Bugpins vs Standards – Tattoo Needles Explained

Tattoo needles have different sizes so they can perform different jobs. The measure of the diameter (“thickness”) of the needle determines how much ink goes in the skin with each deposit. 

For example, bugpins, which have a smaller diameter than standard needles, can be helpful if you’re trying to restrict ink flow to add detail or build up shading.

To help you figure out which type of needles you need, we’ll be breaking down:

  • When to use standard needles
  • When to use bugpin needles
  • How each type of needle will affect how your tattoos look

Bugpins vs Standard Needles

What Measurement is a Bugpin Needle?

Tattoo needles come in three different diameters: 12, 10, and 8.

12 is the standard size, and it is used for most tattoo styles. (This is why it’s called a “Standard.”)

10 is a bit smaller than the standard size, and they are technically called “double zeros.” However, when tattoo artists say “bugpins,” they usually mean a needle with this diameter. 

8-gauge needles are the smallest option. These are actually bugpin needles (they’re called bugpins because they are used to pin dead bugs in place for display). However, tattoo artists rarely use these. 

So, when a tattoo artist says they’re using a “bugpin,” they could be referring to either an 8-gauge or a 10-gauge needle, but 95% of the time, they mean a 10-gauge needle.

How to Order Bugpins

All needle boxes have a code on them made of numbers and letters. 

The first number in the code is the gauge. So, if you see a code that starts with 12 (1207RL), then it’s a standard needle. If the code starts with 10 (1007RL), then it’s a bugpin needle. 

Size Difference between Bugpins and Standards

Bugpins are thinner, which means they will show up smaller in the skin than a standard needle. Anytime you use a bugpin, you can think of it as a two-needle difference from the “standard” diameter. 

So, if you’re using a 1007RL (bugpin 7 round liner), it will look like a 1205RL (standard 5 round liner).


There are some cartridge brands that will put the “standard” size on the individual cartridges. So you might buy a box of 1007RL, but there will be a “5” listed on the individual cartridges. They do this in case you are using both standards and bugpins in a tattoo and lose track of which needle is a bugpin. This way, you can rely on the “standard” sizes.

How Tattooing with Bugpins is Different

When you’re tattooing with bugpins, you have to be extra careful about causing damage to the skin. 

Because they allow you to have more needles in a smaller area, it’s easy to accidentally slice up the skin. However, they will create a crisper and clearer line, which is important if you’re working with super tiny details like eyelashes. 

Additionally, any shakes in your lines will be more visible with a bugpin because the linework is thinner.

We recommend turning your voltage down when switching from a standard to a bugpin needle to avoid extra trauma to the skin. 

For example, an artist might run their machine at 8.5v for lining with a standard. They would drop their voltage to ~7v for a bugpin. Your hand speed should remain the same or slow down slightly. When using bugpins, keep your pressure light and don’t stay in one area too long. 

When to Use Bugpins

We recommend using bugpin needles for tattoos that require a lot of detail and building up your shades. For example, realism, some black and gray, and “dainty” tattoos will work best with bugpin needles. 

However, you would not use bugpins for a style like American Traditional, which requires thick lines and heavy color saturation. This applies to Neotraditional, New School, Tribal, etc.

Become a Tattoo Artist With the Artist Accelerator Program

Having a career in tattooing is not only fulfilling, but it’s also the most stable way to make a living as an artist. However, for decades, the process to become a tattoo artist has been notoriously difficult. 

The apprenticeship process requires aspiring tattoo artists to work 50-60 hours a week without pay for 2-4 years. That, combined with the toxic culture of abusing apprentices, makes getting into the industry almost impossible for newcomers.

That’s why we created the Artist Accelerator Program. Our online course provides a simple, structured way of learning to tattoo that has been proven to work by over 2500 successful students, with many of them having gone on to open their own shops all around the world. 

Inside the program, we’ll take you through every step of the tattooing process in 9 clear, easy-to-follow modules and support you along the way within the Tattooing 101 Mastermind online community.

In the Mastermind group, you’ll collaborate with other students, get answers to your questions, and receive personalized video feedback on your artwork and tattoos from professional tattoo artists. With this friendly community of both new and experienced tattoo artists, you’ll never be stuck again. 

When you join the Artist Accelerator Program, you’ll have instant access to the full course and the Mastermind community, as well as our 30-Day Flash Challenge and recorded interviews with tattoo artists from all over the world. 

Click here to learn more about the Artist Accelerator Program.

Looking for a tattoo apprenticeship?

Tattooing 101's Artist Accelerator 90 day program is the closest thing to a real apprenticeship

  • 500 video modules
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Nathan Molenaar

Nathan is a licensed professional tattoo artist with over 8 years’ experience working at studios across the globe, including Celebrity Ink, the world's largest tattoo studio chain.

When he's not tattooing, he spends his free time sharing his experience and knowledge with aspiring artists who dream of pursuing a career in the tattooing industry.

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