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Tattoo Needle Guide

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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 tattoo needles.

We’d also like to quickly mention that we (Barber DTS) go back a long time (click here to see how long) when it comes to tattoo products so you can rest assured the information found here is as accurate and knowledgeable as it’s going to get!

Tattoo Needle Types

When looking at a page of tattoo needles on a website or in a catalogue, 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.

A diagram explaining different needle types

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: 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.

Double Stack Magnum Shader needles

Not as current as they maybe once were. The pins on double stack magnums, or double stacks, are packed much more tightly together. This helps for any intricate shading or colour work where you still want it to perform as a magnum with many pins but not as spread out.

Commonly Used for: Shading and colour packing. Black and grey. 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: 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.

A diagram explaining different tattoo needle diameters

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).

#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.

#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.

Other needle sizes not mentioned above: #6 or 0.20mm, #14 or 0.40 and #16 or 0.45mm! These are quite uncommon now though as they only have very few specific uses.

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 needle counts (or 9 pins used to make a round grouping). This would look like this:

A diagram detailing how a tattoo needle formation

Another example for you, just so it’s crystal clear.

A diagram showing how to read a needle code

Tattoo needle size chart and how to match your tips & tubes

We’ve put together this handy chart which will help you match the correct needles with the right size tips, or vice versa. It also indicates what type of work the needle size is used for.

Round Liners 
03RL03RT or 03VT
04RL03RT or 03VT
05RL03RT or 03VT
07RL05RT or 03VT
08RL05RT or 05VT
09RL05RT or 05VT
Round Shaders 
3RS03RT or 03VT
5RS03RT or 03VT
7RS03RT or 03VT
9RS05RT or 03VT
14RS09RT or 07VT
18RS09RT or 07VT

Magnum Shaders 
9MG05FT or 07FT
23MG15FT or 17FT
25MG17FT or 19FT
Curved Magnum Shaders 
9CM05FT or 07FT
23CM15FT or 17FT
25CM17FT or 19FT

Round Liners 
Round Shaders 
03RS03RT or 03VT
05RS05RT or 03VT
07RS07RT or 05VT

Magnum Shaders 
07MG07FT or 05FT
09MG09FT or 07FT
11MG11FT or 09FT
13MG13FT or 11FT
15MG15FT or 13FT
17MG17FT or 15FT
19MG19FT or 17FT
21MG21FT or 19FT
23MG23FT or 21FT
25MG25FT or 23FT
27MG27FT or 25FT