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:
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.
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