Whether you use a custom setup for your tattooing or other solutions, every tattoo artist should know how to put a tattoo machine together.
The good part of this is that this is something that you can learn in under ten minutes – and we are not even stretching much.
You will have to tweak some parts to taste (say, the desired needle depth and such), but the basic processes are not intensive at all.
You don’t have to take our word for it. Find out how to set up your coil or rotary tattoo machine from scratch.
Table of Contents
Before You Setup All Up
These seem like things you should know, but it doesn’t hurt to repeat them here, either.
When setting up your tattoo machine, make sure:
The entire area is clean
In tattooing, hygiene is highly important. You want to ensure the working station is clean and clutter-free.
Besides reducing the chances of a workplace accident, it also ensures the entire thing remains sterile from start to finish.
Speaking of sterility, has your machine been thoroughly cleaned between the last use and this one? If not, that is the first thing you want to do before you set it up again.
It forms a part of your routine, and you should never set up a machine without ensuring it’s disinfected.
Never use dirty needles.
Or never reuse needles of any kind at all. Every new setup should be done with new ones.
Some tattooing students believe they can get away with reusing needs while still practicing on pig skin or other suitable media. Not with us, no!
As mentioned above, these little things form a part of your muscle memory and become a part of you going into the future.
Thus, it is better that you always treat even your practice medium as the real thing.
Have your gloves on
The machine might be 100% sterile and your workstation too, but how about your hands?
Even when we have washed our hands, we don’t always take notice of where they go next.
So, you might contaminate an extremely sterile setup just because you touched it with your bare hands.
Fortunately, gloves don’t cost a fortune, and you can afford to wear them for single use as they are intended.
Likewise, wearing gloves makes you conscious of touching other things while they are on. This mentally constrains you to keep working in your space while they are on.
It needs no saying that you should never use a pair of gloves more than once, so we’ll leave that out of the mix.
Putting your Tattoo Gun Together for the First Time
Now that we have the above out of the way, it is time to set up your tattoo machine from scratch.
Things you’ll need:
– Your choice of the machine – whether a rotary or coil setup.
– Tattooing needles (standard or cartridges configuration).
– The tip.
– What every you want to use as a grip.
– Elastic bands to secure some elements.
– Grommet and,
– An Allen key.
Step #1 – Setting up the Tube
Slide the tube into the grip if you are not using a disposable one.
For disposable grips, the tube and tip are set up already and can just be fitted into the machine (jump to step #3). Otherwise, set it all up manually as done here.
Some grips come in barrel form so the tube can go into either end of the grip. In other instances where the grip tapers, you should fix the tube to the base / non-tapering part of the grip.
Once the tube is inside the grip, tighten the corresponding screw on the grip with an Allen key to secure it.
Experiment with the fully-setup, disposable grips, and manual setup alternatives to know which works best for you.
The DIY steel grips feel more premium for some artists, giving them better handling and doesn’t cause an imbalance to the machine. These are areas where the plastic / disposable grips could fail instead.
Step #2 – Setting up the Tip
The tip is where the needle comes out through, so another essential part of the setup.
Now that the tube has taken one side of the grip, the tip naturally goes into the other part of the grip.
At this stage, there is also a corresponding Allen key-operated screw on the body of the grip to secure the tip to the setup better.
Step #3 – Insert the needle
Some people inverse steps #3 and #4, and you can do that too. It all boils down to what steps work best for you at the end of the day.
For a standard needle setup, apply a slight bend through the longitude of the needle before introducing it into the machine.
By doing so, you make it less stiff, and as such, it won’t bounce off the armature bar too much when the machine starts vibrating during use.
After bending the needle, slot it into the tube (sharp side first) to pass through the hollow inside of the grip and come out via the tip.
Even after some practice, the needle might not easily slide in, so take your time here.
Step #4 – Couple the setup
We have the machine in one place and the tube-grip-tip set up in another. It is time to bring them together so they can work as they are intended.
Whether a coil or rotary tattoo machine, there is a slot in the machine frame where the tube was designed to go through.
You’ll find it around the base frame of the machine, so you don’t have to do some special digging to find it.
There is usually a fastening screw around this hole. Ensure it is loosened so the tube can fit appropriately into the hole. Once it passes through it, stop and fasten the screw a little.
The needle is a good indicator of how far the tube should go up. Once the eye of the needle is aligned around the armature bar, you’re in the safe spot.
Step #5 – Secure the needle
With the tube in place, get the eye of the needle around the armature bar. This secures it and controls the hit/ speed you get during lining/ shading.
Once the needle fits, put a grommet over it, so it sticks right into place.
The grommet is designed to go right into the eye of the needle and pop onto the armature bar, securing the setup even better.
When the needle is secured, tighten the tube to the tattoo machine frame fully.
Step #6 – Adjust needle depth
You cannot just put the needle in and be done with it.
You should ensure that the needle is neither too far out nor too far in.
