A Guide to Stick and Poke Needles

So you want to create a stick and poke tattoo, but what needles should you use? This is super important both for aesthetics and safety. You’ve probably heard of people using sewing needles but these aren’t as hygienic, they’re often dull and don’t retain the ink very well. Professional needles are the best for stick and poke tattoos. They’re also used for machine tattoos, except instead of placing them in a machine with lots of other needles, just one needle is held by the artist and each mark is poked by hand. They’re safe, affordable and much more precise than sewing needles. There’s a wide range available too, so let’s take a look at the different types and what they mean. 

Needle arrangement

First up, we have the letters in the needle name which indicate the needle arrangement. Here are the main types:

Visual illustration of stick and poke needle points.

RL – Round liner

Round liners are generally used for outlining your tattoo. The needle points are soldered around the central needle in a tight round pattern, hence the name. This needle type is a popular choice, especially with beginners. So if you’re new to stick and poke, using a round liner for your first tattoo is a great place to start before mastering the other, more specialist needle types. These needles are also commonly used for detailed lines with how tightly the needle points are organised.

RS – Round shader

Round shaders are used for shading your tattoo. The needle points are again organised in a circular form around the central needle, but not as tightly grouped together as a round liner. This makes them ideal for shading. 

M – Magnum shader

Large shading areas use magnum shaders. They’re different to round needles as the needle points are grouped in two straight rows. Stacked magnums, also known as M2, are stacked more tightly than weaved magnums, also known as M1.

F – Flat

Geometric tattoo designs use flat needles, as the needle arrangement is one straight line.

Needle count, thickness and taper

Now let’s talk about the number before the letters. This indicates the number of needle points soldered together at the end of the needle. So for example, a 3RL is three needle points in the round liner, tightly grouped formation. A 9MS would be a two straight row formation with nine needle points in total. The lower the number, the smaller the mark. Next, the thickness of the needle itself can vary but the standard thickness is 0.35mm, which is ‘12’ on a pack. The ink will flow faster down a wider diameter but not as accurately. Finally, the taper of a needle can also vary. Shading is often done with longer tapers as less trauma is caused to the skin. The standard taper amount for a tattoo needle is 1.5mm but it can even go all the way up to 8mm. 

Practice makes perfect

Although a round liner needle is a great place to start, we recommend beginners practice with different needles so you can experiment with the aesthetics and refer back in the future. A great way to do this is using a practice kit from Single Needle Tattoo. These kits include a range of needles and practice ‘skins’ to mimic human skin. If you want to go the extra mile of making the practice go as real as possible, try wrapping the practice skin around a bottle to mimic human curves. To read more about practice methods, read our blog post on the topic here.

Needle tools

While tattoo needles are long enough to get a controlled grip, a lot of people prefer to use tools to make holding the needle more comfortable. Single Needle sell a wide range of tools to compliment your needles. Here’s just a few of them:

Tape

You can buy tape to wrap around the tattoo needle where only the inside of the tape is sticky. This means it grips with ease to the needle, but won’t make your gloves sticky and won’t catch on your hair. 

Disposable tattoo tube

You can also buy disposable tattoo tubes made specially for the different types of needles. These are made from medical grade plastic and feature a ribbed rubber grip for comfort.

Hand poke tool

If you’re after something more long lasting, there’s a range of hand poked tools available like this 3D Printed Tool that can be reused. However you must soak the tool in sterilisation fluid to make sure it’s hygienic for reuse. 

Our top tips

Dispose your needles after every use

This is the most important tip for safety and hygiene. It’s crucial that you dispose of your needles after you’ve used them once. This prevents any potentially fatal infections from occurring. 

Make a reference design

Using a practice skin, experiment with the different sized tattoo needles so you can see how each one looks. This way you can refer back to it when creating new designs and you can choose your needle type accordingly. 

Start off with a round liner

These needle types are the most popular as they’re the best for creating lines, especially smaller detailed ones due to their needle arrangement. So if you’re new to stick and poke, master using a round liner before trying magnum needles. 

If you’d like to top up your needle supplies, Single Needle have a range of professional needles available on their website, which you can access here.