the in’s and out’s
It is very common for me to be asked “is that a different sized needle?”, and similar questions. Here are the answers.
Essentially there are only two different sizes when it comes to tattoo needles. What are known as #12 diameter, and what are known as “bug-pins”, which are smaller in diameter than the #12’s. There are some variations available within each size, for instance the taper at the end of the needle may be long, or short, and the needle may be smooth or textured. Other than this all needles are more or less the same.
Think of tattoo needles like individual hairs in a paint brush. All of the hairs in a paint brush are more or less the same, but we all know that paint brushes come in all shapes and sizes. The same is true for tattoo needles.
Basically we have “liners” and “shaders”. Liner needles are grouped together in various quantities in a round configuration, and are often tightened at the taper so that the points are very close together. Shader needles can also be configured in round patterns, as well as fanned out into what we call Magnums or “Mags”. There are other minor variations and some less common configurations that some tattooers use, but essentially this covers what is commonly used.
The individual needles are grouped together and soldered in place to form what is referred to as the “tattoo needle”, the needle is then soldered onto what is called a “needle bar”, which is just a length of stainless steel wire with a loop on the end which can be fitted to the part of the tattoo machine that creates the up and down motion. The unit as a whole is then cleaned, sterilized, and ready to use.
The needle bar is placed within the “tube”, a stainless steel (re-useable) or rubber and plastic (disposable) device which provides a hand grip for the machine, that allows the mechanism to function within and through it, and also to provide a reservoir for the pigment.
The amount that the needles actually penetrate the skin is about what you see above, or roughly the thickness of a nickel.
It is a common point of interest for most people to learn that in fact, the more needles we use, the less it hurts! The tiny liner needles seem to hurt the worst, feeling a bit like a razor cut, and the larger, looser shader needle groupings tend to feel more like a milder, more diffuse burning sensation.
Any given tattoo artist may work with a range of different needle groupings in order to create their own style of tattooing, it is truly a tiny stainless steel paint brush, and what sort an artist chooses is a matter of preference.