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Blog - The Complete Guide To Tattoo Needles

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By Derek Avery 11 months ago 50512 Views
Tattoo Needles Guide

If you're new to tattooing, it can be hard to find the supplies you like. Which ink is best? Which needles are always good? Today we're launching a series to help you make the most informed decision possible.

You'll use tattoo needles more often than any other item. You'll need different groupings and sizes. This guide will walk you through basic needle features and what to look for when you're buying them. Remember, you never reuse your tattoo needles: you should use a fresh needle every time.

Tattoo Needle Basics

There are an infinite number of needle styles, but they all fall into four basic categories:

Round Tattoo Needles

Round needles are needles that are soldered around a central shaft in round patterns. Round needles can be liners or shaders, depending on how close together they are placed. Round liners are packed tightly (close together), which makes them perfect for technical work, small lines and details. You might also see loose round liners. Loose round liners are used for thick, bold outlines like those found on Japanese-style tattoos. Round shaders are great for all-purpose color fill and basic shading.

Round Needle Example

Round needles are marked RL (Round Liner) or RS (Round Shader) for short. You'll almost always see them written with their number in front, like 9RL. The number in front tells you have many needles are used in the configuration, so a 9RL has 9 needles placed in a circle configuration, a 7RL has 7 and so on. If you're just starting out, you'll want to focus on round shaders in sizes 3, 5, 7, and 9 for some shading and filling in small areas.

Round needles use the same size tube, so if you’re using a 9RL needle, you’ll use a 9R tube. Pretty straightforward.

Flat Tattoo Needles

Flat Needle Example

Flat needles are needles that are soldered in a straight line to a needle bar. These needles are the most popular for lining because their shape lets them deliver more ink to the skin. This means clearer, darker lines with just one stroke. Larger flat needles can be used for color fills and deliver more quickly with just one pass.

Flat needles are marked FL (Flat Liner) or, less often, FS (Flat Shader) for short. Just like round needles, these are written out with the number of pins in front, like 7FL or 5FS.

Also like round needles, flat needles use their twin-sized tubes, so a 7FL needle will use a 7F tube.

Magnum Tattoo Needles

Magnum needles are the go-to for almost all shading work. These sets have a longer taper that’s either the same or greater than the taper found on round shaders. Magnums deliver a lot of ink, making them ideal for large areas of color. Because they allow so much ink through, you’ll need less passes over an area using magnum needles, which means they’ll do less damage to the skin during multiple passes. There are a few variations of magnum needles:

Weaved Magnum Needles

Weaved Magnum Needle Example

Weaved magnums are soldered to a flat needle bar like flat needles, but they are soldered on alternating sides of the needle. So one needle would be soldered to the top, one two the bottom, another to the top, and so on; this means that they can cover more area.

Weaved magnums are always marked M1 with the number of needles beforehand. So a 5M1 would be a weaved magnum needle configuration with 5 needles soldered to a needle bar.

Stacked Magnum Needles

Stacked magnums have two rows of needles on both sides of the bar, but these needles are positioned much more closely together. For example,

Weaved Magnum vs Stacked Magnum Example

The left image is a weaved magnum grouping, the right image is a stacked magnum grouping. You can see how much closer the needles are placed in the stacked magnum.

Stacked magnums are marked as M2 with the number of needles beforehand. So 9M2 is a stacked magnum with 9 needles on the bar.

Round Magnums / Curved Magnums

Round magnums (also called curved magnums) are a fairly new version of the magnum needle. Round (or rounded, both terms are correct) magnums are arranged so that the tips arch at the center. The concept is that this rounded edge conforms better to the skin, giving a more consistent line, better ink dispersion and doing less skin damage.

Round Magnum Example

The left image is a flat grouping, the right image is a round magnum grouping. The curve of the grouping causes less damage to the skin and gives better ink flow.

If that doesn't make a lot of sense, press down on the skin in your arm and notice how the pressed area makes an almost round hollow. Round magnums are designs to fit that round shape.

Round magnums are marked as RM with the number of needles beforehand. A 5RM is a 5 needle magnum with 5 needles to the bar and the rounded arrangement of points.

Special Terms

Once you’re familiar with the basic needle types, there are a few terms you might come across.

Bug Pin

Fun fact: Bug pins are named after the tiny pins used by biologists to pin specimens.

Bugpins

Bugpins are magnum needles made with much, much thinner needles. Standard needles are generally between 0.30mm and 0.35mm thick; bugpin needles are usually between 0.20mm and 0.25mm. Some artists swear by bugpins for their shading work, others can’t stand them; it’s a matter of preference, and you’ll have to try them to see if they work for you or not.

Bugpin sizes will be marked the exact same as their regular magnum equivalents. A 5M1 will still be a weaved magnum with 5 needles on the bar. If you’re looking to try bugpins, make sure you’re buying needles marked as such.

Keep in mind when buying bugpins that you’ll need a tube that is 1 or 2 sizes smaller than what you would normally use. So if you would use a 5F tube for a 5M1 grouping, you would need a 3F or 4F tube. Always read the manufacturer’s recommendation so you don’t have any surprises when you order arrives.

