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Tattoo Needles 101 - Everything you need to know; explained

Tattoo Needles - Everything you need to know

Are you looking into tattoo needle sizing and have gotten confused / overwhelmed with the information?

Well if so, you are not alone, and you have come to the right place!

Here we will break down how to read a tattoo needle size, with detailed break down and explanation of each area, and how to choose the best needles for the type of tattooing you are going to do.

Lets go!

tattoo needles sizes explained

First off, lets learn how to break down each needle into 3 sections so we can read it. Above is a simple break down of how to read each section and what to look for. So if you are looking at a a 1209RL, in this example size you can now see that it is broken down into 3 parts of:

  • 12 (needle diameter / individual needle thickness)
  • 09 (amount of needles within the group, which could range from 1 to 40 needles within the group)
  • RL (Round Liner - this is how the needle is formed, in this case a circle, and you would use this for lining / similar to a ballpoint pen)

So this shows how each tattoo size is broken down into 3 parts in order to get the information you need. Let's break down each section further in order to get a better understanding.

 tattoo needles sizes explained

Starting with the first set of numbers in the sequence, this is the size '12' in this example. This number shows the needle diameter / or thickness. So in this example, each needle within this cartridge is a size 12. In the image above you can see that the sizes are broken down as follows: 

  • 08 = 0.25mm
  • 10 = 0.30mm
  • 12 = 0.35mm
  • 13 = 0.40mm

These are the more common needle thickness sizes on the market. The most commonly used among general tattooing would be the size 12 (0.35mm).

For the sizes 08 and 10, as they are slightly smaller than the most common size, these are often referred to as 'bugpin' needles, meaning that they are smaller.

So that explains the first section of the needle, which is the diameter of each needle within the group.

The second number in the group is as follows:

tattoo needles sizes explained

This number tells you how many needles there are within this cartridge. As you can see in the image above, a needle grouping with 5 needles, 7 needles and then 9 needles. So the more needles within the grouping, the larger it is and therefor the larger line it will create in the skin. Needle groupings range from 1 to 40 +, with the more common needle types being 1 - 15.

As you can see from the image, this is normally the 2nd number in the label.

The final section of the label is needle types - sometimes the most confusing to begin with, but straightforward once you have used tattoo needles for the first time. Lets explain:

 tattoo needles sizes explained

tattoo needles sizes explained

Above is a brief breakdown on the types of tattoo needles. These are the main 4 groupings, there are many more but lets stick to the basics here to keep it simple. These also have few different names so you can look out for that too.

  1. Round Liner - Used for Lining, can also be used for dotwork, stipple shading, smaller regular shading etc
  2. Round Shader - Used for small area filling in of colour, blending and shading a tattoo.
  3. Magnum - Used for shading and are great for bigger areas.
  4. Curved Magnum (Round Mag) - Used for all types of shading and colour packing, softer edges.

You may be wondering what the difference between magnums and curved magnums are (also known as soft magnums, soft edge magnums and round magnums). They are used in the same way except the curved mag pins are arranged so they arch at the centre. Meaning the edges of the needle run along the skin with more conformity, allowing for better dispersal of ink and a more consistent line. However a magnum will give you a straighter edge, and you will more easily be able to create a hard line with it when needed.

As with most things in tattooing, which needles you end up using will come down to personal preference. Just as artists that paint will have a preference for the types, sizes, style and brand of paint brushes they use, you too will develop your own preference with tattoo needles as your journey unfolds - so what will be your go to!? We can't wait for you to find out!

If you have any questions you can comment below, or anything to add.

We stock a range of tattoo needles here which some of NZ's top tattoo artist use.


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