Jason Goodrow, otherwise known as "the Goodboy," is a tattoo artist offering free advice.
How to Check Your Basic Tattoo Machine
- If you purchased a tattoo kit, it is always best to check your equipment out. You'd be surprised by what you might find.
- Check all the screws on your machine. Over time, vibration can cause those screws to loosen, which causes faulty running of the machine.
- You should have a gap of about a dime’s width between the machine contact screw and front spring.
- Finally (and this is a preference if mine), before you set up, take some emery cloth and go over your contact screw a few times. This removes the built-up carbon on the end of contact point and allows for better electrical contact.
Which Power Supply Should You Use?
There are a ton of power supplies to choose from, but every brand offers the same thing: a controlled flow of electricity from their product to your machine. This enables you to tattoo at a much steadier and speedier rate than if you did it without power. (Remember, the sewing needle and thread with India ink? Yeah, it is much faster than that.)
This I'm sure of: No matter which you choose, it will basically work like the rest of the others on the market. Each make and model will offer different physical features, but its basic purpose is the same.
Do I need a digital display of voltage?
Some power supplies do not display the volts that are being outputted. If you have one of these—just a dial with numbers—don’t worry. It'll still work fine, but you will need to make sure that to make sure it's set up properly (see below).
What do I need to check to make sure the machine is mechanically set up correctly?
- for a dime-sized width gap between the machine contact screw and front spring.
- that the clip cord is connected snugly in its appropriate slots.
- that the needle is inserted correctly into the tattoo tube.
These factors will make a huge difference in the performance of your machine. Once you have ensured that everything set up correctly, you’re ready for the next step.
Checklist for Setting Up Your Power Supply
- Turn your power supply (PS from here on out) ON.
- Make sure your foot pedal and clip cord are plugged in the correct slots.
- Double-check the clip cord connection to your machine: If all is in order, hold your machine in your tattooing hand and push down on the foot pedal. If you don’t get the immediate buzz, this probably means that the voltage is not turned up high enough. Slowly turn that dial until you get an even, uninterrupted buzz.
- While the machine is running, check visually to see how far the needle is coming out from the end of the tube's tip. I prefer longer strokes on my liner and shader. I do not like to drag the tip of the tube onto the client’s skin and blindly tattoo the line with a short stroke set liners. With a longer stroke, you are in control of everything the needle does. It takes a ton of practice and experience, but the payoff is amazing. So, if you are running a shorter stroke setting tattoo liner, then you should have set your needles to hang over the tube 1/16th of an inch. If you want longer, then your needle should be coming out about 1/8 of an inch, and you hang your needles just about flush with the tube.
- Next, turn your tattoo machine towards you so that you see the front view of your machine. You should be able to see the armature bar nipple that you inserted into the loop of your tattoo needle. It should be moving up and down very quickly — so quickly, in fact, that you should not be able to make out the loop on the needle.
- While the machine is running, your needle should be coming out 1/8 to 3/16th of an inch. This is not much of difference, you might think, but that tiny gap between the skin and tip of needle enables the tattooist to visibly see the lines of the applied stencil.
How to Tune Your Machine Without a Digital Reader on Your Power Source
- Looking at the armature bar nipple, working under an extremely strong source of fluorescent light, if the PS is providing a perfect flow of electricity, you will notice that the armature bar nipple moves in a figure 8.
- I don’t know the exact technical jargon, but basically you are tuning your machine by the fluorescent light as if it were timing light.
- If you do see that figure 8 movement as the tattoo machine is running, then chances are that the machine is ready for tattooing with.
Another Way to Tune Without Digital Display or Fluorescent Light
If you do not have fluorescent lighting or a digital display on your PS, you will do the final tuning the old-fashioned way.
- Please first make sure that your equipment is set up correctly. Once you are ready, keep your foot pressed down on the foot pedal.
- Begin by turning up your power supply dial until you hear the buzz of your machine. Once you hear that buzz, pay attention to how your needle looks as it begins to move in the up and down motion. You are now tuning the tattoo machine by ear and eye. Your machine should run smoothly.
