Learn how to read the needle box, what each type of needle does, and when to use different configurations in your tattoos. Our favorite needles are Quelle Premium Cartridges.

Tattoo Needle Sizes: Types of Tattoo Needles + Sizes Chart

Tattoo needles come in different sizes and configurations like liners, shaders, and mags. Each type of needle places ink in the skin differently, so you need the right tattoo needle to make sure your designs come out correctly. 

This visual guide will make sure you understand everything you need to know, which will help you do better tattoos with less effort.
needle points
flat thick outlines
curved magnums

In this article, we’ll be breaking down:

  • What each needle type looks like in the skin.
  • Why the taper of a tattoo needle matters.
  • How to pick the proper tattoo needle size before sitting down to tattoo.

Plus, you can download our Tattoo Needles Sizes and Uses Chart to help you confidently plan which needles you need for every tattoo.

How to Read a Tattoo Needle Box

tattoo needle guide

Reading the box will make sure you’re picking the right needles. Every box will have a 4-piece code that tells you which needle type is inside.

1

Diameter (AKA “Gauge”)

How thick the needle is. A thicker needle allows for more ink flow.

2

Needle Count

How many individual sharps are in the needle. More sharps = more space covered on the skin.

3

Configuration

How the sharps are arranged on the needle bar. (This will determine if the needle is better for lining, shading, or packing ink.)

4

Taper

How steep the angle of the needle’s point is. The steeper the angle, the more precisely ink can be placed.

If a needle box doesn’t list the taper, it’s probably “standard taper.”

What Diameter Should You Use?

needle diameters

What is needle diameter?

Diameter (AKA “gauge”) is how thick each needle on the bar is.

#12 - “Standards”

0.35mm

#10 - “Double Zeros”

0.3mm

#8 - “Bugpins”

0.25mm

A liner with 12-gauge needles will look thicker than the same type of liner that uses 10-gauge needles because it covers more space. For example, a standard 7 liner will show up thicker than a bugpin 7 liner.

A Note on Bugpin Tattoo Needles

While 8-gauge needles are technically bugpins, most tattoo artists mean 10-gauge needles when they say “bugpin.”

Why is diameter important?

Diameter determines:

  1. 1
    How much ink flows through the needle. Thicker diameter = more ink to flow.
  2. 2
    How much trauma the needle causes to the skin. Thicker diameter = more trauma, meaning you can’t make as many passes over the skin.

When to Use Thick 12-Gauge Needles

  • Packing color (high ink flow needed)
  • Heavy shading
  • Thick lines (ex: American Traditional tattoos)

When to Use Thin 10-Gauge Needles

  • Building up shades (multiple passes over the skin needed)
  • Smooth shading transitions
  • Precise ink placement (ex: realism portraits)

Note:

Thicker needles cause more trauma because they make bigger holes in the skin.

What Tattoo Needle Count Should You Use?

flat shader needles

What is needle count?

Your needle count is how many individual sharps are in the needle. More sharps = more space covered on the skin.

Why is needle count important?

Needle count determines how big the needle will be. A needle with three sharps will make a much smaller mark in the skin than a needle with 15.

How to pick the right needle count for your tattoo

straight line tattoo

When choosing round liners, keep your line weight (thickness) in mind. If you want a heavy line weight, you’d pick a larger needle count.

When choosing tattoo needles for shading, pick the largest needle count the tattoo will allow. A back tattoo will have tons of space to fill in, so you’d pick a bigger needle, like a 15 or 23 mag.

Note:

Thinner lines are easier to get in the skin because your machine needs less power. However, that does make it easier to go too deep in the skin and cause a blowout. 

What the Different Configurations Mean

What is needle configuration?

How the sharps are arranged on the needle bar.

Why is needle configuration important?

The configuration determines what the ink will look like in the skin, and what job you should use each needle for.

However, here’s a quick list of what each configuration should be used for:

  • Round liners: line work and small details
  • Round shaders: shading in smaller areas and tight corners
  • Magnum needles: shading large areas, packing color

Warning on Using an M1 - Straight Magnum

Because an M1 is straight and is puncturing into curved and cushy skin, it can potentially cut the client at the edges of the needle. Many artists prefer a curved magnum needle over a straight one, as it bends with the client’s skin.

flat tattoo needles vs soft edge magnums

What Needle Taper Should You Use?

thinner needles

What is Needle Taper?

A needle’s taper determines how steep the angle of each sharp’s point is. The steeper the angle, the more precisely ink can be placed.

Needles come in a variety of tapers, with a short taper (ST), being the standard.

  • Short taper (ST or S for “Standard”): 1.5mm
  • Long taper (LT): 2.0mm
  • Double long taper (DLT): 2.5mm
  • Extra-long taper (ELT): 3.5mm
  • Extra-long taper (ELT): 3.5mm
  • Extra super long taper (ESLT): 8.0mm

Why is Needle Taper Important?

The taper of the needle affects the amount of ink that can flow from the needle. 

The longer the taper, the less ink can be distributed. Slower distribution of ink allows you to build up layers and create smoother blends, but it takes a long time to tattoo this way. 

While a little less precise, short tapered needles are considered the industry standard because they allow for a steady flow of ink and efficiently pack color into the skin without the need to constantly go back over an area.

Which taper you pick will determine what design you’re tattooing. For example, detailed realism might need a longer taper, while American Traditional would use a short taper. 

How to Pick the Right Taper - Our Taper Length Cheat Sheet

Short/Standard Taper (ST, S)

short taper needle point
  • ST needles pack solid color by putting larger holes in the skin
  • When packing in ink, precision is not as important as getting the ink into the skin.

BEST FOR:

Long Taper (LT)

medium taper needle point
  • Longer tapered needles with tighter groupings (bugpins) are ideal for the smooth blends and shading needed for delicate portrait work.

