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Tattoo Needles: A Comprehensive Guide for Beginners

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Last Update on September 26th 2023 By TPS

Tattooing is a unique art form that allows you to express your creativity on a canvas of living skin. However, as a tattoo beginner you will come to learn that mastering this craft requires more than just artistic talent; it also involves understanding the tools of the trade, especially tattoo needles. In this comprehensive guide, we'll delve deeper into the world of tattoo needles, share some valuable tips, and provide you with essential information as you embark on your tattooing journey.

Needle Basics

As a tattoo beginner, you need to be aware that there are four critical factors to consider. These aspects will directly impact how the ink is delivered into the skin, and you'll find them conveniently listed in this order on the needle's packaging:

  1. Diameter (Gauge)

    Imagine the diameter as the thickness of the needle at its widest point, which is the base where it starts to sharpen into a point. This measurement is crucial as it determines the needle's overall size. Starting with a standard gauge is often a wise choice for beginners. It provides a good balance and versatility for various tattooing tasks.

  2. Needle Count

    The needle count refers to the number of individual needle sharps that make up the entire needle. In simple terms, more sharps mean a larger tattoo needle. For finer work, you might opt for needles with a lower needle count. Conversely, a higher needle count is handy for covering larger areas efficiently.

  3. Configuration

    Now, let's talk about the needle's configuration, which essentially tells you how those individual needles, or sharps, are arranged on the needle bar. This arrangement indicates what type of needle it is – whether it's a liner, magnum, or round shader. To begin, familiarize yourself with liner and shader configurations. Liners are your go-to for outlines and precise work, while shaders excel in shading and coloring. More on this will be discussed below. 

  4. Taper

    Finally, we have the taper, which influences two critical factors. First, it determines the needle's precision, so a shorter taper provides more control. Second, it affects how quickly the needle can deposit ink into the skin. As a beginner, you might want to start with needles featuring a medium taper. They offer a balance between precision and ink delivery speed.

Types of Tattoo Needles: Liners, Shaders, and Magnums 


Starting with the basics: tattoo needles come in three primary types—liners, shaders, and magnums. As a beginner, understanding the purpose of each type is crucial.

What Are Liner Needles?

Liner needles are your go-to choice for creating crisp outlines and fine details in your tattoo design. They are characterized by a tight grouping of needles at the tip.

Tip 1: Use Liners for Precision

Liners are your precision tools, like using a fine-tipped pen for a delicate drawing. They allow you to craft sharp lines, ensuring your tattoo's details stand out. You will struggled with getting those clean, precise lines until you embraced liner needles I can guaranty you'll see a significant improvement in our outline work.

Round Shaders

Understanding Round Shader Needles

Round shader needles also have a set number of needles but are evenly spaced instead of tightly grouped.

Tip 2: Versatility of Round Shaders

Round shaders are versatile tools; they can be used for both shading and coloring. Their evenly spaced needles make them excellent for soft shading and color packing.

Personal Note: I found round shaders to be my all-around workhorse. They provide the flexibility to handle different shading tasks with ease.

Magnum Needles

Flat vs. Curved Magnums

Magnum needles are a bit different, coming in two variations: flat magnums and curved magnums.

Flat Magnums

Flat magnums have straight rows of needles. They're known for creating bold and solid shading.

Tip 3: Flat Magnums for Bold Shading

If you're aiming for bold and solid shading, flat magnums are your best friends. They can quickly fill in large areas with rich, solid color. When you tackled your next large black and gray piece, using a flat magnum you will see the world of difference it makes in achieving that smooth, even shading.

Curved Magnums

Curved magnums, as the name suggests, have a slight curve to them, creating a softer edge.

Tip 4: Curved Magnums for Smooth Transitions

Curved magnums excel in creating smooth transitions and blending colors seamlessly. They're great for achieving that subtle, gradient effect. Started exploring color blending techniques, and see how the curved magnums allow you to achieve those soft, dreamy transitions that your clients will loved.

Needle Diameter and Taper: Size Matters

Needle Diameter

The diameter of a tattoo needle is represented by numbers such as 12, 10, and 8, with lower numbers indicating smaller diameters.

