How to Set Up a Tattoo Machine (An Easy Guide to Follow)

Are you trying your hand at tattooing but don’t know how to set up a tattoo machine? This is a significant step towards becoming a pro tattoo artist, but it isn’t hard. 

Here is a well-detailed tattoo machine setup guide to follow. Read and learn!

Don’t forget to also check our review of the best PMU machines!

Tattoo Gun Assembly Diagram

tattoo gun assembly diagram

This gun assembly diagram shows you a simple way how to set up your tattoo machine. You can see the machine components that require the assembling process. 

Before starting the tattoo gun set up, have all the components in front of you. This ensures you do the machine set up with no interruptions.

READ MORE: Which Tattoo Machine is Good for Beginners?

How to Assemble a Tattoo Gun – Step-by-Step Guide

Here are simple steps on how to put together a tattoo gun.

1. Wash Your Hands Thoroughly

man washing hands before setting up the tattoo machine

You must sanitize your hands before handling the tattoo gun to avoid contaminations. Clean your hands using antibacterial soap [1].

2. Master Your Type of Tattoo Machine

You won’t be able to set up or use your machine gun effectively if you haven’t mastered it. Therefore, before starting the machine setup, understand the machine mechanics.

You should understand all its parts and how each part connects with the other for its smooth operation. 

Familiarize yourself with the machine by checking the frames holding all the accessory components together. Have a look at the two electromagnetic coils that power your tattoo gun.

Having a good understanding of your tattoo gun and the individual components helps you buy a suitable starter kit. With the right starter kit, you will have all the parts needed for your tattooing.

3. Organize the Tools Required for Your Tattoo Gun Setup

To effectively set up your tattoo machine, you need a small screwdriver, contact screw and an Allen key set. Note that your starter kit determines the tools needed for the machine setup process.

With all the tools in place, you don’t have to face delays to look for items when doing the machine setup.

4. Set Up the Barrel

To set up the barrel, you need to have a look at the assembled grip of your tattoo machine. Find two sides, one for the gun’s tip and the other for the tube.

Set them to the recommended length, depending on your machine. Use the small screwdriver to tighten the two contact screws on the grip.

You should not allow the needle to exceed the tip with over 2 mm, but it also can’t be less than a millimeter. If the needle is too long, it causes excess blooding.

5. Inspect the Tattoo Needles

different tattoo needles

Before setting up the needles, inspect them. Check the needle quality to ensure they aren’t bent or have any other flaws that cause bad tattoos or excessive bleeding.

Note that tattoo needles with imperfections affect ink flow, leading to scar tissue formation or other problems. Throw away all dull needles and ensure you only use proper needles.

Before using the needles, make sure you sterilize them to avoid inflammations and infections. There are skin infections you can get from unsterilized tattoo needles.

Dr. Daihung Do, an instructor in dermatology at Harvard Medical School and director of cosmetic and laser surgery at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, says, “Tattoo-related infections [2] aren’t common, but they do happen. They can take various forms—I once saw a patient who developed warts as a result of a tattoo.”

Have different kinds of needles. The tattoo you want to create determines the kind and needle size you need. Narrower needles give you more control over the ink flow.

If you want to create more precise lines and have more detailed results, use a narrower needle. On the other hand, wider needles do a great job in shading and spreading.

Watch this video on how to check tattoo needles.

6. Set the Cosmetic Needles in the Tube

Now that you have confirmed you have the correct needles, set them in the machine tube slot. With different kinds and sizes of needles, install them according to the tattoo you want to create.

Hold your needle bar with the bar facing down and the needle part facing up. Hold the needle tube with the washout facing upwards and install the needle bar into the tube.

Only allow the armature bar part to get into contact with the tube and not the needles. This helps protect your needles.

Hold the needle firmly on your tattoo gun’s base. Do this by placing the armature nipple on your armature bar pin [3] and then tightening your needle’s round open end onto the nipple.

Adjust your tattoo needle to the proper length by fine-tuning the screw between the needle and the armature bar.