BEST FOR:

  • Thin script (Less ink in the skin takes more time, but offers extra precision.)
  • Smooth blends

Double Long Taper (DLT) +

long taper needle point
  •  For even more precision or even smoother blends, you can go with longer tapers than an LT needle.
  • Warning: The longer the taper, the more delicate the needle. If you hit your ink caps when dipping with a long taper needle, it is far more likely to be damaged and you will need to change tattoo needles.

Textured Needles

smooth needles and textured needle

“Textured” needles have small grooves in them that hold extra ink, allowing you to deposit more ink into the skin than a "polished" needle. This can make them ideal for color packing.

Note:

These needles are often more painful for the client and cause more damage to the skin, allowing for fewer passes.

Warning:

Textured needles are manufactured with grooves. They are not damaged needles.

Tattoo Needle Sizes on Skin

The following examples use standard (12-gauge) needles. To figure out how thick a bugpin would be, move down one standard size. (For example, a 5 round liner with standard needles is the same thickness as a 7 round liner with bugpin needles).

Round Liner Needles

round tattoo needles in the skin

Round Liners Examples

Magnum Needle Examples

1011CMLT
best needle groupings for color

Image from Tattooing 101’s 10-Day Beginners Tattoo Seminar

1011CMLT breakdown:

  • 10-gauge
  • 11 needles
  • CM curved mag
  • LT long taper
1015CMLT
best tattoo needles for intricate shading

Image from Tattooing 101’s 10-Day Beginners Tattoo Seminar

1015CMLT breakdown:

  • 10-gauge
  • 15 needles
  • CM curved mag
  • LT long taper
1023CMLT
weaved magnum needle groupings

Image from Tattooing 101’s 10-Day Beginners Tattoo Seminar

1023CMLT breakdown:

  • 10-gauge
  • 23 needles
  • CM curved mag
  • LT long taper

How to Buy Tattoo Needles: Traditional Needles vs. Tattoo Needle Cartridges

You’ll see two types of needles when you’re shopping: “traditional” needles, which have a long needle bar, and cartridges, which have a plastic casing.

right tattoo needles for coil machine
cartridge needles pre sterilized

You will most often see traditional needles on coil tattoo machines. Most rotary machines and pen machines use needle cartridges.

round shader needles in coil machine
cartridge needles in a rotary machine

For more help, visit our article How to Set Up a Tattoo Machine.

Needles Must be Pre-Sterilized

Every single needle must have an expiration date and a label saying the needles have been EO gas sterilized.

Never reuse tattoo needles and do not autoclave them after using them on a client. Dispose of them properly after the tattoo is done. Use sterilized, in-date, single-use needles on every single customer.

Warning:

Always buy tattoo supplies from reputable tattoo supply companies. Do not buy tattoo needles on Amazon. Some areas of the world have different packaging laws, which means they can label something as sterile - even if it isn’t - and ship it to the U.S. through Amazon.

Tattoo Needles Sizes and Uses Chart

Learning about the different types of tattoo needles is one thing - but putting them into practice is another. Here’s our favorite cheat sheet to help you pick the right needles for your next tattoo.

In the chart below, we’ve listed:

  • Tattoo needle sizes
  • Tattoo needle types
  • When to use each type of tattoo needle (style, jobs, etc.)

Become a Tattoo Artist With the Artist Accelerator Program

student work from the Artist Accelerator tattoo artist training programs

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
  • Professional tattoo artist coaches
  • Private mastermind community
AUTHOR
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.

write a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked

  1. I seen on your website that you have a program that teaches you all the fundamentals of tattooing and how to build a strong enough portfolio to get hired into a shop. I have been struggling on getting a traditional apprenticeship.
    With all the online programs/schools that most are scams that yours is legit?
    Don't mean to insult you or mean any disrespect but I'm leary these days.
    I've seen all the testimonials on the website and read your entire website explaining how it all works. I mean it sounds legit looks legit.
    But I want to make sure that your program is the real deal before I spend the money.
    I want to become a license tattoer and be able to Tattoo like a professional. I love art and passionate about the art of tattooing.
    Is there some one I can talk too? To answer some of my questions?
    Again I don't mean any disrespect but just got to make sure.
    Thank you for reading this hope to hear from someone.

    1. Hey Man,

      Good to hear from you. Yes there’s a lot of scams out there unfortunately so it’s understandable. The course is 100% legit and our reviews are real. 4.9/5 on Facebook 🙂 Happy to chat email replies@tattooing101.com we’re happy to help!

      Nate

  2. I’ve been tattooing 20 years so, I’m quite familiar with this information but, this is probably the best tutorial I’ve ever seen. Mentors have quit passing this information along as I cross paths with more and more -5 year artists that have no clue what tools they’re using. It’s sad.

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}

SUGGESTED ARTICLES FOR YOU

MORE FREE CONTENT FOR YOU

What is a Hairline Tattoo? Unveiling the Mystery and Addressing the Concerns

August 11, 2023

The “hairline tattoo” is a form of cosmetic tattooing that can help ...

What is a Hairline Tattoo? Unveiling the Mystery and Addressing the Concerns

How Much Does it Cost to Become a Tattoo Artist

May 12, 2022

Becoming a tattoo artist can lead to an exciting career, but it ...

How Much Does it Cost to Become a Tattoo Artist

How to Set Up and Tear Down a Tattoo Station

August 11, 2022

Every new tattoo artist has to learn how to set up and ...

How to Set Up and Tear Down a Tattoo Station

Our Community

Join the Tattooing 101 Community today and get free, instant access to tools and resources that take you behind the curtain of all things tattooing. From apprentice to shop owner, we've got you covered.