Every needle size, configuration, and brand offer different benefits and overall effects on the skin.
Here, you’ll find a complete breakdown and recap of tattoo needle basics (because we all need a little refresher sometimes).
TO THE POINT: NEEDLE BASICS
The distinct code you see on a tattoo needle box tells you everything you need to know about that particular needle. This “tattoo needle code” is comprised of 4 needle components.
There are countless tattoo needle variants, each with different combinations of these 4 key components.
Needle size refers to the diameter (or gauge) of your tattoo needle. Tattoo needles with smaller diameters have a finer ink flow, making them best for linework. Contrarily, tattoo needles with thicker diameters have a much freer ink flow, so they’re more conducive to shading and bolder tattooing.
Tattoo needles are given numbers (#) that show their size in tattoo needle code.
- #6 — 0.20mm
- #8 — 0.25mm
- #10 — 0.30mm
- #12 (also known as Standards) — 0.35mm
- #13 — 0.40mm
NEEDLE COUNTNeedle count refers to how many needles are in a grouping. Naturally, the more tattoo needles you have in one grouping, the bigger the grouping will be. As a result, needle groupings with higher counts take up more space and insert more pigment.
NEEDLE CONFIGURATIONS + USES
Your needle configuration refers to how your needles are arranged in a grouping. With so many needle types out there, finding the ones that work best for you can be challenging. Check out some of the most common needle configurations below + a few of their common uses in tattooing.
Arranged in a circular (round) formation, round liners let you make precise lines. Choose tight round liners for thinner, more refined linework.
As with round liners, round shaders have the same circular formation. The difference is: each individual needle is more spaced apart than in a round liner, which lets you shade (or even pull thick lines).
Hollow liners are hollowed out in the center, which gives you a freer ink flow for bolder tattooing.
Arranged in a straight line, flat needle groupings are easy to angle. As such, they’re great for making precise shapes in geometric tattooing.
Magnum Tattoo Needles
All magnum tattoo needles are two rows of needles stacked together. They cover a large area of the skin and deliver a ton of pigment.
Weaved magnums feature two rows of needles in a “weaved” formation. For instance, a weaved magnum needle will have more needles on the bottom row than the top. The space between the weaved needles make them great for blending and shading work.
Stacked magnums are tightly stacked together for more color saturation. Reach for your stacked magnums when you’re doing color packing work.
Also known as soft edge, soft, or round magnums, curved magnums have an arch shape in the grouping. This allows them to more easily follow the curvature of the skin (and produces less trauma). You might count on curved magnums for softer shading procedures.
Needle taper is the measurement from the tip of your tattoo needle to the start of its thickest point (pictured above.) Your tattoo needle’s taper length directly influences how much ink can flow out of your needle tips. A needle with a longer taper will insert less ink – and vice versa when it comes to a shorter taper.
Therefore, you’ll likely reach for needles with longer tapers for finer, more delicate work. Shorter needle tapers are excellent for all your bolder linework and color packing.
Overall, shorter taper lengths are the most popular choice. Their steady flow of ink allows for a wide variety of tattooing techniques.
As mentioned above, shorter taper lengths are the standard – namely 1.5mm tapers. However, you can still choose from a wide variety of taper lengths:
- Short Taper — 1.5mm
- Long Taper — 2.0mm
- Double Long Taper — 2.5mm
- Extra Long Taper — 3.5mm
- Super Long Taper — 5.5mm
- Super Extra Long Taper — 8.0mm
OTHER TATTOO NEEDLE FEATURES
Beyond the 4 main needle components, there are a few other options to consider when tattoo needle shopping.
Benefits of Textured Needles
Textured tattoo needles feature small grooves along the surface. This allows them to hold (and also deposit) more ink. For this reason, many artists reach for textured needles to do all their color packing. “Polished” tattoo needles (which are more commonly used) have a smoother surface and hold less ink.
Benefits of Bugpin Tattoo Needles
Bugpin tattoo needles refer to any needles that are #10 in size or smaller. Ultra-narrow in diameter, these needles are reliable for pixels, dot work, and creating fine, delicate details with precision.
Benefits of Cartridge Tattoo Needles
Cartridge tattoo needles give you a wide variety of benefits you won’t get from traditional bar needles. Here are a few things to consider when selecting the best cartridge tattoo needles for you.
Easy to Swap
When tattooing with cartridge needles, it’s easy to switch between cartridges. They lock easily into place with most cartridge-accepting machines. Plus, you won’t need to rely on designated tattoo machines for certain needle types. Just choose the cartridge you need, snap it into place, and go.
High-quality cartridge tattoo needles typically come with stabilizers. The purpose of a stabilizer is to keep your needles steady and on track. Thus, you won’t experience any wobbling or inconsistency. Stabilizer mechanisms vary by brand; experimentation is often the best way to find which one you like the most.
Peak Triton cartridge needles (pictured above) have taken the industry by storm with their US-patented stabilizing mechanism. We highly recommend these cartridges to artists who favor large magnums — Peak's patented design will definitely keep those heavier needles steady and true. Check them out here.
Another staple of high-quality cartridge needles is a safety membrane. These membranes work to prevent blood and tattoo ink from backflowing into your tattoo grip. So, when you choose needles that have a safety membrane, you can count on a sterile setup that’s much easier to keep clean and safe.
Many artists favor Cheyenne Safety Cartridges specifically for their patented safety membrane. Try them for yourself here.
Open versus Closed Tips
When cartridge tips are “open,” it means the needles are fully exposed. That makes them easy to clean. Open tip cartridges are an excellent choice for color artists who are constantly switching pigments. On the other hand, closed tip cartridge needles completely enclose the needle bar. This allows for more control and stability during procedures.
You’ll also notice that cartridges come in all different colors and plastic options. This may seem negligible, but it can be beneficial in the long run. For instance, some artists prefer a see-through plastic cartridge, since it lets you see your ink flow directly.
Kwadron cartridge needles are one top-rated brand that offers see-through plastic tips. They're also known for their razor-sharpness and durability.
SHOPPING FOR TATTOO NEEDLES WITH UTSWe offer traditional bar needles and top-rated cartridge needles according to your preference. You’ll find brands like Kwadron, Peak, Precision, Cheyenne, and more. Browse our entire selection of cartridge needles here and our traditional bar needle options here.
Refer back to this guide at any point while choosing the right tattoo needles for you. Time, practice, and experimentation are all key to finding the best tattoo needles for your style.