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How to Set Up a Tattoo Machine for the First Time

Jason Goodrow, otherwise known as "the Goodboy," is a licensed tattoo artist who shares his expertise with the world in his articles.

Tutorial for Setting Up a Tattoo Machine

Tutorial for Setting Up a Tattoo Machine

Know Your Tattoo Machine

I am not going to beat around the bush when it comes to the machine: If your tattoo machine is not set up correctly, or if the points are not maintained for a good connection, then you are going to have a hell of a stressful time.

In other words, you can't tattoo well if you haven't mastered the basic mechanics of your machine. In this tutorial, I will tell you how to set it up correctly and illustrate the instructions with pics of a tattoo liner I use. If you have any questions about setting up your liner after this lesson, please leave a comment. I am a licensed tattoo artist and will gladly respond to any questions you might have.

What your gear should look like before setting up for a tattoo if you have an autoclave.

What your gear should look like before setting up for a tattoo if you have an autoclave.

How to Set Up Your Machine for Lining

When setting up your tattoo machine, there are a few things to know. Below are the steps you need to take when you first pick up your machine and power on.

1. Check the width of your contact screw and front spring.

For machines used to line, the point on your contact screw and front spring should be a dime's width, no matter what. Most people learn to eyeball this, but if you literally have to put a dime in there to get it perfect, then do it!

Your line work can make or break a tattoo, so make sure that width is set correctly!

Dime-wide gap in your liner should look like this.

Dime-wide gap in your liner should look like this.

Check your needles' tips for burs or solder.

Check your needles' tips for burs or solder.

2. Open a needle or tube.

Next step is opening your tube. Whether it's disposable or autoclaved, it should be packaged. If this is a step you missed then stop, because you just don't want to risk taking a chance with dirty equipment.

3. Inspect the tip.

Check that packaged pre-sterilized needle for any burs or imperfections. Look to see if there are any bent needles in the grouping. Burs and bent needles will cause the skin to bleed more and the ink will not flow correctly, potentially causing complications and scar tissue to form. If you see any burs or bends, then discard that one and open another tube.

Needle in diamond-tip tube.

Needle in diamond-tip tube.

Make sure the eyeloop on your needle bar is facing left.

Make sure the eyeloop on your needle bar is facing left.

4. Insert the tube into the machine.

  • So now that you have the needle in the tube, you are ready to insert the tube into the machine's tube slot. Make sure to slide it up far enough so that you can semi-tighten the wingnut that attaches the tattoo tube and machine together.
  • Now you want to turn that eye loop of the needle to the left, and then insert the armature bar nipple. This insures that you put the needle on the armature bar correctly. If you didn't, you will notice that no ink is really going into the skin when you are tattooing, and you will also see a lot more blood. Pay attention to this detail.
  • Next, press down on the armature bar to guide the tip of the needle out of the end of the tube. This helps you determine how far out you need to let your needles hang so you can get the right depth set to penetrate the skin. As a rule of thumb, let the tip of your needle jut out on its own about 1/16 of an inch. . . the stroke of your machine should do the rest. Your needle should never go more than 1/8 of an inch deep into an average person's dermal layer.

If you're not sure you have this right, then don't tattoo on skin. Tattoo on a gourd or melon instead. The melon will give you practice and a better visual test of exactly what you need to do with your settings.

Use proper-sized rubber bands for holding your needle in place. This will help stabilize the needle in the tube and aid a cleaner line.

Use proper-sized rubber bands for holding your needle in place. This will help stabilize the needle in the tube and aid a cleaner line.

5. Grab two rubber bands.

Next thing to do is slip two rubber bands around your tattoo machine and the needle. Make sure the rubber bands are placed evenly apart, as this will help distribute equal pressure to the needle and stabilize any wobble the needle has inside the tube, creating a clean, solid line when tattooing.

6. Attach your clipcord.

Next, it is time to attach your clipcord. Look at the photo below to see exactly what your machine should look like when set up.

Your machine, all set up.

Your machine, all set up.

Okay, so you have pre-tuned your tattoo machine by setting the contact point screw and front spring to a dime's width. You have inspected and inserted your needle. You have your armature bar nipple in place making sure the eyeloop to the needle is facing your left hand. You've attached the rubber bands and clipcord. Congratulations, you've set up your machine properly.

In my next lesson, I will talk about power supply settings.

Video Tour of Your Machine

FAQ

How much of a gap should there be between the contact screw and front spring?

For lining, the point on your contact screw and front spring should be a dime's width, no matter what.

What does "pre-tune your machine" mean?

It means setting the contact point screw and front spring so that they're a dime's width apart.

Which direction should the eyeloop go?

Make sure the eyeloop on your needle bar is facing left.

© 2012 Jason Goodrow

Comments

anastacia gonzales on May 18, 2020:

Ok so recently i got a new tattoo gun because my old one wasent performing as well as it used to... but anyways i got a new one and i feel like maybe its not built right... when i go to make sure my amature bar and spring are lining up with my tube and contact point its lkke almost completley off. I can get the gun going but the contact point bar thing is like hitting the right edge of the spring what should i do

Jason Goodrow (author) from Washington State on January 01, 2020:

Great to hear... Patience with the machine... Steady speed does make a huge difference... It controls how thin or wide the line is... The slower you go,the wider the line faster you go the thinner and more,faint your lines

Luke Dorrington on December 30, 2019:

Thank you for these tips they have really helped I was struggling with faint lines and after following your advice I think it was either my hand speed vs machine speed or my setup was incorrect either way its much better now thanks again

Mike on September 06, 2019:

Hello. I really like and appreciate your tattoo lessons. I am having trouble getting my machine to work efficiently and I feel confident after reading how to.tune my machine using a dime width gap between the front spring and the contact screw will alleviate these issues. I am curious though, when my contact screw is at the one o'clock position the spring is not lined up precisely with the end of the screw, the spring is then about an eighth of an inch past the contact screw. Is this ok? I'm not sure of the make and model of my tat machine, I thought it was a liner machine but now I am not sure. Thank you very much.

Zackery Bell on April 24, 2019:

I need help setting up my new tattoo gun......

hamish on April 09, 2019:

how many needles is a 3RL

Kris Shanahan on February 16, 2019:

Ive always drawn and lots of people told me to invest in a tattoo gun, I dont rate myself as others do but with my nephews work no wonder- i got my 1st gun- gonna swat up first, btw if you wa t to see little kris's work - his name is Kris Pyatt on FB and insta, @pyattart - he is brilliant!

Kimber on December 18, 2016:

Love your material, will you get into needle sizes and what to expect from them?

Gary on March 28, 2016:

What bottle can I use for the green soap

DeezyDuzIt on December 23, 2015:

What size is the standard needle??

Jason Goodrow (author) from Washington State on July 14, 2015:

You simply need to press your front spring down on the armature bar, you will fell the tension release a bit as you do this... keep in mind you might get unlucky and be able to do this only once... if you do it wrong you need to replace the whole spring set.

charlie on July 14, 2015:

how do I weaken the spring?

Jason Goodrow (author) from Washington State on October 19, 2013:

What it might suggest is the tension in the sprig is too strong and you might need to weaken your spring a touch... hope this helps

mercedes on October 19, 2013:

When contact screw and front spring are dime width apart, the machine won't turn on...they shouldn't touch at this width, is that correct?

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