• Tattoos and Body Art
  • Physics
  • Simple Machines (engineering)

How does a tattoo machine work?

User Avatar

Wiki User

βˆ™ 2009-09-21 23:13:24

Best Answer
Tattoo Machines

Click on the link to your right for more information.

The tattoo machine ('gun' is a misnomer) is really a basic doorbell
circuit (you know--you push a button and somewhere in the kitchen this
little arm bangs the hell out of a bell thingie). For you techies out
there it's a DC coil and spring point(s) machine. Both doorbell and tat
machine were invented before household current was available.

It is essentially in 3 sections: The base, the mechanism, and the
sanitary tube. The base really is the bulk of the metal; a rabbit ear
with a screw in it, bent at 90 degrees to hold coils. In the front
there's a round hole to hold the sanitary tube.

Some people think the base looks like the handle of a gun. The base
houses the mechanism, which consists of two coils of wire wrapped around
an iron core.

At the top of the mechanism is a set of silver contact "points" (like
the end of a wire); one usually on a spring mechanism, the other either
the end, or on the end of a screw.

The spring connects to the base and a bar, which is connected to the
needle arm (90 degrees offset). The needle arm is connected to the
needles (which are soldered onto the bar), and moves up and down inside
the sanitary tube.

The coils connect to a DC power supply (between 6 - 12VDC), via a spring
coiled U-cable. The U-cable is called a "clip cord," designed to move
easily between machines but also stay in place and not fall out and
spark all over the place. The springs hold the cable in/onto the

One side of the coils is connected to the power supply, the other end to
the point on the screw on the bunny ear, which is insulated from the
base. Through the points, the current flows via the coils and the base
of the machine. This causes the coils to become electromagnetic. The
electro-magnet pulls down the bar, which does two things: pulls down the
needles, and opens the points. The points being open turn off the
magnet. The spring assembly brings back the bar, which causes the
needles to move up *AND* make contact with the points. This causes the
whole cycle to happen again making the needles go up and down.

Most machines have a large capacitor across the coils/points, which
keeps the points from arcing and pitting, and wearing out so quickly. A
capacitor is a device that holds energy kind of like a battery, but
charges and discharges much faster (parts of a second rather than 3 or 4
hours). The capacitor charges while the points are open, so when they
close, the difference in voltage across them is nill. The points are
really an automatic switch controlled by the spring to turn the thing
off and on quickly. In old cars where there were points there was a
condenser (aka capacitor) for the same reason.

The sanitary tube sucks up the ink in capillary fashion, and the needles
load up as long as there's ink in the small portion of the tube.It's
called "sanitary" because of the cutout at the bottom of the tube, which
can be rinsed out.

My understanding is that there are three layers of skin: Scaly layer,
epidermis, and dermis. Tattoo machines are adjusted to penetrate into
the dermis layer but NOT *through* it (below it is the fat layer of the

When the needles go into the sanitary tube they have a layer of ink on
and between them. The needles make little holes in the skin, and the ink
is deposited into the holes. This is why the skin has to be stretched so
blobs of ink don't stay. Otherwise, the skin will latch onto the
needles, grab the ink from them and generally make a mess.

Ink just put into the scaly layer would be replaced quickly and fade
away. While ink into the epidermis will stay, my conjecture is that the
dermis makes for more ink and perhaps a more vivid image.

Machines are really of two types: Liners, and shaders. They areexactly
the same, but are set up differently. The gap for a liner isaround the
thickness of a dime, and a shader is the thickness of a nickel.

Liner needles are usually arranged on the bar in a circular pattern.
Shader needles are usually straight (like a comb), although Spaulding &
Rogers sells a 15-needle round shader. The needles are small sewing
machine needles, usually made of stainless steel. Liners are in 1, 3, 4,
5, & 7-needle combinations, set in a round configuration. Note: There
can really be any number of them but these seem to be most common.

Shader needles are in a straight row and usually are in groups of 4, 6,
7, 9 needles. The sanitary tubes are designed especially for the
combination of needles, so there's a special tube for each different
number of needles in a needle bar assembly

o is a needle
. is a cut down needle (shorter & no point)


Single needle 3-needle 5-needle
o o o o
. . o o o
o o


4-needle 6-needle
oooo oooooo

8-needle shaders are grouped so that 7 needles form a circle with 1 in
the middle. There are also 14-needle shaders.