- If your power supply is turned up too high, it will sound like a very angry hornet and there will be visible sparks flying off of your contact screw and the front spring. If this happens, slowly turn the dial down on the power supply until the sparks have subsided and the machine buzzes in a softer fashion.
- To test it, rub your thumb against the armature bar nipple as the machine is running. The tattoo machine will bog down a bit. But, when you remove your thumb, it will instantly resume its steady buzzing noise. If the tattoo machine bogs down and will not restart after pressing down on the foot pedal, chances are a contact screw needs to be buffed a bit or you need to adjust your power setting just a bit.
- Now for the visual part of tuning: You are primarily looking to check that your needle is not flopping around. If you see the needle bouncing around in the tube, there could be a few reasons—you might need to add a rubber band, you may have inserted the needle in the tube wrong, or your power is turned up too high. So adjust accordingly. When it’s perfect, then it is time to tattoo.
What About Power Supplies With Digital Displays and Memory Settings?
Let’s talk very briefly about power supplies that have digital displays and memory settings. I definitely prefer these types of PSs.
- As a habit, I make sure that my tattoo machines are tuned mechanically first. This works great because the PS I use has memory settings built in to remember which voltage is set for a specific type of tattoo machine (liner/shader). There are differences and you will see what I mean when you begin and become more confident in your skills and knowledge.
- What I like the most about the digital display PS is that you can see how much voltage you are using and you can also tell if the capacitor is being faulty, because the voltage will different than normal. Also, for the lazy, you can visually set the power settings.
Online Lessons and Tutorials for the Beginner Tattooist
- Tattoo Machine Mechanics: A basic tour of your tattoo machine so you understand the mechanics of its operation.
- Getting Started, Set Up, and Ready to Tattoo: A basic step-by-step guide for setting up.
- Tips on Bending Rear and Front Springs for Tattoo Machines: Because getting the right bend in your springs really does give your tattoo machine the punch it needs to get the job done right.
- Sterilization Procedures in Tattooing: Don't skip this extremely important step.
- Beginning to Tattoo: A list of numbered steps to follow for your first tattoo.
- Tattoo Apprenticeships, How to Get One, and Why You Need It: Do you really need to be an apprentice to become a tattoo artist?
That is the lesson for the day. Remember, if you have any questions or comments please post them below and I will be glad to answer any questions you may have. Talk to you all soon!
Questions & Answers
Question: I am currently using that same exact power supply for my tattoo art that you said you were using. I never had a problem until the other day. I was in the middle of a tattoo when all the sudden the voltage jumped all the way up to 19.99. When I tried to move the dial, it either wouldn't change or it would just start going down and back up, and never stop. How do I fix it?
Answer: Check to see if you have a blown fuse, it could be as simple as that.
Question: What voltage should I set my liner at for tattoo shading?
Answer: For starting out, I think your machine should run around 6.6 volts both liner and shader.
Question: What does the foot pedal on a tattoo machine do?
Answer: Your foot pedal is simply breaking the circuit so it runs power to your machines.
Question: Is it normal that the power voltage drops a bit, or unstable while hitting the pedal?
Answer: Unstable... meaning that it fluctuates when just holding the pedal? I need more information, please.
Question: What could I use to make a tattoo gun spring system out of because someone stole all my stuff except a piece of a gun?
Answer: Hardened steel, 20 mm gauge for front and back spring... you will have to cut it and file it or punch it.
Question: My gun only clicks. There’s no buzz it just slowly taps up and down. What would be your ideas of what’s wrong?
Answer: Spring adjustment sounds like maybe too much tension.
Question: Sometimes when I'm tattooing the ink doesn't seem to be going in is this because of the angle I'm tattooing?
Answer: Perhaps but the 45-degree angle is what you are aiming for as far as good ink flow.
Question: Why does my coil machine sound like a dead battery no matter what voltage it is on?
