Tattoo needles guide

What types are there and what are they for?



We've all had the same question when starting out, which tattoo needle should I use?

Don't worry, today we bring you the ultimate guide, not only to get familiar with the terms, but also to consult it whenever you have any doubts.

We explain all the characteristics of a needle, the different types that exist and what each one is used for. By the end of this article, you will have a better idea of which needle to use depending on each case, and above all, to avoid damaging your client's skin or compromising the final result.

Let's go!

Types of needles

First, you should know that there are mainly 5 types of tattoo needles depending on their arrangement: Round Liner, Round Shader, Magnum, Curved Magnum, and Regular Magnum.

Each of them is characterized by the way in which the needles are distributed, and they all have a specific function. Let's see what these are:

Round Liner (RL)

The Round Liner is a must-have, it is the basic needle for lining. As the name suggests, the distribution of the microtips creates a rounded shape, allowing you to create solid, neat lines.

Groupings are usually formed from 1 to 20 needles, but this amount may vary depending on the artist.

Round Shader (RS)

With the Round Shader we enter into the world of shading. Its distribution is the same as the Round Liner, but its microtips are further apart. They are ideal for shading small, detailed areas.

Round Shader groupings range from approximately 3 to 30 needles.

Magnum (M)

The Magnum, also known as Magnum Classic, is a larger set of needles, which is made up of two intersecting rows. They are great for packing and shading larger areas because, as they affect a larger area of the skin, the pressure is distributed and allows us to tattoo bigger areas without causing the dermis to suffer so much.

It allows groupings of between 5 and 49 needles, approximately, although the Magnum can be used with larger quantities of microtips if the tattoo requires it.

Caution! If you use the Magnum, it is important that you use it sideways, as placing it perpendicular to the skin will cause deeper wounds to form.

Round Magnum (RM)

Also known as Soft Edge, the Round Magnum is like the Magnum Classic. It has the same distribution of needles in two rows and the same spacing between them.

The only distinctive feature that makes the Curved Magnum special is the arched design of its groupings. Its shape is like a Cat's Tongue brush and allows you to shade and pack colour without excessively sharp edges, offering a very smooth finish which is ideal for styles such as realism.

The RM's groupings range from 5 to 49 needles, just like the other Magnums.

Flat Magnum (F)

Finally, there is the Regular Magnum, which distributes the needles close together in a single line.

It is used for dense shading and to create geometric shapes, as its edges will be well delimited when tattooing.

The Regular Magnum allows for groupings of approximately 4 to 11 needles. Although, these quantities may vary depending on the artist and their needs.

In short, when filling in, packing, and shading it is important to choose the right needles, as using a Curved Magnum for a large area can take much longer to fill in and, as a result, your client will suffer unnecessarily for a lengthy period of time.

Likewise, it's not convenient to use a Magnum for small areas, as it makes details difficult and could hinder the final result of the tattoo.

Ideally, whenever possible, you should test all configurations in different situations.

There are artists who love to use the Magnum sideways, others prefer to use Round Liners; there are those who shade with a classic Magnum, others cannot work without a Curved Magnum on the table...



Diameter is strictly linked to thickness. The thicker the needle, the wider the surface where ink is injected; and therefore, the larger the individual hole we produce in the skin.

There is a system that measures this thickness in numbers (gauge), and one that measures it in millimetres and, although they are the same, manufacturers may use one system or the other depending on their country of origin or language.

For example, Blue Bird uses the millimetre system, which could be considered the European system. On the other hand, Cheyenne uses the numerical system, also known as the American system.

Here is a measurement reference table:

Gauge Millimetres
06 0,20mm
08 0,25mm
10 0,30mm
12 0,35mm
14 0,40mm
16 0,45mm


Another simple but important element is the needle grouping. The grouping determines how close or far apart the microtips are from each other. A closed grouping injects more ink in each stroke, but damages the skin (much) more. An open grouping injects less ink in each pass, but does less damage to the skin.

