Step-By-Step Tips for Tattoo Power Supply Connection
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!