Answer: A couple of things... rear spring could be broken, You are missing an o-ring for your front spring, Can you give me more information?
Question: To check if your tattoo machine is running too high, would figure 8 on the armature nipple be further apart? And if too slow, closer together?
Answer: Nope you have it backwards... if machine is running too high figure 8 will be tighter... but also you may have your spring adjusted incorrectly.
Jason Goodrow (author) from Washington State on March 04, 2020:
You can get bbn it from the manufacturer more than likely
crazyjay756473055 on February 25, 2020:
where can i get a wireing diegram for power suppley
Jason Goodrow (author) from Washington State on November 08, 2019:
Jeremy I need more information about your situation
Jeremy on November 05, 2019:
The bolt the tightens the contact screw keeps breaking
Jason Goodrow (author) from Washington State on March 10, 2019:
Opinions allowed but the people of ages past marked their skin with all kinds of material made from from various articles and sorry friend it is not all about art it's about the meaning in the true tradition of making your body how you like not paying a smoe 100 bucksfor my dad's name that could with Indian ink needle and thread for less than five bucks...
Harley Thornton on April 30, 2018:
I use the Hurricane Hp2 power supply.
But my biggest issue and for the life of me I can't figure it out.. how to keep the ink in the tip as I tattoo (having to dip into the ink every few seconds) I know that's not right.
And I generally use the nickel and dime trick
Dime for line nickel for shade/colour,
I set the power supply unit at 6.8 or 7.3V for shading and packing and generally 9.4V for line work.
And just a tip for you beginners out there.
If you have the correct V set on your power supply and your machine is tuned correctly you shouldn't have much hassle tattooing.
I'm no pro myself this is my 4th year in the tattoo industry but I know a lot about it.
The only thing I stress about is how to keep the ink in the tip? If anyone can give me any pointers that'd be great thanks
Jason Goodrow (author) from Washington State on September 02, 2017:
Sorry it took so long to get back at ya, Rotary machines are something different all together to work with, I have seen other guys work with em, but color seems to fall out which tells me it takes practice, and probably the right rotary set up... I don't have enough experience to pass on rightfully, but like anything make sure to work on something or someone who wont mind if their is touch up work later.
Dave on August 09, 2017:
Hi finding your blog Great , can you use rotary machines for shading or are they best for lining I have a stigma , bizarre rotary machine but also have four dragon hawk coil machines too which would you advise to be the best for begginers
Jason Goodrow (author) from Washington State on July 17, 2015:
LOL my friend each machine has its own particular sound... just like a car... as long as you hear a solid buzz with no sound gaps in that buzz ... that would be ideally what your looking for. But the other variables are... what is the spring stock... what is your tension on your spring set... how do you line leading with the needle or from the tip? Lots of variables to look at... but also check out the other lessons because how its setup makes the difference.
Jason Goodrow (author) from Washington State on July 07, 2015:
So I am not sure what the ps15/ and ps17 stand for....but if your starting out I would suggest buying a liner and shading tattoo machine. If you cannot decide from the catalog you have it may be better to shop around on ebay... or even amazon... tattoo machines are a dime a dozen... but you don't want to purchase the cheapest either. Hope this helps your cause.
Thanks for the read
Jason Goodrow (author) from Washington State on May 27, 2015:
Man it really sounds like a ground issue... broken wire (clip cord/foot pedal) If your handy with a voltmeter you can check electrical continuity and also tell if your power supply is bad. You will need to keep your foot pedal plugged in and make sure you are pressing it when using the voltmeter... make sure that the clip cord that goes to your machine is not plugged in because that will be where you will test with the voltmeter.... if that side tests good then switch out foot pedal with where you tested with the voltmeter. If that side tests good as well.. then you have a broken wire on the clip cord or there is a ground issue on the tattoo machine.... check your washers on the machine... could be a simple issue as that.