Number 12 (0.35)

Tip 5: Standard Needle for Versatility

Number 12 needles, with a diameter of 0.35, are the industry standard. They offer versatility and are suitable for various tattooing tasks and the one beginners usually start on as the load a good amount of ink to get started.


Number 10 (0.30)

Tip 6: Number 10 for Finer Work

If you're working on finer lines and more delicate details, consider using number 10 needles with a diameter of 0.30. They provide more precision.

Number 8 (0.25)

Tip 7: Number 8 for Extreme Precision

For extremely fine lines and intricate details, number 8 needles with a diameter of 0.25 are your best choice. They offer the utmost precision.


Needle Taper

The taper refers to the length of the needle from the tip to where it starts to go straight, and it comes in three variations: short, medium, and long.

Short Taper


Tip 8: Short Taper for Bold Work

Needles with a short taper penetrate the skin quickly, making them ideal for bold and solid work. They're your choice for crisp lines.


Medium Taper


Tip 9: Medium Taper for Balance

Medium tapers strike a balance between precision and depth, making them suitable for various tattooing applications.


Long Taper

Tip 10: Long Taper for Soft Shading

Needles with a long taper are gentle on the skin, making them perfect for soft shading and color blending. They create a smoother transition.

Making the Right Choices

As a beginner, it's perfectly okay to start with standard number 12 needles and regular tapers for lining and shading. This provides a solid foundation for you to become comfortable with the basics of tattooing.

Tip 11: Start with the Basics

Don't rush into experimenting with different needle configurations. Start with the fundamentals, get a feel for them, and gradually expand your toolkit. In the early days of your tattooing there will be a temptation to try everything at once. Try to resist as it's mastering the basics that will set your stage for growth as a tattoo artist.

Needle Variations and Personal Preferences

Every tattoo artist develops their preferences over time, so don't hesitate to explore different needle sizes, tapers, and configurations.

Tip 12: Experiment and Learn (after Tip 11!)

Once you have Tip 11 sorted and starting to see some good results on a regular basis, start to experiment and discover what works best for your style and technique. Your unique approach will set you apart as an artist.

Some of my your most creative breakthroughs will came from experimenting with unusual needle combinations which will help you find your own signature style.

Tattoo Needle Safety

Before we wrap up this guide, it's essential to touch on tattoo needle safety:

Tip 13: Safety First Always prioritize safety.

Ensure your needles are sterile, and use disposable ones for each client to prevent infections.

Personal Note: Safety isn't just a tip; it's a non-negotiable part of the tattooing process. It's your responsibility to protect both yourself and your clients.


Needle configuration

Image: Common needle configuration 


Selecting the right needle type for the style.

Certain needle types are optimal for each style based on my experience here are some suggestions:

1. Traditional Tattoos:

  • Needle Configuration: Traditional tattoos often involve bold outlines and solid colors. Therefore, a round liner needle configuration, such as a 3RL (3 Round Liner), is commonly used for precise outlining.

  • Needle Size: A standard 12-gauge needle is suitable for traditional tattoos, providing a balance between ink flow and precision.

  • Why: Traditional tattoos rely on clean, bold lines and well-defined shapes, making round liners ideal for achieving these characteristics.

2. Realism Tattoos:

  • Needle Configuration: Realism tattoos require intricate shading and fine details. Magnum needles, particularly curved magnums, like 9M1 (9 Magnum 1), are favored for their ability to create smooth transitions and subtle gradients.

  • Needle Size: Smaller-diameter needles, such as 10-gauge, offer greater precision for capturing realistic details.

  • Why: Realism tattoos aim to replicate the appearance of photographs or real objects. Curved magnums allow for realistic tonal variations and smooth blending.

3. Black and Gray Tattoos:

  • Needle Configuration: Black and gray tattoos focus on grayscale shading. A variety of magnum needles, including flat and curved magnums, are used to achieve different shading effects.

  • Needle Size: Larger-diameter needles, such as 9-gauge, are suitable for black and gray work as they cover more skin area, facilitating smoother shading.

  • Why: Black and gray tattoos rely on the subtle nuances of grayscale, and the choice of magnum needles helps achieve varying levels of contrast and texture.

4. Watercolor Tattoos:

  • Needle Configuration: Watercolor tattoos emphasize vibrant and fluid color blending. Round shader needles are commonly employed for their versatility in color packing and shading.

