What is the 'taper' in a tattoo needle?
What is needle taper?
The needle taper refers to the distance from the tip of the tattoo needle to the point where the needle reaches its maximum thickness. This taper measurement is applicable to each individual needle within the configuration. Tattoo needles with longer tapers are sharper due to their steeper needle points. As a result, longer-tapered needles encounter less resistance from the skin, leading to reduced trauma per pass.
- Needles come in a variety of tapers, with a short taper (ST), being the standard.
- Short taper (ST or S for “Standard”): 2.5mm
- Long taper (LT): 5mm
- Double long taper (DLT): 7mm
- Extra super long taper (ESLT): 8.0mm
Although these measurements are commonly used, they do not always adhere to rigid standards. Different companies may offer variations such as short, medium, and long tapers, each with different lengths before reaching extra-long tapers.
Why is needle taper important?
The ink flow from the needle is influenced by its taper. A longer taper restricts the amount of ink that can be dispensed, resulting in a lengthier tattooing process and increased risk of skin damage. However, when working on delicate details or aiming for precise lining, a longer tapered needle with slower ink flow offers artists greater control over the application. This slower ink distribution enables layering and smoother color blends. On the other hand, short tapered needles, despite being slightly less precise, are widely recognized as the industry standard. They provide a consistent ink flow and efficient color saturation without the need for excessive retracing.
Every type of tattoo needle has its own advantages and disadvantages. While certain needles may excel in specific tasks, there are no absolute rules dictating which needle should be used. It is possible to achieve similar effects using alternative needles. Ultimately, the choice of needle depends largely on personal preference.
How is each taper used?
Generally speaking, longer tapers result in lesser ink penetration into the skin due to the smaller holes created by these needles. While this quality is beneficial for blending black and gray ink and achieving intricate details, it is not ideal for color packing. For color packing purposes, a needle with a short taper is preferred.
Short/Standard Taper (ST, S)
By putting larger holes in the skin, ST needles effectively pack solid color. When it comes to packing in ink, the focus is more on getting the ink into the skin rather than achieving precision. This makes ST needles suitable for stippling, large areas, backgrounds, as well as bold, traditional, and tribal tattoos.
Long Taper (LT)
For lining thin script, especially on challenging areas such as the ribs, it is worth spending extra time on the tattoo to achieve the precision required, even if it means getting less ink into the skin. To accomplish this, longer tapered needles with tighter groupings, often referred to as bugpins, are ideal. These needles offer the smooth blends and shading necessary for delicate portrait work.
Double Long Taper (DLT) +
If you desire even greater precision or smoother blends, consider opting for longer tapers beyond what an LT needle offers. However, it's important to note that the longer the taper, the more delicate the needle becomes. Therefore, exercise caution during the dipping process as a long taper needle is more susceptible to damage if it comes into contact with ink caps. In such cases, it is advisable to change tattoo needles.
Another option to consider, apart from various factors, is using "textured" needles for tattooing. These needles have subtle indentations or grooves that help retain more ink, making them advantageous for color packing. However, it's important to note that textured needles can cause more client discomfort and potentially increase skin damage, requiring fewer passes.