Hope this helped
Country cropped kanak on May 26, 2015:
Hey thank for the response so ok yes I have a duel digital display power supply n usually run it around 7.4 sorry I'm still learning as I go and always will be willing to learn more thank your for the help, so I just tried to run a new gun to try it out n that won't even work, question now is so as I conect cords all shows light up good but once clip prongs go in gun the light won't show up on the cord light spot weather I switch from liner spot link to shader spot link the light don't go on like it should be but that only happens once I conect gun machine to clip cord prongs cuz up until I conect guns up to it all lights show good on power supply displays but conect a gun up n it don't go but pedal light still shows n power display still there only just the light for clip cord connection goes off even as I press pedal to run gun if u know any idea on what could be wrong let me know pls would be a big help I would hate to buy all new gear n this stuff was only something simple so pls let me know if u got any idea on my problem mean while thank you for the good feed
Jason Goodrow (author) from Washington State on May 20, 2015:
I would check to see if you have any carbon build up on your post and front spring... that tends to happen and it can cause your tattoo machine not to run. It will stick...or sometimes spark, or sometimes nada... so get a piece of emery cloth and clean your contact point (post) and even hit the front spring if you see carbon or even rust... IF you see rust... get rid of the spring its no good. Its rare but not so rare that a capacitor on your tattoo machine blew... you will know this though because it would have made a pretty good popping sound, and probably a small light show. Same gig check all points that electricity goes through... your cord end could be loose, or bad, same with your foot pedal. If you think every thing is in order then start in on the power supply...light comes on but do you have a voltage display? If so what do you normally run your power settings at... Let me know if this helped... thanks for the read!
country cropped kanak on May 20, 2015:
Hey so sorry just wondering if my power supply lights up n seems to run fine but none of my guns wont run at all on it n ive used them alot before n had them for a good while n did quite a few tatts with um n there still quit new just haven't used um in a few months, i was just wondering if u could help me out n let me know what could be the problem on that.... ne ways hopefully someone can help thankyou -country cropped kanak
Jason Goodrow (author) from Washington State on April 14, 2015:
Woo Hoo! well have fun learning its pretty good stuff.
Amber on April 14, 2015:
Actually I just fixed it! Thank you for the fast replies and for posting your very helpful lessons!!!
Jason Goodrow (author) from Washington State on April 14, 2015:
Also check your rear spring for too much tension... easy thing to forget if your new to messing with your springs.
Amber on April 13, 2015:
Yeah I've been messing with the contact screw as well as the front spring in order for it to run. My machine won't run if it's under 10...why is that?
Jason Goodrow (author) from Washington State on April 13, 2015:
Ahhh I see... so maybe check your front spring... sounds like to much tension and it wont release it until you mess around with the contact screw. Trust me if your new to this you're gonna probably be like what the hell is he talking about, also what is your power ratio when your running the tattoo machine on your power supply... if it has a screen.
Amber on April 13, 2015:
I'm sorry I wasn't very clear haha what I meant was that if I take my foot off the pedal and press on it again it won't turn on again I would have to do that whole contact screw routine
Jason Goodrow (author) from Washington State on April 13, 2015:
Hi there Amber, so read through this lesson again, but I will tell you that you need to simply keep your foot pressed on the pedal to keep the machine running... this is just so you have control over when the tattoo machine runs, or if you just need to stop in general to wipe your client off. Please read through... I have lessons talking about how to set your machine up from the very beginning. Hope this helped!
Thanks for the read!
Amber on April 13, 2015:
Hi, I wanted to know why my tattoo machine shuts off after I take my foot off the pedal? To make it turn on again, I keep my foot on the pedal and I screw the contact screw to the end of the front spring until it clicks and I screw it back to the middle of the front spring and it works fine again. What should I do to make my tattoo machine keep on running???
Jason Goodrow (author) from Washington State on March 21, 2015:
Bob please refer to my other lessons, there is a ton of in formation on that specifically, pics included.
Thanks for the read
Mike on October 17, 2014:
hey G-Man, great read, and commend you for helping out the newbies.
