How Many Needles In A Tattoo Gun?

by Tori Jones
Needles In A Tattoo Gun

Today, we are not just scratching the surface but delving into the skin of one of the most common yet mystifying questions that bob up in our realm: How many needles are there in a tattoo gun, really? I can almost see a few raised eyebrows and a myriad of curious eyes blinking at their screens. Is it one, three, a hundred? Ah, my dear ink aficionados, you’re about to get your answer.

Needles In A Tattoo Gun
@Allef Vinicius Via Unsplash – Want your tattoo to look brighter? Try tattoo balm 

By the end of this vibrant journey, you will understand the multifaceted complexity of the humble tattoo gun. We’ll expose the intricate secrets of the needle cluster configurations, helping you comprehend the correlation between the number of needles and the resulting tattoo design. This exploration will give you the insider knowledge to better appreciate your tattoo artist’s craft, or if you’re an aspiring artist yourself, enhance your skill set.

Not just that, we will also peel back the curtain on how this fundamental tool of our trade has evolved over time, leading to the vast array of tattoo styles we enjoy today. We’ll even dabble in a bit of the fascinating history of this art form along the way. So, gear up, fellow ink enthusiasts, as we wade through the deep waters of tattoo equipment knowledge, straight from your favorite ink-slinger’s workshop. This is your boarding call to the enlightening journey of needles, skin, and the beautiful art they create together.

Needles In A Tattoo Gun
@Andrej Lišakov Via Unsplash – Want your tattoo to look brighter? Try tattoo balm 

Welcome to a world where every needle count matters, and each needle configuration births a unique masterpiece. After all, in our trade, the devil is indeed in the detail. Let’s tattoo the world, one needle at a time.

Decoding Tattoo Needle Codes

If you’ve ever wondered why some needles are labeled something like 1004RL, then you’re not alone. When I first stepped into this world, those numbers and letters were as clear as mud to me. But it all started to make sense once I cracked the needle code.

Most Common Needle Grouping Abbreviations 

Needles In A Tattoo Gun
@Collins Lesulie Via Unsplash – Want your tattoo to look brighter? Try tattoo balm 

Every tattoo needle has its own posse, known as the grouping. The last two letters of the code, such as RL, indicate this. So in our 1004RL example, RL stands for “round liner,” meaning these needles are great for lining work, arranged in a tidy circle. Think of it like a ballet troupe, each with their own positions and formations, yet all moving together in harmony.

Here’s a little cheat sheet to help you identify these groupings:

  • RL: Round Liner
  • RLXT: Super Tight Round Liner
  • RLXP: Extra Super Tight Round Liner
  • RS: Round Shader
  • T: Textured Round Shader
  • F: Flat
  • M1: Magnum
  • M: Stacked Magnum

Tattoo Needle Diameters 

Needles In A Tattoo Gun
@Akram Huseyn Via Unsplash – Want your tattoo to look brighter? Try tattoo balm 

Next, let’s explore the first part of the code—the diameter of the needle. For instance, 1004RL indicates a diameter of #10 or 0.01 inches. I fondly remember my first experience with a #10 needle. I was stunned by its precise ink flow, just thick enough yet not too fine, perfect for line work. It’s no wonder that they’re quite the crowd favorite!

The smaller the needle (below #10), the more control you have, but the ink flow becomes a tightrope walk. With larger needles like #12 or #13, you might feel like you’re trying to control a fire hose of ink. Remember, it’s all about finding your balance.

Tattoo Needle Count

Now, onto the heart of the matter—the needle count, represented by the two digits before the grouping abbreviation in our code. So, 1004RL means there are four, #10-diameter needles bundled together. It’s like an orchestra, where each member plays a part in creating the final masterpiece.

