells how big each of the individual needles is.

Round liner needles are best used for dot work, line work, Japanese and traditional style tattooing, lettering, and geometric work. 

Round shader needles: Like round liners, round shaders are configured in a circular shape as well. The difference here is that the individual needles are not placed as close together. They point outward to cover more surface area.  They are used for filling and shading. 

Round shaders are indicated with a number followed by RS. Like round liners, the number in front shows the number of needles, and the gauge indicates the needles’ size.

Round shader needles are mostly used for color filling and basic shading.

Turbo round liner needles: Turbo round liners are like round liners, but they do not have a needle in the middle of the circle. Instead, it is hollow and causes less damage to the skin. They are also able to hold much more ink than most other needles.

Magnum Needles

Magnum needles deliver a lot of ink and make them the ideal needle for almost all shading work. They let out a lot of ink at once instead of round liners that just deliver a small amount at once. Because they allow so much ink out, you have to pass over an area fewer times, making these needles great for shading in large areas. 

Magnum needles are stacked in a row of two, one on top of the other. This can range from 7 pins stacked with three on top of four to 27 pins stacked with 13 pins on top and 14 on the bottom. 

Curved magnum needles have an arch shape that allows the artist to make more consistent lines and better ink placement. It is better on the skin and does less damage. This is also referred to as a “soft-edge.”

Flat Needles

Flat needles are simply a straight, flat line of needles. They are best used for creating lines because of their shape and ability to deliver lots of ink to the skin. They are often used on geometric tattoos or for intricate designs. 

Textured vs. Smooth Needles

Some needles are textured while others are not. On textured needles, the tip (or taper) of the needle has not been polished. Textured needles hold ink better because they have small grooves along the tip that the ink can cling to. If you use a magnum needle, which already holds ink exceptionally well, and you add in texture, you will have to dip your needle much less frequently.

Textured needles can create deeper skin pigmentation because of the ink they deliver, and they are great for using on solid color tattoos.

Sizes of Needles

Needles come in a wide variety of sizes, usually ranging from .20 mm to .40 mm, although smaller and bigger needle sizes do exist. 

The size of tattoo needles is referred to as their gauge or diameter. The amount of ink that a needle delivers to the skin is directly correlated with the needle’s gauge. A small needle will deliver less ink to the skin than a larger diameter needle.

#8 gauge, #10 gauge, and #12 gauge are among the three most popular diameters used by tattoo artists. Each of them has specific strengths.

#8 Gauge

#8 gauge needles are very small and deliver a small amount of ink to the skin at a time. They are often referred to as bugpins and are used mostly for small and elaborate detailing. They have a 0.25 mm diameter.

#10 Gauge

#10 gauge needles is a great middle needle. It delivers a steady flow of ink and does not slow an artist down like a #8 needle might. It is very commonly used, and it is often referred to as “Double Zeros.” They have a 0.30 mm diameter.

#12 Gauge

Twelve gauge needles are very common among tattooers as well. They are often referred to as “Standards.” They have a fast ink flow that is perfect for shading areas or creating bold lines. They have a 0.35 mm diameter. 

Other sizes of needles include #6 gauge, #12, and #14 gauge. These are used for specific projects and are rarer than the #8, #10, and #12. 

How to Identify Needles

As mentioned before, each type of needle has a different way of identifying what it is. The needle count is the number that indicates how many pins are used to make the needle. This would be the number that comes before the lettering, like in 9RL. 

The number that precedes that is the gauge identifier. So a #8 9RL would indicate nine needles, each #8 gauge configured in a circle shape around a center pin. Another example would be a #10 15 CM. This would indicate a curved magnum shape made up of 15 needles that are all size #10. 

Other Factors to Consider

The size and type of needle are not the only things you need to consider when choosing tattoo needles. Some other things to look out for are quality, packaging, and fit. 

Make sure and only buy high-quality needles. Going for the cheapest option could result in broken needles or bad tattoos. Read reviews and double-check that each needle is not bent or broken in any way,

Another thing to make sure of is that the needles are pre-sterilized and in a sealed package. If there is any damage to the packaging, do not use the needle. Having sterile tools is crucial.

Lastly, always double-check that the needles will fit your equipment before you purchase them. Different equipment has different requirements. Additionally, make sure you get the correct tips or tubes to match your needles.

Conclusion

Although it can seem overwhelming at first, tattoo needle types and sizes are pretty straight forward. Understanding what each type of needle is best used for comes with practice. Try out different kinds and decide which sizes you prefer and which configurations work best for you.

Many tattoo artists have their preferences and opinions on which needles to use on each specific piece. This article has given you a brief overview of the different types and styles of needles to use as a reference until you find what you like best.