Tattoo Machines FAQ's
Tattoo Gun or Tattoo Machine? You may have come across the phrase “tattoo gun”, rather than “tattoo machine”. For those unaware, this is just a way to refer to a tattoo machine by its weaponlike appearance, but it’s a no-no for professional tattoo artists and studios. Using the phrase “tattoo gun” is a problem because there are negative connotations around the word “gun”, which suggests violence or pain. This is something tattoo artists are actively trying to disassociate from their field. But simply, it’s just not the right word! You would expect a professional to use the correct word for the piece of equipment they’re utilising, so using the right name for a product, in this case, “machine”, shows that you’re a professional.
What Is a Direct Drive Rotary Tattoo Machine? A rotary tattoo machine with a direct drive motor tends to be more efficient. This is due to the needle-holding bar being attached directly to the motor, so the rotation of the motor moves the needle without any additional parts such as sliders or springs being needed. This results in a smoother needle motion, less vibration, and can be easier for tattoo artists to handle the machine with more precision and comfort. In addition, direct drive motors have fewer moving parts and lose less energy. Due to this, they hit with the same hardness every time with no push back from the skin, resulting in smaller punctures in the skin. However, in untrained hands, the needles can be pushed too deeply into the skin, causing damage.
How To Tune a Tattoo Machine for Lining and Shading? Rotary tattoo machines users, this section isn’t for you! Those using coil tattoo machines for lining and shading, however, will first need to learn how to make small adjustments to their machine. Don’t worry about larger, more substantial adjustments as these can be made later on when you start to become familiar with the machine. Although differences in coil, armature and position of the springs can make a difference, the easiest way to switch between line and shading is to measure the gap between the contact screw and armature bar. If the gap measures roughly 1.35 mm, it’s set up for lining, whereas a gap of around 1.95 mm signifies that the coil machine is ready for shading. Too big of a gap and it won’t work!
Can You Use a Liner Tattoo Machine for Shading? Coil tattoo machines come in a wide range of shapes, sizes and specifications, so it’s simply not possible to make a sweeping judgement about using any specific one for lining or shading. Some coil machines come labelled for lining and others for shading, with the main difference usually just being the way they’re set up. For example, shading machines might have larger coils with more wraps (aka the layers of wire), which allows them to channel a higher current. If you’re unsure which coil tattoo machine to go for, your best bet would be a universal style machine which can be adjusted for both lining and shading purposes. Just remember though that not everyone works the same and it all comes down to personal preference, so what may be universal for some, may not be for others. Rotary tattoo machines are similar, as some are designed specifically for lining and shading, while some are all-rounders and capable of various styles and ways of working. The difference comes down to stroke length and adjustable factors like needle depth, voltage range, and the needles or cartridges chosen – although some rotaries also offer adjustable stroke length.
How To Connect a Clip Cord to a Tattoo Machine A clip cord has two ends, one with a standard jack connector and one with “clips”, with the former being the one that goes into your power supply. The other end has two metal prongs which stick out in opposite directions, usually connected by a spring in the middle. You’ll need to squeeze the two ends together to fit them both through the designated holes in the frame and binding post of your machine. On most coil tattoo machines, the positive (+) end of the clip cord should be facing downwards and connect to the binding post, while the negative (-) end faces upwards and connects to the frame. Most clip cords will display a difference between the two ends - this is especially important to follow due to the polarised capacitor on the coil machine.
How To Properly Hold a Tattoo Machine Tattoo machines come in many different shapes and sizes, from the larger coil machines with heavy clip cord attachments, to the lighter and more ergonomic rotaries. With most coil machines, you’ll hold the tattoo machine by the grip, with the coils resting on the back of your hand and the clip cord over your arm to prevent too much drag. Rotary machines usually need to be held around the grip, but with a finger supporting the cartridge. If you watch someone pick up a pen and compare it to how you old yours, you’ll notice they may hold it differently. This is why there are many different types of grips available and why balance is a factor for both coil and rotary tattoo machines, especially when you add the weight of coil frames or wireless battery packs. Different techniques or tattoo machines will require experimenting with other angles. It’s also worth thinking about how you’ll use multiple points of contact to keep your hands steady while you work.
What Angle Do You Hold a Tattoo Machine? There’s a lot of debate about the correct angle at which to hold your tattoo machine - too shallow and you could scratch the skin, too straight and you could penetrate the hypodermis and get a blowout. The angle will also differ depending on what technique you’re employing - for example, when using a shader needle such as a magnum, the width of the needle spread means that at a higher angle, not all needles may hit the skin. As a general rule of thumb, hold your tattoo machine anywhere between 45- to 80-degrees depending on technique, style of tattoo, needle length and the quality of your client’s skin.
Best Tattoo Machines for Apprentices There are many points to consider when you’re looking to buy your first tattoo machine, but most of it comes down to price and personal preference. As with any machine you’ll rely on to make a living, you should try to get the best tattoo machine that you can afford initially, as long as it’s a good machine that works for you. You want to make sure your tattoo machine is a good investment – skimping now won’t help your career. Coil machines are classic, reasonably priced, hard to break and modifiable, making them pretty tempting for someone who’s just getting started. However in the long run, you might find that you want to move towards something a little more modern like a rotary tattoo machine. Every tattoo machine has its pros and cons. Stack these against any personal considerations and make sure to budget for everything you need, including whether you will need to buy cables or a battery pack, and whether you’ll be using traditional needles or switching to cartridges.
Best Rotary Tattoo Machine for Lining and Shading Most rotary tattoo machines are just as capable taking on lining as they are with shading - all that’s needed is a change of needle or cartridge, and possibly an adjustment to needle depth, angle, voltage and stroke length, if available. Rotary tattoo machines come in a variety of stroke lengths, some of which are adjustable. As a rough guide, a stroke length of 3-3.5 mm is ideal for finer lining work, whereas larger stroke lengths are better for shading, colour packing and bold traditional lines, but preferences can vary from artist to artist. In some instances, you may prefer to have dedicated lining and shading machines to switch between, but again this comes down to budget and personal preference.
How Much Does a Good Tattoo Machine Cost? The price of a tattoo machine can vary quite drastically depending on factors such as material, construction, adaptability, and longevity. On average, a coil machine would be priced lower than a rotary tattoo machine, predominantly due to the complexity of the motor in the latter. Wireless tattoo machines could be a step up again in terms of price as you’re paying for the additional functionality, as well as the included battery pack.