Tattoo Machines and Materials: The Basics
When getting a tattoo, most people might not think it’s important to know much about the equipment used in the process. After all, it’s difficult to understand how the machines work and what materials are required without the years of study a tattoo artist puts in. So why bother, right?
Well, here’s why – the equipment affects your tattoo. Which machine is being used, the number of needles, aftercare materials – the right equipment combined with the right artist will result in the best tattoo you could get. Which is why it is important to understand the basics!
Tattoo Machines: Which one is best?
Determining which tattoo machines are the best first requires understanding what makes a good tattoo machine, to begin with.
Tattoo machines are usually either a coil machine or a rotary machine.
Coil Tattoo Machines
Coil machines work by using power to move the armature bar and tattoo needle towards the coil, which then pulls the needle into the skin. This breaks the circuit, which causes the needle to pull back into the machine. The constant repetition of this process is how a coil machine works.
Did those words just fly over your head? Well, here’s a visual to help you out:
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Put simply, coils work like a hammer and drive the needle into the skin. These machines are quite powerful, which is why they are usually used for larger groupings of needles <see: needles>. Larger needles clusters are used when an artist has a larger area to cover, such as with shading. While these machines can be used for lining and detailing, it requires precision and this means it works best in the hands of an experienced tattooist.
Additionally, because of how forceful these machines can be, it requires a greater understanding of ink and skin on the tattoo artist’s part. Which means if they’re using a coil – they need the skill to match!
So how do you tell a coil from a rotary? Coil machines are loud, meaning the buzzing of a machine usually associated with tattoo shops is an indication that they’re using coil machines. But besides that, you can always just ask! Tattoo artists are usually comfortable talking about their equipment and welcome queries from clients.
Rotary Tattoo Machine
Top Tattoo Machines in 2019
Whether your artist prefers a coil or a rotary, there are some machines that are considered top of the line across the world.
Top Coil Machines
- Workhorse Irons Ghost Dog Shader Hybrid – top supplier (world); Adam Ciferri 20+ years; as light as a rotary; can only purchase if you can prove you work for a legitimate tattoo shop
- Micky Sharpz Brass Hybrid Tattoo Machine – block colouring; shading & lining; fast tube changing
- HM Tattoo Machines Mini Dietzel Powerliner – for size 7 needles and above; Roman of Magic Tattoos – top supplier (industry) 20+ years; good for long sessions
- Bishop Big Sleeps X – created by premium artist Big Sleeps (since 1980) collaborated with Bishop; heavy-duty designed for larger needle groupings – color-blocking & shading, reduce voltage to make it an all-purpose liner; limitation – exclusive for Bishop, won’t find anywhere else
Top Rotary Machines
- Vladblad Irons – for the experienced – not rookies; powerful/fast rotary; variety (styles/purposes) traditional, realism, dotwork, etc. + linework, block colour, shading (4mm); can handle any size magnum up to 35, whether cartridge or classic needle – flexibility
- FK Irons Spektra Edge X – Fallen King Irons; adjustable stroke/no need to change
- Cheyenne Hawk Pen – fine lines, filling; dots + linework + shading & filling (3.5mm); easy to shift between 56 needle configurations; easy to clean/maintain
- Infinite Irons Roller Rotary – lining/outlines, shading (with 4.5mm)
Cheyenne Machines: The choice of the locals!
Local – Cheyenne, and various other brands/ranges
It’s a common misconception that tattoo needles are similar to the ones used for vaccinations. The needles used for inking are made specifically for tattoos. They are quite long, but most of this needle sits within the tattoo machine itself – only 1-2 mm of the tip of the needle extends out of the machine while tattooing, which is exactly how deep into the skin a tattoo needle is meant to go.
NEEDLES: 1-41, liner/shader/magnum/curved/flat/round magnum/bug pin
Of course, one of the most important materials to understand is tattoo ink – which is why we have a blog dedicated to it!