The Ins and Outs of Tattoo Needles

January 08, 2018

Imagine a train going through a tunnel. Now imagine that train is a bunch of sharp needles vibrating at a tremendous speed. This is the tattoo needle. It is an essential part of equipment that is inserted into a tattoo machine that carries the ink into the skin.

This little ink-train comes in many different shapes and sizes, so we are going to go through the basics. If you are a professional tattoo artist, hopefully you know most of these basics already.

Firstly, you have standard needles and premium needles. The main difference between these two is the fact that premium needles have better soldering quality. As the name suggests, this improves the quality of the needle overall.

It might be that you are just starting out, or looking into expanding your skills and using different needles. Maybe you are confounded by all the different types of tattoo needles available. We are going to look at a few technical aspects and examples to illustrate what different needles consist of and what they may be used for.


The most basic way to explain the needle diameters and dimensions, would be to look at the codes that are used on the Tattoo Addict website. As an example, let’s look at the code 1205RL

The first number refers to the diameter of the pins of the needle. The example needle of 1205RL will have a #12, or in other words, a .35mm diameter (have a look at the reference table below). This is one of the larger-diameter needle sizes available, but it is also the most commonly used size. The slightly smaller size, #10, or .30mm diameter, is often used when doing line-work and are called bugpins.

The diameter of pins affect how ink flows. The narrower this diameter, the finer and more controlled the stream of ink flows. That is why #10 needles are so popular when used for line-work. The ink flow is much more controlled and can be focused in very precise lines.


Number (#)

Diameter (mm)





10 (bugpins)




The taper (or point length) refers to the shape of the point. A short taper will have a short point. A long taper will have a long point. A standard short taper is usually 1.5mm. A long taper would be 2.0mm. Extremely long tapers can go up to as long as 7mm.


We are going to continue with the above example: 1205RL. The second 2 digits in this code refers to the count, or the grouping. In this example the needle will have 5 needles grouped together.

This needle grouping refers to the size of the marks made while tattooing. Effectively, it depends whether you are doing work on smaller or larger scale. A 1-needle for example, is a single needle that is used for extremely fine lines. For thicker lines/shading/colourpacking, one would use a larger needle grouping like an 11, 13 or even 23 magnum.

The last letters in the code refer to the way that the needles are arranged or grouped. In the example, RL refers to round liner. Lining needles are grouped in a circle. Round shader needles are grouped in a hollow circle, and stacked magnums are arranged in two rows that are interlaced. Have a look at the reference table below.


What types of needles are used for different tattooing techniques? Finding out what needle configurations work best for your style, is a matter of trial and error. There are a few basic guidelines.


Needle type

Optimal number of needles

Key features


Small: 5

Medium: 7-9

Large: 11-17

Two rows of needles spread out. For light shading and portraits use 7-11 needles. Curved magnums have a slight arc to protect the skin.


7-9 needles

These are grouped in a circle or a tight cluster. Used to create bold outlines.


7-11 needles

They are arranged in a straight row. Best used for whips, blending and shading.

Round shaders

Small: 1-5

Large: 7-21

Can be used for large sessions as it creates thick lines; 7-9 needles could be used for shading. These are not ideal for colourpacking.


Ideally 7 for medium shades

Used for shading. They are evenly aligned in a tube in a circle.

Round liners and round shaders are pretty straightforward, they line and they shade. Tightly packed liners are used for making super-fine lines. Then we get to the interesting stuff - flats, magnums and turbo needles.

Flat needles (shaders) are arranged in a straight line and can be used to shade in geometric areas like trash-polka-style tattoos.

Stacked magnums comprises of two ‘layers’ of needles that are mostly used to shade, colourpack, and fill in larger areas. Curved magnums achieve the same effect, but they are softer on the skin because they are rounded at the edges.

Turbo needles are hollow point needles. No, this does not mean that the pins themselves are hollow, but rather that the pins are arranged in a circle, being hollow in the middle. The centre of these needles are pulled back, so they don't penetrate the skin at all. The needle grouping causes way less trauma and holds significantly more ink than normal needle groupings, so you don't need to refill as often as usual.


Textured needles are needles that have not been polished on the tapers (ends). This means that these needles hold the ink better. For example, textured magnums holds the ink especially well, as the ink can sit between the two rows of pins and also stick to the textured needle better, instead of just dripping out of the tube. It is believed that you can receive a higher level of pigmentation in the skin, especially during solid colour tattooing.


Cartridges are basic needle/tube setups that are disposable. They can be used on rotary machines that are specifically designed to use cartridges like the FK Irons Spektra Halo 2.

There are a few great things about switching over to a cartridge system. Firstly, needles are always stable and run consistently every time. It is a great time saver because needles and setups can be changed quickly and easily, which eliminates the need for multiple machine setups. You will always have a nice clean setup because the needles and tips are just disposed. With cartridges, you do not need an autoclave.

Our Elite cartridges have a membrane inside, which means they keep ink from running through the tube to the grip. This holds more ink and can be beneficial when you want to keep your setup clean.


You may not agree with the uses for certain tattoo needles as stated above, but it is to be used as a guideline, and not as absolute truth. This is why proper training and apprenticeships are necessary. Train with an artist who already knows what needles/setups works the best for certain styles/techniques. This is the best way to learn the proper way of using needles in different combinations to achieve different effects.

So, finally the ink-train comes to a stop, and the best place to stop is at the Tattoo Addict warehouse. We have stacks and stacks of needles to choose from. Feel free to come over and have a look around our site to familiarise yourself with our tattoo needle codes and sizes.

There are some needles on promotion at the moment, so have a browse through the needles in the ‘promo’ tab. Limited stock available so jump quickly!


Someone purchsed a

Product name

info info