Jason Goodrow (author) from Washington State on September 20, 2014:
Send it back if the fuse is not blown in the Power supply... that could be all it is.
babyhatchet on September 17, 2014:
I just got my machine and I hook it up and there is no power getting to the machine I am not sure what to do
Jason Goodrow (author) from Washington State on September 09, 2014:
You may need to check the capacitor that is on the machine, it may be incorrectly soldered or faulty altogether... first thing though is check with a voltmeter as you press down on the foot pedal and see what the actual voltage is without the machine attached, this should tell you that your Power Supply is good or bad.... hope this helped!
Mike on September 09, 2014:
I just bought a new clip cord because my machine was not getting any power but its still not getting enough power to run the machine what else could it be?
Jason Goodrow (author) from Washington State on August 04, 2014:
Not sure what the electric variances are, but most tattoo shops will run 110v for their power supplies. So first get me the variances and tell me a few things.
What type of tattoo machine are you using
What is your Power Supply set at
Are your springs adjusted correctly
As far as lining general rule for outlines is 7-8 liner bug pin or long taper which ever you prefer and lining should run at 6.7 volts
Also check the other lessons I have posted your needle bar should go in one way only maybe that's it/ broken spring... never know
So information is what I need please post if serious.
naidy on August 04, 2014:
Hi I bought a new kit from one of the sites I'm from south africa I have a small problem with shading an lining I'm not sure wat voltage shud I use wen shading an how many needles shud I use an wen out lining I also have a problem with ink not chatching I have to go over my outlines twice in order to get it dark an please help
Johne581 on July 16, 2014:
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Jason Goodrow (author) from Washington State on April 09, 2014:
Your liner will have a shorter front spring and a bit of a steeper pitch about 45 degree angle or so and your shader will have a longer front spring and the pitch is more shallow, more like 30 degrees... hope this helps, also take a look at my other lessons lots of good information!!!
kaki hemam on April 09, 2014:
How can we differentiate the same two machine as liner & shader..actually I bought two machines so still confusing i.e which machine should be linear/which machine should be shader..... pliz help me out of this...
Jason Goodrow (author) from Washington State on February 21, 2014:
Hope you have the receipt...
jonh on January 08, 2014:
first of all i want to thank you for your help,
my respect to you....aw a beginner i bought two tattoo machines one shader and one liner. I had the impression that both shader and liner contact points angles had to be at one o'clock,am i wrong??? .... and one more thing that may seem silly, I'm from europe and I have exactly the same power supply as yours, ii have to tattoo in same volts as you? 6 -6.8 ?? keep up the good work
Jason Goodrow (author) from Washington State on September 17, 2013:
Sounds like your spring tension is to firm... you may need to weaken that spring just a bit... don't overdo it or you could break it! Let me know if this helps or need more information
Jason Goodrow (author) from Washington State on September 15, 2013:
not sure exactly but it almost sounds like you are grounding out somewhere in your equipment... faulty wire in the pedal, connection ports for your pedal in the p.s. it'self... not to say it could be a broken spring... there are many variables... also check but maybe for some reason your ports are specific for what is plugged into it.... let me know if this helps!
steven on September 15, 2013:
hey basically ive had my tattoo equipment for a couple of months and ive never had any problems running machines before today when i went to set up i plugged everything in perfect and now every time i apply pressure to the foot pedal my volts seem to be slowing/going down im so confused as to what is going on so could you please help me
Jason Goodrow (author) from Washington State on July 26, 2013:
When I hear someone say practice paper I am assuming skin. You left out some key components that will help maybe trouble shoot your problem. First.. great your machine is tuned to what you say but when running what was the voltage running at, also man, your needles could be inserted wrong... that is a very common mistake, next is what shading style were you using? and what type of shader ( rounds or magnums ), and then next again especially coming from a kit what type of ink... these are your main concerns. Hope this helps!
