Your Complete Guide to Tattoo Needles: Types, Sizes & Uses | Painful Pleasures Community

Your Complete Guide to Tattoo Needles: Types, Sizes & Uses

With so many tattoo needle brands and configurations on the market, it can be hard to choose. Read our guide to tattoo needles to find the best needle for you!
by Danny Tress Last Updated: June 7, 2022

With so many top-selling tattoo needle brands and configurations on the market, it can be hard to know what’s right for you. The right configurations for you are all based on style and preference. But first, it’s important to understand all tattoo needle types and what they can do. That’s because different needle sizes and configurations produce different effects on the skin. Therefore, a solid understanding of all your options lets you choose the best tattoo needles for your unique style.

So… to the point: there are four key components to all tattoo needles.


Illustration of sample box of cartridge tattoo needles with labeled diameter, needle count, configuration, and taper

  1. Diameter
  2. Needle Count
  3. Configuration (or Type)
  4. Taper

All four of these components will be written on your tattoo needle box. Once you learn to identify each component and understand what they mean, you can easily select the best needles for you.

Diameter (Tattoo Needle Sizes)

The diameter (gauge) of your tattoo needle is a measurement of the needle’s thickest point.

A tattoo needle’s diameter affects its ink flow. So the narrower the needle diameter, the finer and more controlled the stream of ink that flows out of it. Consequently, narrower tattoo needles have a finer ink flow and are typically better for line work. On the other hand, tattoo needles with larger diameters have a freer ink flow, so you might like them better for shading or color.

Aside from just the ink flow, your tattoo needle’s diameter also affects the size of the puncture made to your client’s skin. Smaller-diameter punctures are better for shading and creating smooth gradients, while larger punctures are typically better for bolder work. #12 needles, which have a 0.35mm diameter, are often referred to as “Standards.” That’s because they’re highly popular across all needle groupings + types. Overall, there are five diameters available.

  1. 0.20mm (#6)
  2. 0.25mm (#8)
  3. 0.30mm (#10)
  4. 0.35mm (#12)
  5. 0.40mm (#13)

A Note on Bugpin Tattoo Needles

You’ve probably heard of bugpin needles. Some artists swear by them for photorealistic work.

Bugpin needles are extremely narrow. #10 size needles and smaller are all considered bugpin needles. Because of their super-narrow diameter, they let you execute linework and shading with precision and exactitude. Bugpin needles are also great for pixels and small dotwork tattooing.

Illustrated diagram of single tattoo needle pixel effects on the skin

Needle Count

The number of needles (or sharps) in a grouping refers to the needle count. The higher your needle count, the larger your grouping will be. Consequently, needle count directly influences how much space you’re covering in a tattoo session.

Types of Tattoo Needles (or Configurations)

Tattoo needles come in all different arrangements.

Your needle’s configuration or type refers to the arrangement of needles on the needle bar. Different needle arrangements produce vastly different effects on your client’s skin. So, choosing your needle type is key when working in any particular style.

Check out some common needle groupings below.

Round Liner (RL)

Illustration of round liner configuration

Illustration of round liner needle configuration

Round liners are circular groupings of needles. Moreover, the needles are clustered into a point, allowing for precise lining procedures.

Round Liners are the best tattoo needles for… wait for it… lining. These needles can tackle all your dot work, geometry, fine line work. Anything involving lines (fine or bold) demands a good round liner or two.

But tattoo liner needles come in more than just standard round liner options. For example, there are several tight round liner configurations that are great for any kind of delicate linework tattooing. In tighter round liner groupings, the lining needles are clustered tightly together which allows for super-thin linework. Use them for micro tattoos or fine illustrative work.

Hollow Liner

Illustration of hollow liner needle configuration

Illustration of hollow liner needle configuration

Hollow Liners are similar in design to Round Liner tattoo needles. But they’re referred to as “hollow” because the center is completely open without a needle in the center of the circular grouping as you would see in a round liner, allowing for better and longer ink flow especially for bold linework using larger groupings. Many traditional and new school artists count on hollow liners for producing crisp, clean linework.

