We get a lot of questions about tattoo needles from customers and so we have written extensively on it via blog posts.  Since the topic is so big, we have taken the liberty of combining some of our previous posts and included some new valuable info as well.  This post discusses the development, needle grouping codes, gauge/diameter and techniques for different needle groupings.   

One of the most important things to get to grips with as an apprentice tattoo artist is the different kinds of needles that are available, these are grouped into needle groupings. Understanding which needle to use for which project and piece can be confusing at first, which is what we wanted to overcome with this guide.

This guide was created with newer artists in mind and will cover everything from a brief history of needles and notable techniques, to tattoo needle codes. We hope you find it helpful for your next project at the studio.

Brief History: How Did Tattoo Needles Develop Over Time?

The tattoo needle has come on in leaps and bounds throughout history, and it is important to get a good grasp on it to understand modern tattoo equipment.

The earliest recorded tattoo needles were dated back before 3000BC where a collection of small, bronze needles were found on a dig in Egypt. These bronze needles were dated back to 1450 BC, and are an integral part of art history.

Around the world, single needle tattooing has been immensely popular and was a staple technique in almost every country, from Japan to New Zealand. Tattoo artists had to have a strong level of ingenuity, as they often had to make their own tools and customize their own needles.

Single needle tattoos were gradually replaced in the mainstream tattoo market when Thomas Edison created his electric stencil pen, and Samuel O’Reilly adapted it into the electric rotary tattoo machine.  The development of tattoo machines influenced the development of tattoo needles on bar, basically tattoo needles, soldered on a bar or long piece of cylindrical metal with hook to attach to tattoo machine.

The development of soldering needles onto a bar allowed for the creation of the wide variety of needle groupings soldered together you see today.


How Do You Read Tattoo Needle Codes Properly?

Needle codes are essential to get to grips with if you are looking to learn more about how to use tattoo needles.  They can look a little confusing at first if you have never worked with them before. Read more in depth commentary about each topic: 

There are three parts to a needle code: diameter (gauge), number of needles and groupings.

Tattoo Needle Gauge / Diameter

One key part of the tattoo needle code that you need to be aware of is the gauge / diameter measure. This can be found at the beginning of the tattoo needle code- for example, the 12 in 1203RL means that the tattoo needle in question has a group of needles with a #12-diameter. The most common gauge / diameters are:

  • #8 = 0.25 mm diameter – slower ink flow for more detailed work
  • #10 = 0.30 mm diameter – aka double zeros. The middle gauge size
  • #12 = 0.35 diameter – aka Standards. Faster ink flow, great for bold lines
  • Other sizes include #6 or 0.20mm, #14 or 0.40 and #16 or 0.45mm

Tattoo Needle Groupings

Another key part of the tattoo needle code is the grouping number. This refers to how many individual needles are present within the tattoo needle as a whole.

Following our previous example, the 03 in 1203RL means that there are 3 individual needles in this tattoo needle. This will affect the category that this particular tattoo needle falls into, and will affect the styles that it can perform well with, too.

It’s also worth noting that there are multiple styles of tattoo needles, which are based off of the diameters and the groupings of the individual needles. The styles include (with common abbreviations):

  • RL =  Round liners
  • RS = Round shaders
  • RM or CM = Curved magnums / Round Magnums
  • F or FS = Flats
  • M1 = Weaved magnums
  • M2 = Stacked magnums

This list is not exhaustive of course, as there are further niche needle styles on the market. Some artists may even customize their own needle groupings to fit their own unique styles and techniques.

The needle style refers to the way that the needles are grouped- for example, round liners have a grouping of needles in a tight, round arrangement.


Relevant Tattoo Techniques For Tattoo Needle Styles

Rounded Tattoo Needles

Rounded liners are used for lining. Rounded shaders are for shading. They are a rounded group of needles. But the difference is how close together the needles are placed. Round liners are tightly packed close together, making them perfect for line work, scripting, lettering and other fine details. Round shaders are spaced more far apart and work well for color fill and basic shading.  

Flat Tattoo Needles

Flat needles needles in a straight line formation. They used to work with geometric designs, and they’re perfect for shading too. This is due to the fact that flat needle groupings allow for more ink to be put into the skin- they create strong, eye-catching pigmentation. (Flat needles deliver more ink to the skin.)

Magnum Tattoo Needles

Magnums are arguably some of the most versatile tattoo needles, and they can be used for shading, blending and coloring. If you want to line with a magnum, you can turn it on the side- but this is a difficult technique and it’s worth practicing before you attempt to do this. Magnums have two rows of needles soldered on top of each other.

Weaved magnums have the two rows of needles in a loose formation. Whereas  stacked magnums are packed much tighter. Curved Magnums / Round Magnums have the needles arch at the center, like a fan shape. This is a relatively new concept and is believed to conform better to the skin and does less skin damage during the tattooing process.

Single Needles

We couldn’t write this without mentioning single needles, of course. There are some artists who specialize in using single needles to tattoo with, in a style known as ‘stick and pokes’ or simply “handpoked” tattoos. These tattoos are done in a single color, and are often made with thick, simplistic lines.


Other Common Terms

Bugpins are magnums that have thinner needles, such as a #8 (0.20mm diameter). This is thinner than standard needles. 

Needle Cartridges are different from generic needles – they are specialty needles that only fit a certain type of machine. (For example, these Cheyenne Hawk Needle Cartridges) The upside of cartridges is that they can be setup more quickly, but tend to be more expensive.

All in all, tattoo needles work well when used in tandem with each other. Even if you have a particular style that you want to specialize in, having a good understanding of multiple needles is essential for being a well-rounded artist. If you are looking for a good pack of needles to help you achieve this, we’d recommend this one.

When you are a new artist looking to develop a style, it is worth working with your mentor on different techniques to see what fits your art style the best. Some people may lean towards bold lines and bright colors, whereas some may opt for single color palettes and intricate line work. It’s important to find which needles work for you.

To Sum Up

Overall, if you are a new artist then it is absolutely worth getting to grips with the different tattoo needles that are available on the market. Spend some time reading up on the history for context, and consider learning different styles to widen your skill set as a tattoo artist.

Want to read more blog posts like this? Looking to learn more about the best tattoo equipment on the market? We’ve got you covered. Our blog is packed full of handy guides and articles, and we’re proud to offer the best tattoo equipment in the game. Check out the rest of our website for more. 

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