Mark on July 25, 2013:
Hey, I have a question. I bought a set not too long ago, and have started practicing on practice paper, and my bestfriend let me do one on him, but when I did it on skin, everything was tuned correctly, On my power supply I used around 6.5 for Lining and 7 for Shading. The machines seemed to sound correct and everything was running smoothly. But when I started to do it on his skin, I found it hard to outline the contour line of his tribal piece which took multiple turns to run over every line just to make it stay in his skin. Afterwards, I started shading it in with black, and it took going over each shape roughly 6 or 7 times just to make that stick in his skin. Now after I was done, he took a shower the next day, and when he wiped it off, the shapes have spots that are not fully colored in, and the lines weren't fully there. What can I do to make nice, solid one sweep lines? And how can I shade better with just normal black, or any color for that matter?
Jason Goodrow (author) from Washington State on July 21, 2013:
Skin textures and how your machine is set up dictate this number. I don't have a specific magic number because many of tattooists use different machines and different power supplies, along with different shading techniques, this does not include ink type, spring tension, what kind of contact point you are using (brass, copper, or steel). Once you have tuned your machine though what ever the voltage number is should be consistent through the tattoo, keeping in mind you should never be running above 7 volts unless you are pushing a massive group of magnums, and if you are just beginning, you will want to stay away from those until you have plenty of experience with a variety of shading techniques. Hope this helped!
Jason Goodrow (author) from Washington State on March 27, 2013:
Most of this will depend on the size of the rounds and magnums, but ideally yes it should be consistent voltage that you run your machines at.
Begner on March 26, 2013:
I have this question.. round shaders and magnums run at the same voltage? or different?
Jason Goodrow (author) from Washington State on March 25, 2013:
Again if anyone is tuning your machine and your using more that 7 volts, I would be very hesitant on using the equipment. Most professionals will tell you the same thing I am. If you started off cheap then you may have ended up with a bunch of equipment that does not work. It is rare but I have seen it on several occasions. If it were me I would just start from the beginning, set your machines up, as I suggest in the lessons, also check for that carbon build up especially after having run your tattoo machine as you have. Good luck! Keep me posted.
Jason Goodrow (author) from Washington State on March 24, 2013:
There could be a few problems, and its not always going to be power supply related. Every professional tattooist I have ever met run their machines in the 6.0 - 6.8 range. If you are having issues with your machine not running at these lower voltages then it could be related to the gauge of your spring, your contact point, is it brass or metal? Have you checked to make sure the contact point has no carbon build up from running at high voltage? Also if it is a cheaper machine it may only run at those higher voltages but the quality of the tattoo will be hindered. There are many things to pay attention too. First make sure that your contact points are at the right angles as I suggest in the mini lessons. Your liner will be at one 'o' clock and your shader will be at about three 'o' clock. Liner with a dime width gap and your shader with a nickel width gap. Trust me I asked these same questions and I even doubted the information. Most cases it wont be your power supply that is the problem it will be how your machine is tuned. Hope this helped, please revisit those lessons they might have more to add. Thanks for reading!
Jason Goodrow (author) from Washington State on January 25, 2013:
Hey there edge Craog B basically had the same question as you, so follow the instructions I gave him, see what I can do for you guys.
Jason Goodrow (author) from Washington State on January 04, 2013:
Hi there Despina, if your like me and can afford it, buy a new one. I have never encountered that problem myself but a few things do come to mind. Sometimes, not often mind you, how the electricity flows from the wall through the power cable and then the "regulator" that steps down amount that will flow through the power supply itself, those can go bad after years of use, and of course most things like that are made in china because how cheaply they are manufactured over there. Another thing is some of those P.S. have fuses and it may be ready to pop. I have torn this particular p.s. apart as well and made comparison to the other ones I use. If you are savvy, take it apart and check to make sure you have no crossed wires, sometimes things settle with age. Next question for you is how long have you had this unit, because I had to order a new cable for it, and I have been using it for better than 7 years. Here is the adapter type I found for it, hope this helped.
Let me know if this helped or not!
