Whether you are newbie to the tattoo industry or a seasoned professional, the large selection of different tattoo needle groupings, diameters, tapers and needle counts can be one hell of a headache to understand. In reality, once it does makes sense, you’ll wonder why you didn’t get it in the first place!

This article will help you make sense of it all and in turn, assist you in making the most informed decision possible when it comes to buying needles.

Tattoo Needle Types

When looking at tattoo needles on a website, it can seem a little overwhelming with all the different options available. No need to worry though! Here’s where the learning begins.

All these options fall into six basic groupings of tattoo needles: Round Liners, Round Shaders, Magnum Shaders, Curved Magnum Shaders, Flat Shaders and Double Stacks. Below we go into more detail on each type.

Round Liner needles

The pins on round liner needles are soldered in a round pattern to produce crisp, clean lining tattoo work. The thickness of the line will depend on the number round liner you choose (e.g. 01 very fine, 14 very thick) as well as the thickness/gauge of each pin (see Tattoo Needle Sizes below). Lining needles, once dipped in your ink, will let only small amounts of ink out to then be worked into the skin. If too much ink was let out, lining would be quite a task!

Commonly Used for: PMU work, Dot work. All lining work both bold and intricate. Script and lettering. Japanese. Traditional and neo-traditional. Geometric. Tribal. Samoan.

Round Shader needles

Round shaders are very similar to round liners except the pins are not placed as close together. Meaning, for as well as doing thicker lines, they can also be used for colour filling and basic shading.

Commonly Used for: Some line work. Script and lettering. Basic shading and colour filling. Japanese. Traditional and neo-traditional. Geometric. Tribal. Samoan.

Magnum Shader needles

Magnum shaders are the preferred grouping or needle type for pretty much all shading work. Magnums hold and deliver a lot of ink, making them perfect for large areas of colour packing and shading. Less passes are required over an area to work the ink in meaning less trauma to the skin. There are a few different variations of magnum needles. See below.

Commonly Used for: Black and grey. All types of shading and colour packing. Colour realism. Japanese. Traditional and neo-traditional. Tribal. Samoan.

Curved Magnum Shader needles

Curved magnum shaders – also known as soft magnums, soft edge magnums and round magnums – are used in the same way except the pins are arranged so they arch at the centre. Meaning the edges of the needle run along the skin with more conformity, allowing for better dispersal of ink and a more consistent line. It’s also less damaging to the skin and helps with soft shading.

Commonly Used for: Black and grey. All types of shading and colour packing. Colour realism. Japanese. Traditional and neo-traditional. Tribal. Samoan.

Flat Shader Needles

Flat shader needles are pins that are soldered in a straight line on the needle bar. These needles are used for lining because their shape lets them deliver more ink to the skin. This means clearer, darker lines with just one stroke. Larger flat needles can be used for colour fills and shading as they deliver more ink quickly with just one pass. Flat needles are good for intricate shading such as in geometric patterns and some mandala work. Flat shader needles are also common in semi-permanent makeup.

Commonly Used for: Lip Pmu, some line work. Small shading and colour packing. Black and grey. Colour realism. Japanese. Traditional and neo-traditional. Tribal. Samoan. Geometric.

Tattoo needle sizes explained

Now you know all about different needle groupings or types, it’s time to look at needle diameters, also known as gauges.

The gauge of a tattoo needle is directly linked to ink flow. The narrower the gauge or diameter, the more controlled and finer the flow of ink is. The gauge is indicated by a number (usually 8, 10 or 12), and diameter by a millimetre measurement. ALTHOUGH THEY MEAN THE SAME THING! Needle manufacturers and tattoo suppliers use both terminologies depending on where the needles are from and being sold to i.e. country/language.

#8 gauge (0.25mm diameter)

One of the smaller needle gauges available (but not the smallest) and sometimes referred to as Bugpins. Used when wanting a slower flow of ink for intricate or detailed work. Some use #8 gauge needles for most of their work simply because they like that they hold more ink at a time (as the pins are more tightly compacted). Most commonly used for PMU.

#10 Gauge (0.30mm Diameter)

A very common needle size. Also referred to as Double Zeros. Popular with all styles of tattooing and needle groupings as fundamentally they are the middle gauge size (when accepting 8, 10 and 12 as the main three gauges). The ink flow on 0.30mm needles is still a steady, controlled flow but not as restricted and slow as an #8 or 0.25mm. Most commonly used for LIP PMU.

#12 Gauge (0.35mm Diameter)

Just like the 0.30mm needles. #12 gauges are highly popular across all needle groupings and tattoo styles. Anyone referring to #12 or 0.35mm needles may also call them Standards. Common in lining and traditional work as they have a faster ink flow. Great for bold lines and colour packing/shading large areas.

Tattoo needle counts

This is a simple one! Tattoo needle count basically means the number of pins used to make up the grouping. For example, a 1209RL means a 12 gauge (see above for gauge info), 09 Round Liner Needle. The 09 meaning 9 pins used to make a round grouping. This would look like this:

Hopefully this needle guide helped you to understand the different needles and configurations there are.

Finding the perfect tattoo needle type, size and gauge for you and your style takes time and a lot of trial and error. Feel free to leave any questions you may have below 🙂

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