Round Shader (RS)

Illustration of flat shader needle configuration

Illustration of round shader needle configuration

Count on Round Shaders for any of your filling and shading needs… and even some line work depending on the size you choose.

Very similar to round liners, round shaders also feature a circular cluster of needles. The biggest difference is there’s just more space between each pin. That’s why you can use some round shaders for creating especially thick lines, which comes in handy for super-bold linework in traditional tattoos.


Illustration of flat needle configuration

Illustration of flat needle configuration

Flat needles are soldered together, creating a straight line. They’re able to hold a lot of ink, so many people prefer these tattoo needles for linework. Flat tattoo needles are also easy to angle, which makes them great for precise tattooing. Use them in geometric styles with lots of sharp angles.

Magnum Tattoo Needles

Magnum tattoo needles feature two rows of needles that are stacked on top of each other in a flat formation. Each needle is spaced intermittently for wider ink coverage across the skin. Because they cover so much skin, magnum needles are typically used for solid work like heavy color packing. They’re also great for large-scale shading.

Weaved Magnum

Illustration of weaved magnum needle configuration

Illustration of weaved magnum needle configuration

When you want to get serious about shading, grab your magnum shaders. Additionally, they’re great for color packing in styles like color realism, traditional work, and tribal tattooing. Magnum tattoo needles are clustered together in a row, and they’re designed to deliver a ton of ink in one pass.

Stacked Magnum

Illustration of stacked magnum needle configuration

Illustration of stacked magnum needle configuration

Stacked Magnums feature needles that are packed more closely together than those of a standard or curved magnum. That means you’ll get stronger color saturation, which makes stacked magnums a favorite for filling and color packing. Traditional artists favor stacked magnums to get bold color. Also, they’re good for packing in rich black for tribal tattoos.

Curved/Round Magnum

Illustration of curved magnum needle configuration

Illustration of curved/round magnum needle configuration

Curved Magnums are similar to standard magnums, except there’s a centered arch in the grouping. The outermost needles of a curved magnum configuration are set higher than the center needles, so they don’t penetrate the skin as deeply. This gives your ink saturation a steep angle, which makes curved magnums an excellent choice for making smooth gradations. Additionally, curved magnums run along your client’s skin less aggressively for an overall softer effect, causing less trauma. Use them for softer shading work. Moreover, make sure to use a combination of curved and standard magnums for even, textured results.

Taper Length

Illustrated diagram of tattoo needle taper lengths

The last property of tattoo needles is the taper. The taper is the length of the point at the very end of each needle. If you think about it logically, a short taper will have a shorter point and a long taper will have a longer point. The standard taper is 1.5mm. Here are the most common taper sizes you’ll find:

  1. Standard (Short) Taper — 1.5mm
  2. Long Taper — 2.0mm
  3. Double Long Taper — 2.5mm
  4. Extra Long Taper — 3.5mm
  5. Super Long Taper — 5.5mm
  6. Super Extra Long Taper — 8.0mm

When considering taper length, you may be wondering: “just how deep does a tattoo needle go?” No matter what taper length you’re using, your tattoo needles should only go about 2mm (~1/16 of an inch) into your client’s skin. Consequently, your ink will reach the dermis layer of your client’s skin (i.e. the ‘sweet spot’ for depositing ink that lasts). While depth of penetration should be consistent, the width of the puncture created by your tattoo needles will vary based on your needle’s diameter.

So, while your taper length doesn’t affect the depth of penetration, it does influence how much ink is coming out of your needle… and how fast. Less ink comes out of longer taper needles at a slower rate while more ink comes out of shorter taper needles at a faster rate. For this reason, you can count on longer taper needles for finer, more delicate work. Needles with shorter tapers, on the other hand, are excellent for bolder lines and colorwork.

Additional Tattoo Needle Features & Options

Aside from the Big Four Components, there are plenty of other things to consider when choosing your tattoo needles. Paying attention to these additional features could benefit you while creating your ideal tattoo setup.

