The Right Tattoo Machine Makes a Difference
Good artists understand the importance of using the right tools for the job. A painter who loves creating watercolor landscapes will use a different brush from a portraitist who paints in oils. A ceramicist will have a potter’s wheel, while a mixed-media sculptor might need a welding torch. It’s the same for tattooing. Different machines tattoo differently. Whether you’re picking your first tattoo machine or adding it to your collection, having a good one will make it easier to create amazing tattoos on your client’s skin.
If you’re in the market for your first tattoo machine, starting to research which gun is right for you can be overwhelming. What works for one artist might not be suitable for another, so even if you watch all the videos and talk to as many colleagues as you can, you may still be wondering which one to pick. Keep these four basic things in mind, and we know you will make the best choice for you:
The last thing you want is for your tattoo gun to break mid-tattoo and risk damaging your customer’s skin (and your reputation in the process). It would help if you had a reliable tattoo machine and be able to trust that it is going to work correctly. For this reason, you’ll find that the best tattoo machines are made of iron, steel, brass, bronze, or aluminum. Their strong metal frames ensure a sturdy, durable tattoo machine that you will spend less time setting up and more time tattooing. Aluminum tattoo machines are more lightweight, with brass being the heaviest and most durable.
As a tattoo artist, you will spend your career applying your beautiful designs to your customers’ skin for hours. Using a tattoo machine that is too heavy will tire your hand. It will also reduce your ability to apply fine detail and turn to different angles comfortably. Using a heavy tattoo machine over the years could lead to carpal tunnel syndrome. Unfortunately, this is a surprisingly common ailment in the tattoo world.
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There is no ‘one size fits all,’ so it is also essential to try different tattoo machines and find a comfortable shape to hold. Some machines come with varying grip options, so you may find that one machine can give you several other size options. Over-extending your hand, or a shape that you struggle to grip, will have adverse effects on how long you tattoo for as well as reduce your ability to make controlled and fine movements, impacting the quality of the tattoo on your client’s skin.
Over 130 years ago, Thomas Edison invented an electric pen to speed up the process of creating duplicates of content. Little did he know that in 1851, Sam O’Reilly would adapt these ‘electric pens’ into the first ink-and-tube system rotary tattoo machines.
Coincidentally, less than a month after O’Reilly’s patent was filed, Thomas Riley patented the first single-coil tattoo machine in London, England. Soon after, Alfred Charles South created the first double-coil tattoo machine so heavy it had to be suspended from the ceiling as no one could hold it.
Luckily, the tattoo machine has evolved by leaps and bounds since the 1800s. Rotary tattoo machines are even more advanced and are considerably quieter and gentler on the skin than their coil tattoo machine counterparts available today.
Traditionally, traditional coil machines were the industry standard and known by tattoo artists to be “the best tattoo machines” due to their simple electromagnetic design, easily interchangeable parts, relatively low cost, and ability to handle all types of tattoo needles for both lining and shading. In most cases, tattoo artists can maintain and tune their tattoo machine, adjusting hit and stroke with just a few simple tools.
Rotary tattoo machines used to be known for only handling smaller groupings of tattoo needles, but recent developments mean this is no longer necessarily the case. More and more tattoo machine builders are offering pen-style rotary machines that are more ergonomic, lightweight, and can handle bold linework.
Though these machines do not allow for tinkering (and their warranties can be voided if an artist opens up the case to look at the motor), some of the newer models allow for adjustments to hit and stroke. They also tend to be pricier and can run two to three times the price of a coil machine.
With advancements in battery technology, wireless tattoo machines have become not just a viable option to consider as a tattoo artist but also very popular. Traditional wired tattoo guns are not without their issues or annoyances, particularly with the actual wired part. Many artists find that the wires from the clip cord and the foot pedal will get in the way of tattooing. These will become an obstacle while executing the desired tattoo design, often creating a frustrating experience for the artist.