  • Needle Size: A standard 12-gauge needle works well for watercolor tattoos, allowing artists to control color saturation and blend smoothly.

  • Why: Watercolor tattoos mimic the unpredictable flow of watercolors, and round shader needles are effective in creating soft transitions and vivid colors.

5. Neo-Traditional Tattoos:

  • Needle Configuration: Neo-traditional tattoos combine elements of traditional and contemporary styles, often featuring bold lines and detailed color work. A combination of round liner and magnum needles is employed.

  • Needle Size: A range of needle sizes can be used, depending on the specific elements of the design, with standard 12-gauge needles for outlining and larger magnums for coloring.

  • Why: Neo-traditional tattoos require the precision of round liners for outlining and the versatility of magnums for color saturation and shading.

Advancement in Tattoo needle technology

Tattoo needle technology has seen significant advancements and evolving trends over the years. These innovations have had a notable impact on the tattoo industry, influencing the precision, safety, and artistic possibilities of tattooing. Here are some insights into emerging trends and innovations in tattoo needle technology and how they have impacted the work of tattoo artists:

1. Needle Configurations and Specialty Needles

  • Trend: There's a growing trend toward specialized needle configurations designed for specific purposes. This includes needles optimized for intricate details, fine lines, and various shading techniques.

  • Impact: As a tattoo artist, I've found these specialty needles invaluable for executing complex designs with greater precision. They allow for more intricate and detailed work, enhancing the overall quality of tattoos.

2. Single-Use and Safety Features

  • Trend: Single-use, disposable needles have become the industry standard due to their hygienic advantages. Some needles now feature safety mechanisms, such as built-in membranes that prevent backflow of ink and bodily fluids.

  • Impact: These safety features have transformed the tattooing process, significantly reducing the risk of cross-contamination and ensuring the highest level of hygiene. Clients also appreciate the added safety measures.

3. Nano and Cartridge Needles

  • Trend: Nano needles and cartridge systems have gained popularity for their precision and ease of use. Nano needles are ultra-fine, while cartridge needles come in convenient, disposable cartridges that are easy to switch out.

  • Impact: Nano needles have allowed for extremely delicate work, such as creating hyper-realistic details and micro tattoos. Cartridge systems offer convenience and speed, making the tattooing process more efficient.

4. Needle Automation and Tattoo Machines

  • Trend: Tattoo machines equipped with adjustable needle depth and automation features have become more widespread. These machines enhance the consistency and speed of the tattooing process.

  • Impact: Automated machines have improved my work by ensuring consistent needle depth and speed, resulting in smoother and more even lines. They also reduce the physical strain on the artist during long sessions.

5. Innovation in Needle Tips

  • Trend: Needle tips have seen innovations in design, with some featuring textured or grooved surfaces to aid in ink flow and pigment retention.

  • Impact: These innovations have improved ink flow and pigment dispersion, allowing for smoother and more consistent results. They also reduce the need for excessive dipping into ink pots.

6. Sustainable and Eco-Friendly Needles

  • Trend: There is a growing awareness of environmental concerns, leading to the development of eco-friendly and sustainable tattoo needles made from biodegradable materials.

  • Impact: As an environmentally conscious artist, I appreciate the availability of sustainable needle options that reduce the environmental footprint of tattooing.\

In summary, the tattoo needle industry has witnessed significant advancements in materials, configurations, and technology, which have collectively enhanced the safety, precision, and efficiency of the tattooing process. These innovations have not only expanded artistic possibilities but have also prioritized hygiene and safety, ultimately benefiting both tattoo artists and clients alike. Keeping up with these emerging trends and incorporating them into my work has been instrumental in staying competitive and delivering the best possible tattooing experience.

The Final Thought

In your journey as a tattoo beginner looking to grow as a tattoo artist, understanding tattoo needles is a crucial step. These seemingly small tools are the key to creating stunning, precise tattoos that your clients will cherish. Remember to start with the basics, explore, and always put safety first. Tattooing is not just an art; it's a craft that you'll hone over time. As a tattoo beginner, embrace the learning process, and soon, you'll be crafting beautiful works of art that tell stories under the skin. Happy tattooing!

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