8-needle Magnums:
o 5-needle 7-needle
o o o o o o o
o o o o o o o o o o
o o

Shaders are mounted on flat needle bars while liners are mounted on
round bars

There are two other types of machines. Spaulding & Rogers revolution
(don't know of an artist that uses this one), which is a DC motor that
turns a cam that raises and lowers the needle bar assembly through a
sanitary tube.


Tattoo needles do not dull with age, but instead become sharper by the
repetitive honing motion they experience in the tattoo machine.
This happens because the metal of the sanitary tube rubs against the
needles, and the softer metal (the needles) will wear. The problem with
these sharpened needles is that they sharpen into flat razor-like edges,
and begin cutting the skin instead of piercing small holes.

Since a tattoo is created by the conical shape of the needle
transferring pigment into the skin with the aid of a wetting agent, the
needle's shape is as important as its sharpness. Pigment does not
transfer into the skin as efficiently when the shape is altered, and can
also lead to scarring.

Another problem with needles is the occurrence of burs or barbs when the
needles hit the side or bottom of the pigment caps.
While it is possible to use the same set of needles for more than eight
hours (on the same client, of course), correct needle configuration,
setup, and alignment of the needle and machine are very critical.

2009-09-21 23:13:24
This answer is:
User Avatar

Your Answer


Related Questions

What is the best tattoo machine?

The best tattoo machine is produced by Intenze Tattoo. This machine is hypoallergenic and is a good starting set as it is light and the voltage is adjustable.

How do you fill in a flame tattoo?

With a tattoo machine.

Definition of a cutback tattoo machine?

Its a tattoo machine with a short front spring ,this makes the machine run faster.

How does the Rejuvi tattoo removal work?

Rejuvi tattoo removal delivers the removal formula using a tattoo or permanent make-up machine. The treatment can only be performed by a tattoo or permanent make-up artist.

What tattoo machine should you get?

Many factors might affect a person's decision for a tattoo machine. For example, the cost, the quality, the brand, and the shape should be taken into consideration. There are many kinds of tattoo machines such as the liner machine, the shader machine and so on.

When you are tattooing with a tattoo machine what should your power supply be set at?

The tattoo power supply should be set under 3V for machine. some useful parameter: Tattoo machine: 3-15V, Starting 3V,working under 6-9V. Tattoo power supply: input AC:110V-220V conversion, output DC: 0-15V conversion, starting work under 3V.

What do you clean a tattoo machine with?

well to do it correctly you have to have a sterilization machine

What tattoo machine should I start out on?

The Hyphenator 3000 from Potter Tattoo Supplies.

How do youmake a tattoo gun?

It's actually called a tattoo machine. It would be cheaper to actually buy a professionally made tattoo machine than to make one with the correct materials.

What is a regular tattoo machine?

A standard 2 coil electrical machine

How do you tune a tattoo machine?

Where could one purchase a custom tattoo machine?

One can purchase a custom tattoo machine from many different places. Local tattoo parlours would most likely sell old tattoo machines that they no longer use. One could also find these machines on sites such as eBay or Kijiji. Make sure to disinfect if buying a used custom tattoo machine.

Can you work for the mi6 if you have a tattoo?

depends on what the tattoo is

Where do tattoo artists work?

Tattoo artists work in tattoo artists that is because of what they do they cannot do it at home because everything has to be steralized

What angle do you hold the tattoo machine?

45 % angle

What is the needle gap on a tattoo machine?


How could you get a tattoo gun?

It is called a machine, not a gun.

Who invented the tattoo machine?

Samuel O'Reilly invented the tattoo machine in 1891, which was based on the electronic engraving device invented by Thomas Edison about 25 years earlier.

How heavy is the average tattoo machine?

Average tattoo machines are generally between 7 and 10 oz.

How much would a pawn shop give for a tattoo machine?

How can I get for a tatooe machine go for

Can you tattoo without having a tattoo shop?

As long as you have the licence you can run a tattoo shop from your home. That is where my tattoo artist does her work

How fast should a liner tattoo machine run?


Is a rotary tattoo machine better than a standard and why?


How do you shade a tattoo with a homemade tattoo machine?

To be honest I wouldn't suggest doing any tattoos with a homemade tattoo machine. You can pick up a good cheap professional kit off the net, google it. And as for shading the piece, you may wish to go to your local tattoo shop and ask a few questions and/or watch them. But do not use a homemade machine you will never really get the look your striving to achieve.

Who made the first tattoo gun?

Thomas Edison invented a machine that was intended for engraving and Samuel O' Reilly later made some modifications to Edison's design and then patented it as a tattoo machine.