Read our comprehensive guide on how to hold a tattoo gun.

7. Install the Tube to the Tattoo Gun

With the tattoo needle intact in the tube, install the tubes in their slots on the tattoo machine. Slide it up to allow you to tighten the wingnut connecting the machine and the tube.

Turn the needle eye loop of your needle to the left side and then install the armature bar nipple.

If you don’t insert your tattoo needle on the armature bar properly, there will be no ink flow when tattooing. There will also be excessive bleeding when creating the tattoo.

Now you should press the armature bar down to move the needle’s tip out of the tube’s end.

By doing this, you can easily determine the length to allow the tattoo needle to hang to get the correct needle depth set to get into the skin.

It’s advisable to allow the needle to jut out around ¹⁄₁₆ of an inch on its own and allow your tattoo gun do the rest.

8. Insert a Rubber Band

Insert a rubber band around the needle and the tattoo gun to allow equal pressure distribution to the needle.

The rubber band also helps stabilize any needle’s movement inside the tube. This helps you create a clean line when creating the tattoo.

9. Connect the Tattoo Gun to the Clip Cord

A clip cord helps in delivering power to your tattoo machine. Your clip cord has a jack for plugging into the power supply. Connect the other jack to your machine.

10. Connect the Machine to the Power Supply

At the bottom of your tattoo machine, you will find a place where the clip cord connects your tattoo gun to the power unit.

Here is a video on how to set up the power supply.

11. Test the Tattoo Gun

After completing the machine setup, test whether it’s working right. You can test on yourself or use an apple or pears with similar characteristics to human skin.

The tattoo needle should vibrate continuously when you press the foot switch. If it works this way, you have succeeded in setting up your tattoo machine, and you can use it on real skin.

Watch this comprehensive video to see what a tattoo machine setup looks like.

FAQs

What should a tattoo machine be set at for the lining?

Your tattoo machine should be set up on six volts for the lining. It should not make a crackling noise.

What is the proper voltage for my tattoo machine?

The machine should be around seven to nine volts when lining and eight to 10 volts when shading. Always check the user manual to find the ideal voltage depending on your machine.

How far should the needle stick out when tattooing?

a hand holding a tattoo gun

The needle should not stick out over 2 mm when tattooing and not go below 1 mm. Anytime you find excess blood when tattooing, know that the needle is penetrating too deep.

Which direction should my machine eye loop face?

Ensure the eye loop of your needle bar should face left.

Conclusion

Overall, learning how to set up a tattoo machine is not hard. 

After you set your tattoo gun, the other important thing is to master using the gun to create the tattoo. Have a firm grip on the handle to allow you to create smooth lines and avoid injuries.

Like with any other machine, ensure you take proper care and maintain your machine supplies for tattooing to enhance its functionality and durability.

hand holding a tattoo gun

How do you set up your tattoo machine? Please share below!

References

  • 1. Alberta Health and Wellness. Health Standards and Guidelines for Tattooing [Internet]. 2002. Available from: https://open.alberta.ca/dataset/608c49f9-1378-41d6-aec8-8637c85bea01/resource/fc1d7b21-15d8-49e0-8b07-aebea02de5e1/download/standards-tattooing.pdf
  • 2. Skerrett PJ. Tattoos and infection: Think before you ink [Internet]. Harvard Health. 2012. Available from: https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/tattoos-and-infection-think-before-you-ink-201210125405
  • 3. Martin S. Tattoo Tools And Equipment: Ultimate Beginner’s Guide | Tattoo Inksider [Internet]. Tatto Inksider. 2021 [cited 2022 Mar 15]. Available from: https://tattooinksider.com/tattoo-tools-and-equipment/
About Sylvia K

Sylvia is one of the most joyful people you’ll ever meet. She is a high advocate of self-love and encourages women to take care of themselves both mentally and physically. She loves girly talks especially salon talks (a little gossip doesn’t hurt) and spends most of her free time on skincare or hair care. READ HER LATEST ARTICLES. Find her on LINKEDIN. Learn more about her HERE.