Permanent Makeup Needles Explained

Permanent Makeup Needles Explained

If you are new to permanent makeup (PMU) or transitioning from a digital PMU machine you will have noticed that, although the sizes and configurations of standard tattoo needles and needle cartridges are endless, they are also very confusing. It is difficult to understand needle codes to know where to start and what to purchase. In contrast, because digital PMU needles are typically used with only one brand of machine and have limited selections, they are easier to understand. 

Standard needles and needle cartridges have a couple of obvious advantages. They are generally much less expensive than those made for digital devices and there are a variety of brands to choose from. The endless sizes and configurations will add many new possibilities for your art, but the first step is understanding needle language and how to read needle codes. We will use very typical examples of 0603RL, 1005RS and 1011RM to explain the numbers and letters on needle codes.



Ex: 0603RL, 1005RS or 1011RM

The leading two numbers on a tattoo needle code refers to the circumference of each individual needle within any configuration. Circumference is stated using industry standard numbers, with smaller numbers indicating a smaller circumference. If you come from a medical or electrical background you will notice this is opposite to the gauge of medical needles or electrical wire. Typical diameters used in PMU include

  • 06 – 0.20mm
  • 08 – 0.25mm
  • 10 – 0-.30mm
  • 12 – 0.35mm

The industry standard is #12 and smaller diameters have been nicknamed “bugpins”, so you may see this word used to describe any needle smaller than a #12.



Ex: 0603RL, 1005RS or 1011RM

The second number of a standard needle or cartridge code will always be the number of needles in the grouping. This can range from 1 to 12 and even more, though more than 12 is not common in PMU.



Ex: 0603RL, 1005RS or 1011RM

Needle configuration describes the pattern in which needles are grouped. This includes

  • Round: needles are grouped in a circular pattern
  • Flat: needles are grouped in a straight line
  • Magnum: needles are grouped as two rows, one stacked above the other.

Curved magnums (CM), also known as round magnums (RM) have differences in needle length. Regular magnum needles are the same length and will touch a surface at the same time when held at 90 degrees. In contrast, the needles of a curved or round magnum are a little shorter at either end and curve away from a surface when held at 90 degrees. They will not touch the surface at the same time as the inner needles.



    Ex: 0603RL, 1005RS

    Liners and shaders are both round (R) configurations, but the differences make them appropriate for either denser, lining work or softer, shading work. A liner generally consists of longer tapered needles that are tightly bound whereas a shader is shorter tapered needles, more loosely bound.



    Needle taper is generally not stated on needle codes but is sometimes described on needle packaging and important to understand. Taper refers to the length of the needle point. In other words, how high up the needle shaft the tapered part of the needle begins, or how "long" the point is. The length of the taper can determine how tightly the needles are bound together in any grouping and this is also sometimes described on needle packaging. Taper is often described as

    • Long taper
    • Extra-long taper
    • Short taper


    So, what does all this mean for your permanent makeup?

    By opting for standard tattoo needles or cartridges, not only will you potentially save a significant amount, but you will also have much more control over the outcome of your art and more choices to help you get the results you want. Once you understand the needle codes and descriptions it is much easier to purchase what you need.

    We go into much more depth on needles, needle uses, and when to choose particular sizes or configurations in our Machine Brow Shading class & our Machine & Needles & More Online Training but please reach out to us if you have any questions, we are happy to help.





    1 Response

    Gerda Van Der Merwe
    Gerda Van Der Merwe

    October 29, 2021

    Please tell me what size needle to use for a powder brows…

    Also please tell me how hard do I need to press when I am doing Microblading with a manuel tool

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