In some cases, a close grouping on, let's say, a Magnum, can reduce its size. It's very common to use a tightly grouped 11 Round Magnum needle, and observe that its appearance is that of a 7 or 9 Round Magnum. This is because, when the needles are close together, they reduce the size of the whole assembly.


Taper is basically the sharpness of the needle tip; the distance between the thinnest and the thickest part of the needle.

There are 3 main types: Extra Long Taper, Long Taper and Medium Taper.

It is a fundamental part when choosing our tattoo needle configuration, as it defines how far we have to push the needle into the skin to reach the thickest point.

Choosing Long Taper or Medium Taper will depend on many factors, such as the client's skin, the power of the machine, your own working method, among others.

What is each one used for? Let's go one by one…

  • The Extra Long Taper (XLT) is mostly seen on Round Magnums and is hardly ever used as it is a rather risky taper: as it produces such a thin mark, if it is not applied correctly, it could be problematic for the durability of the tattoo.
  • The Long Taper (LT) offers a brush-like sensation, does little damage to the skin and allows us to work several times on the area. It is useful for shading, saturations, and fine lines, and could be considered the favourite Taper of realism tattooists.
  • The Medium Taper (MT) allows us to create solid lines, pack, and general-purpose work. They are the easiest needles to find, and the most conventional ones. They damage the skin more than the Long Taper as they are designed for 1 or 2 layers of work at the most. They are the favourite of Traditional and Old School tattooists.


Configuration is the short form in which we summarize, in a code, the way in which we group the needles. This code defines the diameter (or gauge), the number of needles, the type of arrangement, and the Taper. This will be useful when buying needles for tattooing or remembering configurations that have been useful on other occasions.

Here's an example:

However, it is important to remember that each manufacturer sets this in their own way, so be careful when reading the configurations ;)

Traditional vs. cartridge needles

Traditional needles are mainly created for coil machines, and cartridge needles are made for rotary machines.

What is the difference between a traditional needle and a cartridge needle? The power that is transferred from the engine to the needle.

What does this mean?

Traditional needles go from the hammer to the end of the tip, so they are longer, and all the engine power is transmitted through the rod.

In the case of cartridge needles, on the other hand, the rod is integrated into the rotary machine and, by means of a pusher system, the movement is transmitted to the needles.

In this system, the engine power is not transferred completely to the needle cartridge, as part of it is absorbed by the springs and internal mechanisms of the rotary machine and the cartridges themselves.

Other relevant features

We can also find other characteristics associated with tattoo needles, such as textured needles, which are characterized by a textured design, usually in the form of stripes or circles.

But... what are they used for? They are used to slowing down the flow of ink, as they retain more of it in the needle. The disadvantage of this type of needle is that they are more painful, as the wound on the skin is more irregular than with a smooth needle.

Additionally, there are Capillary Cartridge needles. This is Cheyenne's latest innovation and consists of needles with small filaments that retain ink and allow tattooing sessions to be carried out by dipping the needle into the ink much less often than with a conventional needle.

What does a good needle look like?

Knowing about needles is crucial for tattooing with them

As with everything in tattooing, it is essential that you know in depth the characteristics of each needle, not only to know your options but also to be able to identify how safe it is to tattoo with them.

Keep in mind that it must be properly packaged and sterilized, be completely straight and well welded. If it doesn't meet any of these characteristics, you'd better discard it.

And this was our complete guide to tattoo needles! We've tried to gather as much as possible in this article, but you can always learn more. So, beyond what you may have learned here, don't forget that continuing to educate yourself in depth on the subject is the best way to minimize your work risk.

Now you know in broad strokes what they are and what they are for. However, when choosing which ones to work with, keep in mind that each artist makes the right combinations according to their style, comfort and method.

A good way to orient yourself is by analyzing how the most experienced ones do it.

And for this, we know no better solution than our most comprehensive MasterCourse: Realistic Tattooing, with Coreh Lopez. Inside, besides learning all the Theory, Methodology and Technique in detail; we get practical through several full tattoo processes that reflect on screen what machine, needles, voltages and inks the Master uses at all times; no other course offers this feature!