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The Complete Guide To Tattoo Needles
- Jun 07, 2018 -

Tattoo Needle Basics

There are an infinite number of needle styles, but they all fall into four basic categories:

Round Tattoo Needles

Round needles are needles that are soldered around a central shaft in round patterns. Round needles can be liners or shaders, depending on how close together they are placed. Round liners are packed tightly (close together), which makes them perfect for technical work, small lines and details. You might also see loose round liners. Loose round liners are used for thick, bold outlines like those found on Japanese-style tattoos. Round shaders are great for all-purpose color fill and basic shading.

Round Needle Example

roundneedle.gif  Round needles are marked RL (Round Liner) or RS (Round Shader) for short. You'll almost always see them written with their number in front, like 9RL. The number in front tells you have many needles are used in the configuration, so a 9RL has 9 needles placed in a circle configuration, a 7RL has 7 and so on. If you're just starting out, you'll want to focus on round shaders in sizes 3, 5, 7, and 9 for some shading and filling in small areas.

Round needles use the same size tube, so if youre using a 9RL needle, youll use a 9R tube. Pretty straightforward.

Flat Tattoo Needles

Flat Needle Example


Flat needles are needles that are soldered in a straight line to a needle bar. These needles are the most popular 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 color fills and deliver more quickly with just one pass. 

Flat needles are marked FL (Flat Liner) or, less often, FS (Flat Shader) for short. Just like round needles, these are written out with the number of pins in front, like 7FL or 5FS.

Also like round needles, flat needles use their twin-sized tubes, so a 7FL needle will use a 7F tube.

Magnum Tattoo Needles

Magnum needles are the go-to for almost all shading work. These sets have a longer taper thats either the same or greater than the taper found on round shaders. Magnums deliver a lot of ink, making them ideal for large areas of color. Because they allow so much ink through, youll need less passes over an area using magnum needles, which means theyll do less damage to the skin during multiple passes. There are a few variations of magnum needles:

Weaved Magnum Needles

Weaved Magnum Needle Example


Weaved magnums are soldered to a flat needle bar like flat needles, but they are soldered on alternating sides of the needle. So one needle would be soldered to the top, one two the bottom, another to the top, and so on; this means that they can cover more area.

Weaved magnums are always marked M1 with the number of needles beforehand. So a 5M1 would be a weaved magnum needle configuration with 5 needles soldered to a needle bar.

Stacked Magnum Needles


The left image is a weaved magnum grouping, the right image is a  stacked magnum grouping.You can see how much closer the needles are placed in the stacked magnum.

Stacked magnums have two rows of needles on both sides of the bar, but these needles are positioned much more closely together. For example,

Weaved Magnum vs Stacked Magnum Example

The left image is a weaved magnum grouping, the right image is a stacked magnum grouping. You can see how much closer the needles are placed in the stacked magnum.

Stacked magnums are marked as M2 with the number of needles beforehand. So 9M2 is a stacked magnum with 9 needles on the bar.

Round Magnums / Curved Magnums

Round magnums (also called curved magnums) are a fairly new version of the magnum needle. Round (or rounded, both terms are correct) magnums are arranged so that the tips arch at the center. The concept is that this rounded edge conforms better to the skin, giving a more consistent line, better ink dispersion and doing less skin damage.

If that doesn't make a lot of sense, press down on the skin in your arm and notice how the pressed area makes an almost round hollow. Round magnums are designs to fit that round shape.

Round magnums are marked as RM with the number of needles beforehand. A 5RM is a 5 needle magnum with 5 needles to the bar and the rounded arrangement of points.

Special Terms

Once youre familiar with the basic needle types, there are a few terms you might come across.

Bug Pin

Fun fact: Bug pins are named after the tiny pins used by biologists to pin specimens.


Bugpins are magnum needles made with much, much thinner needles. Standard needles are generally between 0.30mm and 0.35mm thick; bugpin needles are usually between 0.20mm and 0.25mm. Some artists swear by bugpins for their shading work, others cant stand them; its a matter of preference, and youll have to try them to see if they work for you or not.

Bugpin sizes will be marked the exact same as their regular magnum equivalents. A 5M1 will still be a weaved magnum with 5 needles on the bar. If youre looking to try bugpins, make sure youre buying needles marked as such.


Fun fact: Bug pins are named after the tiny pins used by biologists to pin specimens.

Keep in mind when buying bugpins that youll need a tube that is 1 or 2 sizes smaller than what you would normally use. So if you would use a 5F tube for a 5M1 grouping, you would need a 3F or 4F tube. Always read the manufacturers recommendation so you dont have any surprises when you order arrives. 

Needle Cartridges

Tattoo needle cartridges are specialty needles that are ONLY used by certain machines. A notable example is the Cheyenne Hawk rotary. These machines only use cartridges instead of standard needle set-ups, which has up and down sides. The up side is that setup of needle cartridges is usually faster and easier than setting up standard needles, but the down side is that they are typically much more expensive, and they cannot be reused.

Needle cartridges are marked based on their needle groupings. You will only need these if you have a specific machine that requires them, and they will usually need to be purchased directly from the manufacturer.