Textured Versus Smooth Tattoo Needles

Illustrated diagram showing the difference between textured and polished tattoo needles

Textured needles are tattoo needles that don’t have polished tapers. This creates a dimpling effect of small grooves on the taper. That means the needles hold in a lot more ink, and you’ll find your dipping your needles in your ink cups less throughout the procedure. Additionally, textured needles are often great for color packing, since they can hold so much pigment.

Smooth needles, on the other hand, have polished tips. These needles are smooth because their tapers are polished. Some artists prefer them because the smoother tips cause less trauma to the client’s skin.

Perks of Tattoo Cartridge Needles

Photo of Peak Triton cartridge tattoo needles, showing one with the orange casing, and one without

Cartridge tattoo needles offer additional benefits you won’t find in traditional bar needles. With cartridges, you’ll get all the following advantages:

  1. Ease of Transition: It’s simple to swap out needle groupings when you’re working with cartridges, which lock effortlessly into place. Plus, when using cartridge needles, you don’t need specifically dedicated machines for each type of needle used during a tattoo session.
  2. Safety Membranes: These membranes work to prevent blood and tattoo ink from backflowing into your tattoo grip. As a result, sterilizing your setup and preventing cross-contamination is much easier when a cartridge membrane is involved. Most top-rated cartridge needles now come equipped with safety membranes. However, there are also cartridge needles that come without membranes, which makes them most suitable for tattooing practice on synthetic skins.
  3. Stabilizers: Many high-quality cartridge needles feature unique stabilizing mechanisms that keep your needles on track. This tends to prevent any wobbling or unsteady tattooing.
  4. Open or Closed Tips: Open cartridge tips fully expose the needle bar. Therefore, it’s easy to clean the exposed needles, so open tips are great for artists who constantly switch pigments. Closed cartridge tips completely enclose your needle bar, allowing for more stability and control.
    Different Plastic Options: Cartridges come in all different colors of plastic, sheer and opaque. Many artists prefer a minimal, see-through tip so they can easily watch their ink flow. This is especially beneficial when performing delicate work that requires a lot of focus and manipulation.

Illustrated diagram of open magnum cartridge tattoo needles and closed tip magnum cartridge needles

Find the Right Tattoo Needles for You

Even when you understand all the sizes and types, it can still be overwhelming to find the right tattoo needles for you, But it can also be exciting… choosing the best tattoo needles for you is a little like choosing the right paintbrush.

Plus, now that you’ve got a basic understanding of different needle sizes and uses, shopping can be a lot easier. There are so many top-selling, artist-favorite brands on the market. So, it might take some experimentation to find your favorite needles.

Explore all the best brands like Peak, Cheyenne, Kwadron, and Precision. Then pair them with your favorite machine and see what you can create. Use this tattoo needle guide any time you need to as a reference point in your search!

Explore the Top Tattoo Needle Brands

Peak Cartridge Tattoo Needles
Peak needles offer a wide variety of options, including clear tips, opaque tips, full safety membranes, and – most recently – US-patented linear technology. Shop all Peak needles here.

Cheyenne Cartridge Tattoo Needles
More than 40 different configurations
Cheyenne cartridges were the first to introduce full safety membranes, and they’re still popular for being versatile, high-quality, and high-performing. Every Cheyenne cartridge offers something new, including the latest capillary cartridges, which come with a reservoir that saturates your needles with every dip. Find all Cheyenne cartridges here.

Kwadron Cartridge Tattoo Needles
Kwadron needles are known to be razor-sharp and durable for optimal penetration every time. Explore all Kwadron needles here.

Precision Bar Tattoo Needles
More than 80 different configurations
Precision bar needles are precision-made from 304 stainless steel. They’re sharp, artist-recommended, and versatile for any style. Grab yours here.

You can find all the tattoo needles we offer on our Web store here. Tattoo with the best brands and needle types for your unique style!

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