Table of contents
CYCLE; Refers to the cycle of motion of the motor of the tattoo machine, pushing the needle out and back in the tube.
DWELL TIME; How long the needle is staying in the skin during it's cycle.
GIVE (or SPRINGYNESS); The less dwell time a machine has the more springiness or give it has. This is desirable because it reduces the chances of damaging the skin by dragging needles inside the skin while tattooing.
STROKE LENGTH; How much the needle travels in and out of the tip during the cycle, measured in mm.
THROW (or HANG); How much of the needle hangs out of the tip when the machine is at rest.
LINING; Tattooing the solid lines of a tattoo.
SHADING; Tattooing the shaded, gradient parts of a tattoo.
Needles • Needle types • Machines •
Needles come pre-packaged in a sterile package either with just the needle, the needle and a disposable tube or needle in a cartridge (for rotary machines). Needles have an expiry date so check that.
Needle codes looks like this: 9RL In which the 9 is the amount of needles and RL is the type of needle, in this case a round liner.
Needles grouped in a circle, good for lines, needles are more tightly packed together.
Round Liners (RL)
Single row of needles, used for lining and whip shading.
Flat liners (FL)
Similar to round liner needles but with the needles spread out more for easier shading.
Round shaders (RS)
Needles lined up in a row to cover more ground, there is two types of magnum needles, weaved and stacked, weaved magnums have the needle more spaced out than stacked magnums.
Magnums can have a flat or round grouping, meaning that either all the needles get equally deep in the skin in the ones in the middle go deeper than the ones on the side.
Magnum (M1 - weaved or M2 - stacked or RM - round grouping)
Needles are needles made using smaller individual needles than standard needles, all types of needle stacks can come with bug pin needles.
There is coil machines and rotary machines. Coil machines use electromagnets in a simple circuit with a spring and contact screw in order to create the reciprocating action needed to tattoo. Coil machines on the other hand use a rotary motor that drives a cam connected to the needle to make it go in and out of the skin.
More and more, tattoo artists are moving from using coil machines to using rotary machines, the main advantages being ease of setup and tuning, reduced noise and vibration and ability to use needle cartridge and change needles easily on the same machine during a session. The rest of this guide will be oriented towards rotary machines.
Machine accessories to keep in stock:
- disposable grips
- Rubber nipples (to connect the needle to the bar)
- Machine bags
- Cable bags
- tape for machine bags
Machine types / configurations
when coil machines were the main type of machines used for tattooing, often artists would have multiple ones, setup differently for different tasks. Here’s a list of the different uses and what characteristics are most desirable for the task. Some newer rotary machines have adjustable configurations that allow to do most of those with a single machine.
Runs fast and has usually a longer stroke length to get the ink in in one pass.
Runs slower and has a shorter stroke length in order to make smoother gradients and transitions. Running the machine extra-slowly can be useful for techniques like whip shading.
Vlad Blad Avenger 2 pro stroke and voltage cheat sheet
Small lines (under 7 RL): 4.2 stroke at 7V Big lines (7 RL and up): 4.7 stroke at 7V Stipple and whip shading: 4.7 or 5.5 stroke at 3.5V Smooth shading: Color packing:
Setting up the station
Before the client even shows up I have to setup my station with my machine and all the supplies i’ll need to tattoo, I made a tattoo station setup and teardown guide for that.
Preparing the skin and applying the stencil
Before any work can begin, the area of the skin to be tattooed has to be shaved closely and disinfected. This is to avoid pushing hairs or bacteria and viruses that could be living on the skin inside the body and potentially creating infection. It will also prepare the skin to receive the stencil.
A stencil is an image used as a reference while tattooing, it can be either drawn freehand with a skin-safe disposable marker or transferred on the skin with stencil paper. Stencil paper can be used with a thermal printer or by hand by drawing over it. I made a tattoo stencil guide that details the steps in making one and applying it.
General studio layout advice
- Have a sink dedicated to hand washing in tattoo room
- Have a separate sterilization room, don’t wash hands in contaminated sink
- Have a bathroom used just for bathroom stuff
- Put signs with hand washing instructions at every sink
- Put “do not touch” signs and biohazard signs on all surfaces that should not be touched (workstation, garbage bin, etc.)
- Make sure all surfaces are non porous in bathroom and tattoo room
- Keep wall mounted liquid hand soap and wall mounted paper towel dispenser beside each sink
- Keep hand sanitizer in tattoo room near workstation and in entrance
- Keep all equipment in drawers until it needs to be used
Sharps and sharps disposal
- Always use single use and disposable sharps (needles, razors, etc)
- Inspect packaging of pre-sterilized sharps to make sure it’s not been compromised
- Dispose immediately after use in a sharps container
- Dispose of the full sharps container when it’s 3/4 full
- Install the sharps container on a proper wall mount as close as practical to the use area
- Look into service that picks up biohazard waste
Links and References
- Machine tuning tips
- Course on machine care
- Toronto safety guidelines for tattooing
- Safety details for cartridge needles