Each needle type demands a different number of troops. For example, the mighty magnum works best in the following configurations:

  • Small: 5 needles
  • Medium: Between 7 and 9 needles
  • Large: Between 11 and 17 needles
Needles In A Tattoo Gun
@Thomas Despeyroux Via Unsplash – Want your tattoo to look brighter? Try tattoo balm 

Optimal Needle Configurations

For round shaders, ideal for creating those bold and beautiful lines, we stick to:

  • Small: 1 to 5 needles
  • Large: Between 7 and 21 needles

Then we have our beloved tights, clustered together in groups of seven to nine, creating those dramatic outlines like a theatrical curtain unveiling an act.

As for the flats, they’re your best friends for tasks like shading, blending, or even whip shading. Named for their straight-line arrangement, they work optimally with between seven and eleven needles.

So there you have it, folks—a crash course on tattoo needle codes, groupings, and counts. With this in your toolkit, you’re well on your way to mastering the art and science of tattooing. Remember, it’s not just about the ink and design, but also about knowing your tools and using them wisely. Keep practicing, keep exploring, and remember—every masterpiece starts with a single needle.

Needles In A Tattoo Gun
@Ritesh Raj Via Unsplash – Want your tattoo to look brighter? Try tattoo balm 

Tattoo Styles & Tattoo Guns

1. Traditional (or Old School)

Traditional tattoos are characterized by bold lines and vibrant colors. These tattoos typically use a limited color palette and have a classic, timeless look. Your tattoo machine needs to have a strong, consistent power source to lay down those bold lines and saturated colors. Round liners and shaders are primarily used for this style.

2. Realism

Realism tattoos aim to replicate images in a realistic and accurate manner. This could include portraits, animals, objects, landscapes—pretty much anything. To achieve this level of detail and subtlety, the artist requires a diverse set of needles. For example, a single needle or a tight grouping could be used for fine lines and details, while magnum needles help achieve smooth shading and gradients.

3. Neo-Traditional

Neo-traditional tattoos blend the bold lines and vibrant colors of traditional tattoos with a broader color palette and a higher level of detail. It gives the artist a bit more freedom to experiment. Depending on the level of detail and the elements used, the artist might switch between a few needle configurations—like round liners for bold outlines and magnums for coloring and shading.

4. Tribal

Tribal tattoos are characterized by black lines and geometric patterns. They are inspired by indigenous cultures and their symbolism. For these tattoos, round liners for thick, bold lines and round shaders for solid black areas are typically used.

5. Japanese (Irezumi)

Japanese tattoos, also known as Irezumi, often feature traditional Japanese imagery and are known for their bold colors and intricate detail. The artist would typically use a round liner for the bold outlines, while magnum needles could be used for color packing and shading to achieve the desired effects.

6. Watercolor

Watercolor tattoos mimic the effect of a watercolor painting, with vibrant colors that seem to bleed into each other. To achieve this effect, the artist might use a magnum or round shader to deliver color and create smooth transitions, much like blending colors on a canvas.


Well, dear ink enthusiasts, we’ve journeyed together through the labyrinth of tattoo needle codes, groupings, and counts today. It’s a challenging journey, I know, but understanding your tools is the first step towards mastering any art form, especially something as nuanced and intricate as tattooing. Always remember, the right needle configuration can make a significant difference in the detailing, depth, and overall quality of a tattoo. Choose wisely, experiment fearlessly, and learn constantly.

While it’s essential to get creative and adventurous in your art, never lose sight of the responsibility that comes with it. You’re working with a tool that pierces the skin, and that comes with its own set of risks. Always prioritize hygiene, use quality equipment, and respect your client’s skin like a canvas—your canvas.

And finally, don’t rush it. Decoding the mysteries of tattoo needles may seem daunting, but it’s an integral part of your growth as an artist. And trust me, there’s a unique joy in every step of this journey—from the moment you decipher your first needle code to the satisfaction of seeing your art come to life on skin with just the right needle configuration.

So take this knowledge, and let it fuel your passion and creativity. Harness it to bring your artistic vision to life. It’s a beautiful journey, my friends, and you’re on your way to becoming an incredible ink artist! Let’s keep pushing the boundaries of what we can create, one needle at a time.

You may also like