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Tattoo / PMU Needles 101

With so many choices in choosing Tattoo Needles or PMU Needles, it is important to have an in-depth knowledge of needle configurations. Different needle sizes and types will affect the result on the skin. Body tattooing and Permanent Makeup share similarities in usage of tools and machinery. However, each type requires specific configurations of needles.

There are 4 key components to all needles:

  1. Diameter

  2. Needle Count

  3. Type (aka. Configuration)

  4. Taper

For example: When someone or the label reads: 1203RLST . This means:

- Diameter: 12

- Needle Count: 3

- Type: RL (Round Liner)

- Taper: ST (Short Taper)


The diameter (aka. gauge) of your tattoo/pmu needle is the measurement of the needle's thickest point. In another word, the diameter is how big is each needle size.

The diameter of the needle affects the ink flow. The smaller the diameter, the finer and more controlled the stream of ink. Therefore, smaller needles have finer ink flow and more suitable for (fine) line tattoo work and PMU work.

On the other hand, the larger the diameter, the freer the ink flow therefore it would be suitable for shading work.

The needle diameter also affects the size of the puncture it made onto the skin. Think it like dots in different sizes. Smaller diameter creates smooth gradient shading, while larger diameter makes bolder work.

The Diameter sizes are:

  1. 0.20mm (#6)

  2. 0.25mm (#8)

  3. 0.30mm (#10)

  4. 0.35mm (#12)

  5. 0.40mm (#13)

What are Bugpin Needles?

Bugpin needles are 0.30mm (#10) and smaller. They are extremely small/narrow, therefore they are suitable for precision work such as Tiny Tattoo, Fine Line Tattoo, Photorealistic Tattoo, and Permanent Makeup (PMU). They are great for pixels and small dot-work tattooing.


Needle count is the number of needles in each cartridge. The higher the number, the more the needles there are. Ultimately, the more needles the more space it covers, meaning the faster your work is within a tattoo session. However, the more needles there are, the less the precise the work is.

Number of needles usually only come in odd numbers and they are: 1, 3, 5, 7 and so on


The needle type is referred to how the needles are grouped. Different configuration is used for different purposes, design, and desired results. Some of the common types are:

Round Liner (RL)

Round liner is circular grouped needles. The needles are clustered packed tightly into a point, allowing for precise lining purposes.

Tight round liners are great for delicate line work tattooing. The 1 single needle is always a Round Liner since, there is only 1 needle. (e.g. 1RL)

Round Shader (RS)

Round shader is also circular grouped needles. But the needles are clustered packed loosely - there are more spaces between each needle.

As how the name is, it is used for shading, to fill in and color the design.


Magnum needles have two rows of needles that are stacked on top of each other in a flat formation. Each needle is spaced intermittently for wider ink coverage across the skin. Because they cover so much skin, magnum needles are typically used for solid work like heavy color packing and large-scale shading.

Curved/Round Magnum

Curved Magnums are similar to the standard Magnum, except there's centered arch in the grouping.

The outermost needles of a curved magnum configuration are set higher than the center needles, so they don’t penetrate the skin as deeply. This gives your ink saturation a steep angle, which makes curved magnums an excellent choice for making smooth gradations. Additionally, curved magnums run along your client’s skin less aggressively for an overall softer effect, causing less trauma. Use them for softer shading work.


The Taper is the length of the point of needle. Basically, a short taper will have a shorter point and a long taper will have a longer point. This is not to be confused with the depth - how deep your tattoo should go! Tattooing itself should be 2mm into the skin and less for PMU when it is on the face.

This is Taper guideline for Z-Force Membrane Cartridge needles. Other needles from different brands may vary.

  • Short Taper (ST) - 1.5mm and under

  • Medium Taper (MT) - 2.5mm to 1.5mm

  • Long Taper (LT) - 5.5mm to 2.5mm

  • Extra Long Taper (XLT) - 7mm to 5.5mm

The taper affects the ink flow. Longer taper has slower rate and less ink flow. The shorter the taper the faster the ink flow. Thererfore, long taper is suitable for delicate work and fine line while, shorter tapers are for bolder lines and colorwork.


Z-Force Membrane Cartridge needles offer additional benefits you won't find in traditional bar needles.

It has Safety Membrane that works to prevent blood and tattoo ink from back-flowing into your tattoo grip. As a result, sterilizing your setup and preventing cross-contamination is much easier when a cartridge membrane is involved.

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