Tools of the Trade: Tattoo Needle Types

Tattoo artists have many different types of tattoo needles, just like paint brushes for painters. Each size and style is for achieving different results in strokes. At a quick glance, most needles look very similar. Here is a generalized chart to emphasize the features of each needle point and text that explains their uses:

#1 Round (RL or RS)

Round tattoo needles are composed of several needle points connected to a central shaft. Round liners are more closely packed to provide saturated lines, but round shaders are packed more loosely to allow even color or shading. The amount of needle points will determine the stocking name. For example, a round shader with 5 points would be labeled 5RS.

#2 Flat (FL or FS)

Flat tattoo needles have points that are stacked in a straight line to create crisp, more defined lines in each stroke. Just like round needles, flat needles are available as flat shaders or flat liners. They are notated similarly too, for example a flat shader with 7 points would be labeled 7FS.

#3 Magnum

Magnum tattoo needles are similar to flat needles, but feature two rows of points stacked in an alternating fashion. Magnum needles also come in a curved variety (CM or RM). The middle of the needle configuration archs upwards to resemble the shape of a rainbow. Magnum needles with tightly packed points are known as stacked magnums (M2), and needles with a looser configuration are known as weaved magnums (M1). 

What does ‘taper’ have to do with tattooing?

In addition to the amount of points, tattoo needles are marketed and packaged according to the length of the needle taper and the thickness of the needles. The taper refers to the degree of graduation that each need has. A short taper has a shorter needle point and a long taper has a longer needle point. Long tapers are thin and fine and allow for greater control and precision. However, a finer needle point means it’s penetrating the skin in a smaller area. Some needles even feature a textured taper – that means that the tip is scored in order to hold more ink.

In addition to taper lengths, tattoo artists must also consider width when selecting the appropriate needle for their work. Standard needles are typically between .30mm and .35mm in width, but can range anywhere from .20mm to .40mm. Much like the amount of taper, the thicker needles are designed to cover more surface area at once. The thinner needles are designed for finer and more controlled detail work. There is also a common variety of needles which are much smaller and finer, called bugpins. A standard width for bugpins is typically .20mm-.30mm – they come in the same varieties as normal needles, flat, magnum, shader, etc. Width is also a factor when determining stocking skus, see below. So that means that a standard width 5-point magnum would be

Standard needle width conversion and notation.

skued as 1205M. Because they are smaller, a standard 5-point magnum bugpin is skued as 1005MB.

Tips for choosing the right needles:

  •  Round needles with a low point counts are best for crisp precision lining, especially for smaller tattoos
  •  Magnums cover more surface area, they’re great for filling in color or shading
  •  For even larger areas, a high point count rounded needle is best
  •  Curved magnums are great for intricate portraits or highly detailed color work – their shape conforms to the natural flow of skin while being tattooed


Avery, D., 2020. The Complete Guide To Tattoo Needles. [online] Wet Tattoo. Available at: <> [Accessed 23 November 2020].

Madeira, C., 2020. How To Choose The Proper Tattoo Needle Size. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 23 November 2020]. 2020. Tattoo Needles And Tubes | Best Tattoo Needles | Needles For Tattoos. [online] Available at: <–Tubes.html> [Accessed 23 November 2020].






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Creative Ink Tattoo Studio
39 Central Square
Keene, NH

Phone: 603-352-5501

Shop Hours:

Mon – Sat 1PM – 8PM