Everything About Tattoo Needles - The Complete Guide

Types of Tattoo Needles

One of the more tricky parts to grasp while you learn to tattoo is everything to do with needles - the different sizes, types, and what they are used for. Though there are hundreds of different needles, they all fall into six main categories (and two minor ones). There are some outliers such as bamboo needles, but that’s for another article. 

For tattoo artists who are more experienced, or even those who are aspiring artists, click here to purchase The Ultimate Needle Set Procreate brushes. These brushes will help you adapt to the tattooing process quicker than ever before. You will improve your craft from the comfort of your couch as this brush set perfectly mimics the physical strokes of a real tattoo machine. It is great for practicing, for flash, or preparing for your appointment the next day. 

This guide will take a look at the sizes, grouping, and styles best suited for each needle. This is for both cartridge needles and bar needles. If you’re looking to get into the tattooing game, read all about our tips for becoming a tattoo artist. 

Round Liner Needles

As the name suggests, round liner needles are soldered together in a round/ circular formation. This makes these needles ideal for lining work and they are not recommended for shading, unless you are doing stipples whip shading. There are a wide variety of sizes available to suit whatever design you are tattooing - these range from 01 for very thin lines and details which are often seen in fine line tattoos, to 14 for very thick lines which are often seen in traditional tattoos.

Round Shader Needles

As with round liner needles, round shader needles are soldered together in a round formation. However, they have a small gap in the middle as they are a bit further apart. This means that they are great for shading smaller areas, and some artists use them for very thick line work. But be careful - the nature of this needle can cause scarring if not used correctly. 

Flat Shader Needles

Flat shader needles have the needles soldered in a straight line on the needle bar. Despite their name, these needles can be used for color and black packing, and shading. Larger flat shader needles are great for intricate shading due to the amount of control that you have.

Magnum Shader Needles

All magnum needles have the pins in an ongoing M pattern. The tight grouping means that they are perfect for shading. Since they provide great coverage, they require fewer passes to shade an area which means a quicker tattoo and less trauma to the skin. Magnums are great for color and black packing. 

Curved Magnum Shader Needles

Curved magnums, also known as round magnums, have needles that are soldered in a curved formation. These help disperse the ink better and create a more consistent shade. Their shape also allows for more control and softer shading so they are recommended for black and grey tattooing or color blending. 

Double Stack Magnum Shader Needles

The double stack magnum is a bit misleading because instead of having double the needles, the needles are in fact placed closer together. This allows for more intricate shading, especially in tighter spaces that need more saturation. 


Bugpins are the same as regular needles but their individual needles that get soldered to the needle bar are thinner. Whereas a normal needle is 0.3-0.35mm in diameter, bugpins are 0.2-0.25mm. The decision to use a bugpin is solely dependent on the tattoo artists. Some love them, some hate them. The end outcome will be much more influenced by the tattoo artists rather than the needle used. 

Needle Cartridges

Cartridges are standard tattoo needles but packaged as a cartridge, and they are used in pen-style tattoo machines and rotary tattoo machines with a cartridge grip. If you choose to use a cartridge grip or pen style machine, your studio hygiene needs to be on point.  Think of them like printer cartridges in a printer - you can change them quickly and easily. Similarly to bugpins, some artists like them and some don’t - it all depends on personal preference and what your tattoo machine can use. 


The taper shows the length and angle of the needle’s point. A short taper will have a short point, Usually a short taper is 1.5mm. A long taper will have a longer point. Long taper needles are mostly 2.0mm. Long tapers can go as much as 7mm but they are not very common and you won't find them in your local tattoo equipment store. They will most likely need to be custom-made. 

Tattoo Needle Sizes

Tattoo needles have two different size factors which can be confusing to new artists. 

Firstly, there is the actual size of the individual needles. The size of the needle determines how much ink flows under the skin. These are as follows:

  • 8 Gauge - 0.25mm diameter. As mentioned these are referred to as Bugpins
  • 10 Gauge - 0.3mm diameter. Commonly called Double Zeros and are the most commonly used.
  • 12 Gauge - 0.35mm diameter. These are called standard needles and they provide the most ink flow and are often used for shading.
  • 6, 14, and 16 Gauge - 0.2, 0.4, and 0.45mm in diameter. These are very specific needles for special uses and can be difficult to find, and may need to be custom-made.

Needle sizing and name are determined by the number of needles and the type of needle it is. It is written in the following format: Gauge of needle - Amount of needles - Type of needle. An example would be a 1215M2 - this is a 12 gauge double-stacked magnum with 15 individual needles. The needle count of this is straightforward and the letter(s) denomination goes as follows:

  • RL - Round Liners
  • RS - Round Shaders
  • M, M1, or MG - Magnum
  • M2 or MG2 - Double Stacked Magnum
  • CM or RM - Curved or Round Magnum
  • FS - Flat Shaders 

What to Look for in Tattoo Needles

When purchasing tattoo needles, you’ll need to watch out for the following. Unfortunately, as with all industries, there are shady players and while buying from a reputable company might be more expensive, it’s less expensive than a lawsuit!

Are the needles sterilized?

While not necessary, sterilizing needles yourself can be a painstaking and expensive task. It’s better and cheaper to buy needles that are already sterilized. Similarly to food items, tattoo needles will have a sterilization expiration date printed on the packet so make sure to check the dates before you pay.

Are they well made?

Not all manufacturers work to a high standard. Always order a few sample pieces from a company first and observe how the needles are made. For example, are the needles straight and uniform? Is the soldering done to a high standard or is there solder all over the place? Generally speaking, if you take a closer look at a needle you’ll be able to tell its build quality. Another way to test a needle is on practice skin, or when tattooing a friend as they may not mind testing new products out for a free tattoo!

Will the needles work with my equipment?

As there is such a large range of needles out there, it’s surprising that many people forget to check if they will work with their equipment. Make sure you buy needles that will fit your machine. Both the equipment and needle manufacturers list what they are compatible with. If you’re still learning and are unsure of which tattoo machine to get, read our machine guide here

Are they the right size needles?

As discussed, different needles are useful for different tasks. Do your research and buy the best type of needle for the task at hand.


In conclusion, needles come in a range of shapes and sizes. Hopefully, this article has helped you better understand the types of needles and their uses. Of course, this article is brief, and only practice and experience will truly help you decide the type of needle you want to use for a set task. An experienced artist knows their needle order off by heart, but may still want to experiment with new ones. 

Do you think we’re missing something, or have a favorite needle? Let us know in the comments.

Want to learn more about tattoo needles? Click here


Stay connected with news and updates!

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from our team.
Don't worry, your information will not be shared.

We hate SPAM. We will never sell your information, for any reason.