So you can imagine how liberating it can be for a tattoo artist to tattoo a customer without any physical wires in the way! Gladly, wireless tattoo guns have advanced so much these days! They are as full-featured as traditional wired machines and can last many hours to accommodate long tattoo sessions.
The price of a tattoo machine can vary anywhere from a few hundred dollars to $1,000 or more. How much you should expect to pay for a tattoo machine will depend on what kind you choose. Also, on what you need to purchase and what brand of gun you choose. However, you must set a budget and stick to it!
From there, the cost will either increase or decrease. This will depend on whether you need all the accessories and supplies to start out or just the gun. Accessories and supplies you will need will include ink, tubes, needles or cartridges, a foot pedal, a clip cord, a power supply, or battery packs. Many of these supplies will be a recurring cost, especially ink or sanitization supplies, clip cord covers, and machine bags. These last will keep your equipment and space as clean and safe as possible for your clients.
A good artist will pick the best machine for the job, so this is why you see so many tattooists with more than one tattoo machine. They know that you need different machines to accomplish other tattooing techniques. So keep in mind that when considering what kind of styles you want to focus on in your career. Also, remember that this will impact your overall investment since tattooing more styles will likely mean needing more machines to accomplish those styles well. This also increases the accessories and disposable supplies you will need.
Unboxing your first tattoo machine can be exhilarating but quickly disappointing if you’ve forgotten to purchase supplies or picked some that don’t work with your new tattoo gun. Not all power supplies and not all tattoo needles are created equal. Ensure you have the right accessories and supplies for a suitable tattoo machine.
Tattoo machines need more voltage as you increase the coil wraps or the size of the needle groupings. Therefore, an inconsistently powered or underpowered machine will struggle to penetrate the skin with the needles. This will lead to poorly executed tattoos, making getting the proper power supply an essential factor.
Some machines require tattoo needles or needle cartridges and grips from the same company. Some are interchangeable. Some machines use needles and tubes, and some use grips and cartridges. Some machines need a separate power supply, while others have a built-in battery. Also, consider whether your machine has an RCA power connector or requires a clip cord.
Read the manual and watch the instructional videos to pick supplies you know are good quality and will work with your machine.
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How do you know what’s right for you? Talk to colleagues, talk to your mentor, and watch product videos. Also, look at reviews and read them thoroughly (three-star reviews often give the best descriptions of the limitations of a machine).
There is a lot to consider when choosing a suitable machine for you. Consider your tattoo career goals! It’s always best to do as much research as possible to be as knowledgeable as possible. It’s crucial to focus on this, especially if it’s your first tattoo machine. Remember these four tips, and you’ll be sure to find the perfect machine for you:
Any tattoo artist must consider their machine selection. To achieve optimal performance, several things must be carefully taken into account. It is crucial to conduct a thorough study since it enables tattoo artists to become familiar with the various components. Details such as the shapes and weights of tattoo machines are essential.
The selection of the material is crucial! Alternatives include iron, steel, brass, bronze, and aluminum, each of which offers advantages in terms of weight and durability. To avoid hand fatigue and enable accurate movements, choose a machine shape and weight that complements your tattooing technique.
It’s critical to remember that there is no one-size-fits-all answer. Tattoo artists may need to test various tools to discover the best meets their needs. Don’t forget it should also feel the most comfortable. Artists can improve their tattooing experience by carefully weighing these criteria before choosing.
It’s important to remember that tattoo machines aren’t available to the public. You must be an apprentice or professional tattoo artist to purchase them. (And if you are tempted by the tattoo kits that are offered online, be sure you understand the dangers. Those inks aren’t for human skin, for example!)
But this doesn’t mean you can’t learn to tattoo if you don’t already work in a tattoo shop. Our tattoo apprenticeships provide community, encouragement, and mentorship to learn to tattoo in a safe, welcoming environment. And best of all, we want you to grow with us as an artist in one of our studios! When you complete your apprenticeship, there is a job offer waiting for you at the end of the program! Start a chat to learn how you can get started on your journey.