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Stick and poke needles: a brief overview

The needle you use for your stick and poke is a key element that’ll influence how it looks and lasts, as well as it’s safety. You might have heard of people using sewing needles for their hand poked tattoos, but these are often unsafe due to not being sterile. Not to mention they’re often blunt too, which can affect the aesthetics of your tattoo and mean it doesn’t last as long. We recommend using professional needles for your stick and poke, as they’re affordable, sharp and come in sealed packets, meaning they’re sterile when opened. There’s a range of different needle types you can use for your hand poked tattoo, so let’s teach you the basics of what they are and what they mean.  



First up, let's talk about needle arrangement, which is indicated by the letters in the needle name. Here are the four most common types:


RL - Round liner

Round liners are most commonly used for outlining hand poked tattoos. Their name comes from the way the needle points are soldered around the central needle in a tight round pattern. This formation also makes them a great choice for creating detailed lines. These needles are super popular with beginners because of their outlining capabilities. So if you’re new to the hand poke world, getting used to a round liner first before venturing into the more complex needle types is a good idea.

RS - Round shader

Round shaders are used for shading - hence the name. The needle points are arranged in a circular pattern around the central needle like a round liner, but not quite as tightly. This formation makes them ideal for shading your stick and poke tattoo. 

MS - Magnum shader

If you’ve got a large area of your tattoo that needs shading, magnum shaders are your go to. Unlike round liners, the needle points are grouped together in straight rows. You can get either a stacked magnum (also known as M2) which is grouped more tightly than a weaved magnum (also known as M1). 


F - Flat 

If you’re creating a geometric stick and poke, a flat needle is your go to with it’s needle points grouped together in a singular straight row. 


Needle count

Now we’ve got the lettering covered, it’s time to move onto the number that comes before it. This number indicates how many needle points are soldered together at the end of the needle. So for example, a 5RL is five needle points grouped together in the tight, round formation. A 9MS is two straight rows with nine needle points in total. The best way to remember it is the lower the number, the smaller the mark. So if it’s a thick, traditional tattoo line you’re after then go for a higher number. Furthermore if you’re wanting a dainty, fine line, then opt for a smaller number. 



The taper of a needle can vary depending on the needle type. Shading is often done with longer taper needles, as this causes less trauma to the skin. The standard taper amount of a tattoo needle is 1.5mm but it can go all the way up to 8mm.



The thickness of a needle can also vary, however the standard thickness is 0.35mm, which is labelled as twelve on a pack. Your stick and poke ink will flow faster down a wider diameter needle, but not as accurately. 


Make it comfortable

While tattoo needles are long enough to hold in your hand with ease, a lot of people prefer to use hand poke tools when poking to compliment this. There’s lots of different tools available from tape to tubes, so let’s talk you through a few of them. You can buy needle grip wrap to wrap around your needles, making your grip more comfortable. This tape is only sticky on the inside, meaning it’s secure but won’t stick to your hands or hair. You can also buy disposable tattoo tubes, which are made specifically for the different types of needles. They’re made from medical grade plastic and have a ribbed rubber grip. If you’d like to use a more long-lasting tool, we have a range of hand poke tools that can be reused. However it’s crucial that you sterilise your tool before each use to make sure it’s hygienic and safe for use. 


Get your practice in

Now that you’ve learnt the needle basics, you’re probably wanting to have a go at a stick and poke yourself. Practicing your technique before tattooing human skin is always a good idea, which is why we sell Practice Kits. Our kits include everything you need, as well as practice ‘skins’ which mimic human skin, so you can get used to the motion of hand poking first. This also gives you a chance to experiment with needles, so you can create a reference chart to help you decide which needles are ideal for future designs. 


Needle disposal

It’s super important you dispose of your needles correctly after use. When you’ve finished your tattoo, carefully place your needles in a sharps bin whilst still wearing your gloves. Next, gather all your used items and place them in another box that you can throw away, before removing your gloves and placing them in your wastage box too. You need to write ‘biohazard’ on the box so that whoever comes into contact with it is aware. For information on disposal facilities near you, contact your local pharmacy.



We hope you found this blog useful and if you're looking to top up your needle supplies, you can view our full range here.


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