How to Tune a Tattoo Machine for Lining and Shading [Tricks]

Before you can use your tattoo machine, you need to learn how to tune a tattoo machine. Every tattoo artist has preferences, and in time, you will develop your own.

When tuning your tattoo machine, it can be done for lining and shading. Knowing the basics for each of these methods is essential for tattoo artists just starting out.

The steps are simple, and it won’t take you long to master, but you will find that it makes the tattoo process easier, and you’ll be on the path to expert tattooing in no time.

Key Takeaways:

  • Tattoo machines need to be tuned regularly for optimum performance.
  • Knowing how to tune a tattoo machine is essential for any tattoo artist.

How to Tune a Tattoo Machine for Lining

The lining is all about creating the outlines for a tattoo using the stencil on the skin as a guide. 

This is the first and most DELICATE step of the tattooing process, and if you get this right, then the shading aspect will be much easier. [1] 

Let’s start learning all about coil tattoo machine tuning. It should be noted that the processes here are all designed for a coil machine tattoo gun.

I also suggest you watch this helpful video to see a visual demonstration of the steps I am outlining here:

Step One: Get Prepped

First, you need to make sure you’ve made the necessary preparations. This includes CLEANING the machine, making sure it’s lubricated, and organizing your needles.

Step Two: Do Your Checks

Now, you need to look at your machine’s settings and ensure everything is in check. 

You will want to ensure the VOLTAGE is set correctly, the stroke length is appropriate, and everything else looks good [2].

Pro Tip: Always ensure the armature bar is depressed before you get started.

Step Three: Make Adjustments

Once all of your checks are done, it’s time to make any adjustments that you need. You’ll want to adjust the voltage so the machine runs SMOOTHLY but is not too hot. 

You’ll also want to adjust the contact screw tip and armature bar to balance power and speed.

Pro Tip: The spring tension should be set to the same tension on both coils. This will ensure that power is evenly distributed and your tattoo machine runs smoothly.

Step Four: Needling

Now that all of your settings are adjusted, it’s time to start needling. 

Make sure you use the right type of tattoo NEEDLES for the job and that you have the right depth set on the machine.

Step Five: Make Final Adjustments

Finally, after you have completed the lining tuning process, you will want to make any FINAL adjustments that need to be made. 

This includes double-checking your settings and ensuring everything is running smoothly.

If you’re just starting out as a tattoo artist, our article “Tips for Beginner Tattoo Artists” offers valuable insights and practical advice to help you hone your skills and build your reputation. Don’t miss out on this essential read to help you succeed in the industry.

How to Tune a Tattoo Machine for Shading

The shading process is all about bringing the details in your tattoo work to live. The colors will look incredible, and good work means you WON’T end up with smudged lines. 

Tuning for shading is another important part of the process, as it will help maximize your chances of success.

Step One: Get Prepped

Again, you must ensure that your machine is properly CLEANED and lubricated before you begin. 

Everything should be sterilized, and you should have all of your needles organized ahead of time.

Step Two: Make Adjustments

Now, you will need to adjust the voltage and other settings on your machine. 

The aim is to find a BALANCE between power and speed so that you can control the shading process accurately.

Pro Tip: This is also a good time to adjust the tattoo machine’s thumb screw, especially if you want to avoid too much tension.

Step Three: The Needling

After your adjustments are made, you can BEGIN needling. Make sure the needle is the right size and shape for what you’re doing and that it’s properly secured in the machine.

Step Four: Adjust Speed Settings

Once you have started the shading process, you’ll want to adjust the speed settings. 

This is so that you can CONTROL how quickly or slowly the needle moves over the skin. 

This is important, as it will help prevent any smudging or blurring of the lines.

Pro Tip: You’ll want to start with your tattoo machine’s speed on a lower setting until you get more used to the process.

Step Five: Inspections and Tests

Lastly, you will want to INSPECT the tattoo after it is completed and ensure everything looks good. 

Test the shading process by rubbing the area with your finger and ensuring there are no smudges.

What Else Do You Need to Do to Your Tattoo Machine?

Once you learn how to tune your tattoo machine, there are still a few things you need to do to keep it in GOOD working order. 

You will want to clean and lubricate it after each session, as well as replace any worn-out parts that may be causing problems.

Additionally, you should always store your machine CORRECTLY when not in use. This will help it last a long time and work as best as possible when you need to use it.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do You Have to Tune a Rotary Tattoo Machine?

Yes, you should tune a rotary tattoo machine even though it’s not as complex as coil machines. 
The settings need to be adjusted so that they run at the right speed and power for optimal shading work.

How Often Should You Tune Your Tattoo Machine?

understand the coil tattoo machine anatomy

It is recommended that you tune your tattoo machine at least once a month. This will help keep it in top condition and ensure that it is always running at its best.

What is the Correct Voltage for a Tattoo Machine?

This will depend on the type of work you’re doing. Generally, lining requires higher voltage than shading and color-filling. 
The best way to find the right setting is to test different voltages and pay attention to how your machine responds.


Learning how to tune a tattoo machine is a CRUCIAL step in the process of doing professional work. 

It ensures that your lines and shading will look perfect, and there won’t be any smudging or blurring. 

EVERY professional tattoo artist eventually develops their own tuning preferences.

Take the time to clean, lubricate, adjust settings, and test your machine BEFORE each session to get beautiful results every time. 

We hope this guide has been of help to you and you are able to start tuning your tattoo machine to your liking.

hand holding a tattoo machine


  1. Outlining or Shading a Tattoo: Which Hurts More? Byrdie. Published 2014. Accessed December 27, 2022.
  2. What Voltage Should You Tattoo With? | Tattooing 101. Tattooing 101. Published August 11, 2022. Accessed December 30, 2022.
About Edith Russo

Edith is a self-made entrepreneur with a keen business sense that others admire and a total “can-do” attitude. She’s always coming up with new ideas to anticipate her readers’ needs and help solve all their toughest beauty and skincare problems. READ HER LATEST ARTICLES. FOLLOW HER on Linkedin and Twitter. Learn more about her HERE.

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