Needle Cartridges

Tattoo needle cartridges are specialty needles that are ONLY used by certain machines. A notable example is the Cheyenne Hawk rotary. These machines only use cartridges instead of standard needle set-ups, which has up and down sides. The up side is that setup of needle cartridges is usually faster and easier than setting up standard needles, but the down side is that they are typically much more expensive, and they cannot be reused.

Needle cartridges are marked based on their needle groupings. You will only need these if you have a specific machine that requires them, and they will usually need to be purchased directly from the manufacturer.

What To Look For In Tattoo Needles

If you’re new to tattooing and order supplies on your own for the first time, you’ll be choosing between hundreds of brands and manufacturers. There are some basic signs of quality you’ll want to look for in every needle:

Are the needles straight, unbent, and sharp?

If you ordered needles and they arrive crooked, bent or dull, you won’t want to use them. Bent, dull groupings can do major damage to the skin and won’t distribute ink evenly. It will do more harm than good.

Are the needles well soldered?

Check where the needles attach to the bar or center rod: are the needles loose? If so, you won’t want to use them. Loose needles are at risk for coming off during your session and can cause the same issues as crooked, dull groupings.

Are the needles pre-sterilized?

Unless you want to spend a big chunk of your life autoclaving brand new needles, check to make sure the needles you’re ordering have been pre-sterilized. Pre-sterilized needles will be individually packed, labeled as sterile and marked with a lot number and expiration date. Keep this information for your records. If you’re ever unsure of the information (or you’re unsure the needles met sterilization standards), request a copy of the sterilization certificate from the supplier. Suppliers are required to keep this information on hand and should have no problem sending you a copy.

Does this work with my gear?

A needle grouping is useless to you if you don’t have the right tools to use it. Make sure it’s a standard set-up grouping if you aren’t using a cartridge machine and make sure you have the right parts to make it work. For example, if you’re buying bugpin needles, do you have the smaller tubes you’ll need? If you have tubes, do you have grips on hand? Making sure you have it all before you order will save you a lot of time and trouble.

Is this the right needle for what I want to do?

The last thing you’re going to want to check is if you’re ordering the needles you actually need. Like we explained above, different groupings have different uses. Here’s a sample table to help you make the decision:

Needle Grouping

Tube Size

Commonly used for...

4F, 5F

4 - 5 flat

Lines and detail

6F, 7F

6 - 7 flat

Shading, thicker lines, and color fill

9F

8 - 9 flat

Shading and color fill

5M1

4 - 5 flat

Thick lines, color fill, and shading

7M1

6 - 7 flat

Lines, shading, and color fill

9M1

8 - 9 flat

Thick outlines, shading, color fill

11M1

11 flat

Color fill and shading

13M1

13 flat

Color fill and shading

15M1

15 flat

Color fill and shading

5M2, 7M2, 9M2

4 - 5 flat

Outlines, lines, detail, and shading

11M2, 13M2

6 -7 flat

Thick outlines, thick lines, shading, and color fill

15M2

8 - 9 flat

Color fill and shading

5MR

4 - 5 flat

Small lines, detail work, and intricate shading

7MR

6 - 7 flat

Lines, shading, color fill, and detail work

9MR

8 - 9 flat

Outlines, shading, and color fill

11MR

11 flat

Color fill and shading

13MR

13 flat

Color fill and shading

15MR

15 flat

Color fill and shading

1RL, 3RL

1 - 3 round

Lines, intricate shading, and fill-in

4RL, 5RL

4 - 5 round

Outlines, shading, and fill-in

7RL

7 round

Shading and color fill

8RL, 9RL

8 - 9 round

Shading, thick outlines, and color fill

11RL, 14 RL

11 - 14 round

Shading and color fill

3RS

1 - 3 round

Lines and small detail

5RS

4 - 5 round

Lines, slim shading areas, and small detail

7RS

7 round

Shading, thicker lines, small area fill in

8RS, 9RS

8 - 9 round

Shading, thick outlines, and color fill in

14RS

11 - 14 round

Shading and color

4F, 5F

4 - 5 flat

Lines and detail

6F, 7F

6 - 7 flat

Shading, thicker lines, and color fill

9F

8 - 9 flat

Shading and color fill

5M1

4 - 5 flat

Thick lines, color fill, and shading

7M1

6 - 7 flat

Lines, shading, and color fill

9M1

8 - 9 flat

Thick outlines, shading, color fill

11M1

11 flat

Color fill and shading

13M1

13 flat

Color fill and shading

15M1

15 flat

Color fill and shading

5M2, 7M2, 9M2

4 - 5 flat

Outlines, lines, detail, and shading

11M2, 13M2

6 -7 flat

Thick outlines, thick lines, shading, and color fill

15M2

8 - 9 flat

Color fill and shading

5MR

4 - 5 flat

Small lines, detail work, and intricate shading

7MR

6 - 7 flat

Lines, shading, color fill, and detail work

9MR

8 - 9 flat

Outlines, shading, and color fill

11MR

11 flat

Color fill and shading

13MR

13 flat

Color fill and shading

15MR

15 flat

Color fill and shading


In Conclusion...

You should now feel confident that you can choose between needles and make the right decision. If you have any questions at all, feel free to e-mail us or leave a comment and we’ll be happy to answer! This article will be updated as new groupings become available, technology evolves and questions are asked.

Posted in: Buyer's Guides