A tattoo machine (sometimes referred to as a tattoo gun) is the most important investment you can make in your tattoo equipment purchases. You should take some time to do your research and not rush into a purchase you will later regret. Whether you are a rookie looking for your first machine or you are an experienced tattoo artist looking to upgrade, doing your research will be to your advantage.
A well built tattoo machine can have a large impact on the quality of the tattoo. The artist is the most important but having a tattoo artist that uses quality machines and equipment will only enhance their natural artistic ability.
The first thing you need to know before purchasing a tattoo machine is the material used in the make up of the machine frame. Tattoo guns should be made of good high quality metal. This will keep them from breaking frequently and the stronger metals will hold up over time. Tattoo guns are traditionally made of conductive materials such as iron, brass or aluminum.
The second important item or option to consider about purchasing a tattoo gun is what size and variety. Tattoo guns are usually divided in 2 types - “lining” or “shading” machines. Some tattoo suppliers will carry a machine that is strictly built for either lining or shading. Another style of tattoo machine can be used for both but require adjustments to be a liner or a shader. These versatile machines are usually more expensive and probably should only be purchased when you are experienced and are very familiar with tattoo machine adjustments.
If you are new to the art of tattooing, you should consider purchasing a tattoo kit. These kits come with a machine for each - tuning isn’t necessary – except for maintenance purposes. They usually come with other items that a rookie or newbie will find they need to purchase.
If you have the option of handling the machine before purchasing – do it. Judge the weight and feel in your hands. Some are heavier than others which can be an advantage to offset the vibration of the machine but a heavier machine requires strength in the hands. Strength is built up with regular tattoo work and some people will actually “exercise” their hands to get used to the weight.
Coils (electro-magnets) come in various sizes. The more wraps a coil has, the more power it needs, and also the more power it can handle. The 3 common types of coils – 8 wrap, 10 wrap, and 12 wrap. Eight wrap is the weakest and some artists like them for outlining. 10 wrap coils are the most commonly used and are good for lining or shading or coloring. 12 wrap coils are good for hard hitting work and are good for coloring. If you are able to buy multiple machines, you may want to try the various options in coil size. If you have a large needle group, you must use a stronger more powerful machine.
Machine selection are an individual choice. Your choice in machine style is partly based on your style. Everyone has their own opinion on what is best for them and you’ll probably purchase machines that you will regret later during the course of your career. Some people prefer a heavier machine while others prefer a lighter feel. Chances are you will purchase machines you will later regret in your quest to find your favorite and best performing machine. Change is good and with the tattoo industry you should always be trying to grow. Keep your options open to any machine advancements and be willing to give them a chance.
As in everything in life, experience is the best teacher. Find out the opinions of people currently working as tattoo artists. They can possibly save you from making a bad purchase. If they have already done the homework, pick their brain.
When an artist is comfortable with the feel and vibration of their tattoo machine they are able to focus their concentration on their work rather than making sure their machine is running as it should. An inferior machine may suffice for amateur artist or for practing purposes but an artist taking their craft seriously will invest their money wisely by buying a serious machine.