How Does a Tattoo Needle Work

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Tattoo needles may look confusing at first glance, but the process for how they work is quite simple. A reason you could be putting off getting a tattoo could be because you are scared of needles, but tattoo needles aren’t the same as the ones used for injections or donating blood, they’re far less scary! Understanding how a tattoo needle works before you get your tattoo done could help with the stress and worry. 

Your tattoo artist will know best how to use the tattoo needle. There is a lot more than just depth to worry about when tattooing – there is also the angle of the needle, pressure, and the settings you used for your machine. Going to an artist who uses top-notch supplies will also aid in the process of getting a clean, enjoyable, and beautiful tattoo that you can show off for years to come. 

So how exactly does a tattoo needle work? Before we get to this, you need to know how a tattoo machine works. 

How Does a Tattoo Machine Work?

There are two main different types of tattoo machines: the coil machine and the rotary machine. 

The coil tattoo machine uses an alternating electromagnetic current to turn magnets on and off in a fast succession. It then pulls the spring-loaded armature bar and creates an up-and-down motion. The armature bar then drives the needles into the skin. These machines are now going out of fashion as their heavy frame can be really hard on an artist’s hands, and the loud sound that coil machines make is known to cause tinnitus. 

The rotary tattoo machine is a motor-powered machine, which spins and is attached to an armature bar, also driving it up and down. Rotary machines are more modern and are a lot quieter than coil machines. Artists can use either bar needles or cartridge needles with these machines, making it easy to switch between needles as you do the tattoo. 

The tattoo machine drives the needle in and out of the skin at a range of about 3000 motions per minute. The needle accumulates ink on the surface of the skin, and as the needle enters the dermis it creates a hole. When it comes out of the skin it creates a vacuum which sucks the ink into the hole. Unlike a hypodermic needle which is hollow and would inject the ink under the skin, the tattoo needle is very thin and just makes a small 1.5mm deep hole in your skin. Hypodermic needles are used in the medical field for injections or taking blood, and this association means many people are scared of them. But tattoo needles are very different, they more similarly resemble sewing needles and are soldered to a bar in various configurations.

There are many different styles, sizes, and needle configurations when it comes to tattoo needles. Each tattoo artist will have a different type of needle that they like to use depending on the style of the tattoo and the machine we are using. So what are the main different types of tattoo needles?

Different Types Of Tattoo Needles

There are 6 basic types of tattoo needles, and both come in both bar needle and cartridge needle forms, like the Yilong Yellow Dragonfly III Cartridge Needles. We will take a look at the top 4, namely the round liners, round shaders, curved magnum shaders, and flat shaders. 

Round Liner Needles

Round liner needles are made up of single needles soldered onto a bar in a round pattern. They start very thin with a single needle, a 1-round liner, and can be very thick like a 14-round liner. They are mainly used for lining a tattoo but some people also use them for whip shading or dot work shading. 

Round Shader Needles

Round shader needles are similar to round liner needles, but the individual needles are not soldered as close together on the bar as with liner needles. They can be used for thick line work or for filling in small areas of shading or color. 

Curved Magnum Shader Needles

Curved magnum shader needles have individual needles that are soldered in a flat grouping with an arch in the middle, and hold a lot more ink than liners. This needle grouping is more soft and gentle on the skin, resulting in smooth shading and color blending. 

Flat Shader Needles

A flat shader has individual needles that are soldered in a straight line onto the needle bar. They are used for filling in large areas of solid color or solid black. They deposit the ink into the skin in just one or two passes.   

All of these needle groupings are available in different diameters or gauges. The gauge is linked to ink flow, and the smaller the gauge, the more controlled the ink flow is. This refers to the thickness of each individual needle that gets soldered onto the needle bar.  Most commonly, they are sold as 8 gauge (0.25mm) for compact and fine work, 10 gauge (0.30mm) being the most common size, and 12 gauge (0.35mm) which is used for bolder line work and color packing. 

The way a tattoo needle is written is as follows: Gauge, then needle count, and then the needle configuration. For example, 1009RL is 9 needles which are 10 gauge each in a round liner grouping. All tattoo needles regardless of their composition come pre-sterilized and each needle should only be used one time. 

Even for a seasoned tattoo artist, having a thorough understanding of tattoo needles, from how they work to how they are designed, can be a daunting task. Once you sit down and do some research, it can become a lot easier to grasp the concept of tattoo needles. We hope that this guide has helped you better understand tattoo needles and that you will continue to create, or collect, beautiful tattoos. 


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