Jason Goodrow (author) from Washington State on September 22, 2012:
There are several techniques you need to apply to doing smooth straight lines. A lot will begin by the tube size you are using... I use a 1' tube grip this tends to give me better control over line shakiness especially with curved lines. Next thing with line work.... get at least a three point stretch, it will help the ink enter the skin more smoothly as you work the tattoo, so there are a few tips that will take care of a few things... a note though it takes time to build the strength in your hand so warm up first get a pen and put it in your machine and do the stencil by hand you will be pleased with the results, I did it and if I have not tattooed I do find a way to warm my tattoo hand up before going to work. Hope this helps.
Mario on September 05, 2012:
Hi I have a question? I would like to now if you have any tips or ways I can practice to make perfect straight lines. Im not bad but on tribal ho w there is long lines I have have a hard time keeping straight
Jason Goodrow (author) from Washington State on August 14, 2012:
Cool, 8 does seem high to me as well. Try letting the machine run straight for a minute with no interuption. Then go ahead and adjust down, keep in mind it does not need to quickly penetrate the skin like the liner so by sound they are going to be different. Let me know
sky on August 14, 2012:
hi, thanks for the advice, it's actually a shading machine that I can't seem to set up right, I've managed to get it to work without the sparks after I discovered my ps was broken and got it replaced however it only seems to work on a very high setting (around 8ish) whereas my liner works at around 4, I'm obviously doing something wrong I just don't know what.
Jason Goodrow (author) from Washington State on August 12, 2012:
Hi there Sky... so this sounds like a machine set up issue. This may take a bit more to explain without some type of picture. So Be patient. If this is a lining machine take a look at the angle or pitch of your contact screw. My lining machines are set up at about 2 o'clock so if the pitch is off this can cause problems... also check that the contact screw is hitting near the very edge of your front spring too if it is set too far back same thing will happen. These are a few things to take a peek at and like I said I have a machine I have to replace a spring on so I will go ahead and produce this lesson for everyone. Hang in there!!!
Jason Goodrow (author) from Washington State on August 12, 2012:
Hi Adam... to answer a few of the questions you posted. Your needle at full penetration should only enter the third layer of the dermis, or in simple terms about an 1/8 inch. I have been tattoing a few years now and I prefer to work off my needle so that means I let the needles hang out the end of the tube about a 1/16 of an inch, and then from there I control the depth the needle is entering the skin through a technique I learned from another artist. So as your machine is running it should look like your needle is coming out almost a 1/4 inch... this is more advanced technique... for begginers I suggest breaking out some type of melon or potato type object and practice on that a few times until you are able to work the ink into it with out too many problems. Keep me posted
sky on August 10, 2012:
hi, I can't seem to one of my machines to work properly I either get sparks or nothing, I'm a beginner so not sure how to remedy this, please help
adambritsch on August 10, 2012:
i am just a beginner with tattoos and i am not an artist or even looking to become one, im just using my gun on myself and figuring things out. i am a little confused about how deep the needle should be penetrating and how. it sounds like the thumb rule is 'dime for lines, nickel for shade'. if that is correct, then my question is this; do you set the tip and tube up so that you can drag the tip over the skin, or should have that 1/16". it sounds like even in your write up, you were hesitant to mention those depths especially for rookies. thanks for the post also, it was helpful. -Adam
Jason Goodrow (author) from Washington State on August 02, 2012:
So first off lets not tattoo on anyone else until you have figured your equipment out... it sounds like you basically put your equipment together wrong and do not have your power settings correct. The needle snagging means not enough punch... either spring is bad or power supply is not set correctly. The tat scabbing and then simply peeling off suggests spring issues again so start from scratch do not tattoo anyone else until you have got this all figured out and check out my lessons on how to get your tattoo machine set up just in case you missed something.
Keep me posted
Heather on August 02, 2012:
Just got a new kit and it seems like the needle snags, and then after the tat scabs and peels off... It's not taking & no matter what it is snagging.. What can I do or should I be doing to fix this?
Jason Goodrow (author) from Washington State on July 24, 2012:
Check your springs, and contact points