The Tattoo Machine
The tattoo machine is where the entire process gets started. The ink flows through the machine and the designs you create will begin to take shape and form a work of art. While the tattoo machine is an integral part of the process it is important to always remember it is not the machine that makes the tattoo but the tattoo artist. Understanding and learning to use the tattoo machine effectively is important but the machine can never take the place of the skill, time and patience required of the artist.
Because all of the action lies in the machine it is important to have a basic understanding of how the machine works. Tattoo machines can have a varied appearance but they all perform essentially the same task. Most tattoo machines have the same parts. These include standard contact points, a place where the needle goes through and power supply as well as other parts such as front and rear springs, contact caps, soldering lug, binding post, machine frame, needle tube, band hook and needle bar.
See below for views of a traditional 2 coil tattoo machine.
All tattoo machines basically work by driving the needle in an up and down motion to slightly open the first layers of skin just enough so the ink can be driven into the skin. It is the job of the tattoo artist to steer the machine in an outline or a pre-drawn design to complete the tattoo.
Using Your Tattoo Machine
Now that you have an idea of how the tattoo machine works it’s time to get started using it. It is extremely important to learn how to use the tattoo machine properly if you eventually want to become a great tattoo artist. As I said previously, the machine doesn’t do the hard work; that’s the job of the artist.
When gripping the tattoo machine you need to actually grip it around the needle tube. To do this you will grab hold of the knurled grip much like you would hold a pencil. Be sure the open side of the needle tip is facing away from you. Be aware it may take some time to become comfortable with holding the machine as well as to develop the muscles necessary to comfortably hold the machine for long periods of time.
As described grab the knurled grip of the tattoo machine and place it comfortably in your hands, as in a pencil grip. Remember to have the bulk of the machine over top the back of your hand.
You will need to tilt the tattoo machine at a 45-degree angle, with the butt of the machine dropping towards the skin. When you have the grip on the tattoo machine, naturally your palm is going to rest on the skin. This is completely normal. As I mentioned earlier, you will use the palm and heel to pivot, move and control the tattoo machine.
The Five Basic “P’s” You Must Remember about Using your Tattoo Machine
1) Proper angle – You need to be at a 45-degree angle in order to place the ink under the skin. If your angle is too straight up and down, the ink may come right back out of the puncture. If you are at too much of an angle, the design may end up a little bit ‘off’.
2.) Proper depth – Too much depth, and you are going to cause pain to your subject, and there may be unnecessary bleeding. Too shallow and the ink won’t stay (fading) and the arm may just end up being a scratched mess.
3.) Proper set up – This is going to eliminate a myriad of problems for you. Practice setting up and taking down your tattoo machine. You will need to sterilize the different parts, so knowing how everything goes back together properly is going to save you a lot of hassle.
4.) Palm placement – Use your palm effectively to control and balance the tattoo machine. If you try to freehand without the support of the rest of your arm, you are going to end up with squiggly outlines and poor shading.
Below are some modern tattooing machines which range from $100 to $200 upwards which have taken a trend of various designs.