We present a systematic numerical investigation of conical metal tips which are commonly used in tip-enhanced Raman spectroscopy (TERS). Different from previous studies, we focus on how the tip length and the illumination condition influence the local field enhancement at the tip apex, and provide a useful reference for real experiments. In particular, we show that the type of illumination has a dramatic influence on the field enhancement: a localized illumination spot - as used in experiments - producing a very different response than a plane wave illumination - as usually used in previous models. Also, the effect of the different geometrical parameters, such as the sharpness of the tip apex and the cone angle, provides guidance to optimize the tip design. Finally, we investigate the influence of the substrate and compare numerical data with results deduced from a simplified model, finding good agreement. This brings new insights into the enhancement mechanism of TIERS. Copyright (C) 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.