When the needle sticks out too much, you would possibly blow out your client’s skin, delivering pain and getting a poorer overall job.
That’s bad news for your reputation as a tattoo artist, in all ways.
The best way to adjust the needle depth is by twisting the tube slightly; vary the length till it’s about the thickness of one-eighth of an inch, and you should be good to go.
Step #7 – Adding the classic elastic band
You’ve seen elastic bands on most tattoo machine setups. They are not there because the machine is breaking apart but to ensure it works fine without hassles.
When working, the machine’s vibrations could make the needle pop from the armature bar, even though a grommet is there. Likewise, the needle could flail about something you don’t want.
With a fix as minor as the elastic band, you can generate the correct tension in the needle and ensure it’s safe for yourself and the client.
Take the rubber band and wrap it, so it holds the needle to the other end of the frame.
Twist the elastic band (to double it), generating enough tension in the setup. We don’t advise using more than one elastic band this way.
Step #8 – Get to Work
You’re now ready to get started.
If you have taken professional training from a licensed tattoo artist and have your license to operate too; you have a machine raring to go.
Vary your voltages according to your intended operations, but you already know that.
Setting up a Rotary Pen Style Tattoo Machine
We have reviewed some rotary pen-style tattoo machines here in the past.
A standout is the Kwadron series, which also comes with wired tattoo machines and wireless options.
When that is what you have to work with, this setup procedure is designed for you:
Things you’ll need:
– A quality pen rotary tattoo machine.
– Clipcord cover.
– Grip tape.
– Paper towels.
– Power source.
Step #1 – Cloaking with a Clipcord Cover
This is an optional step, but the one you should do if you care about the hygiene of your setup and work environment.
Take the entire pen tattoo machine and throw it into the clipcord cover.
The clipcord cover will be way longer than the pen tattoo machine anyway, so no worries there.
At the base of the machine, pinch the clipcord cover so that the tattoo gun has enough but not too much.
While we don’t recommend reusing tattooing supplies, you can keep the remainder of the clipcord cover in your drawer for next time.
This cover prevents fluid splashes, external contact with the body of the machine, and any other situation that could expose your equipment to germs.
Note that it is not a substitute for cleaning your machine on every use. It is only an extra level of protection.
Step #2 – Improving the Grip
Even before you add the clipcord cover, some artists include extra grips to their machines in different ways.
Fortunately, some Kwadron models come with interchangeable grips for different uses.
With the clipcord cover on, the machine will surely be slippery. So, get some grip tape (they’re inexpensive, don’t worry) and wrap it all around the machine’s grip till it’s comfortable enough for you.
Using paper towels first is a neat trick to ensure you don’t waste too much of the grip tape. Here’s how:
– Fold it in a way that they are at the length of the grip.
– Wrap it around the grip first.
– Hold the paper towels in place with the grip tape.
This way, you use way less grip tape and don’t have to incur a high cost. After all, paper towels cost much lesser than you could get grip tapes for.
Step #3 – Setting up the Cartridge
Get the rotary tattoo machine’s cartridge and insert it into the front opening where it is supposed to go.
Since your clipcord cover is doing its job, don’t make a secondary hole first. Instead, use the cartridge itself to burst through the clipcord cover into the machine.
At this point, you get a fully locked-down machine that won’t allow anything in. The brilliance of this step jumps out at you when you’re done executing it.
Step #4 – Adjusting needle depth
As we did for the standard rotary and coil tattoo machines above, you must adjust the needle depth.
For pen-style tattoo machines, adjusting the needle depth is as simple as twisting the base of the device.
This varies the allowable length of the needle in the setup such that the depth changes according to what you want.
As above, anything around an eighth of an inch is ideal. Don’t go farther than that lest you get poorly drawn lines and an increased rate of skin damage.
Not all cartridges are the same. When swapping one out for another, don’t assume that the needle depth is correct.
Do a deeper check to ensure you have it right all the time. This step might take your time for a moment, but it is worth it in the end.
Step #5 – Plug it in
For wired pen tattoo machines, plug your power supply into a power source and link it to the machine.
The clipcord will usually go on the base of the machine – as simple as that.
If you’re using a wireless unit instead, ensure the battery is charged and ready to go.
Always take your time with setting up a tattoo machine. You might see the experts do it at a crazy speed, but you are not trying to impress anyone here.
The extra seconds you’ll spend setting up the machine won’t take anything away from you.
Likewise, don’t practice on a person if this is your first time. Make sure you have received the proper training, licensing, and certification before you venture out on your own.
Finally, find the right kind and style of tattoo machine that works for you.
For some, the rotary machine can do no wrong. Others swear by all the fantastic things they can get on a coil tattoo machine.
They all have pros and cons, but it all boils down to what works best for you.
How to put a tattoo machine together, either a coil or a rotary should be challenging, but with time, you will get the confidence as a tattoo artist.