A Step-by-Step Guide on How to use a Tattoo Gun

How to use a Tattoo Gun

Did you know that mistakes are actually quite common when tattooing a client? Just like any other profession, tattoos aren’t always error-free. But if you’re a professional, those mistakes will rarely be noticed and will be simple to fix.

If you aren’t a professional though, you need to ensure that you know your way around a tattoo gun and how to correct yourself when you slip up. Or better yet, how to ensure that you don’t make any mistakes and continue providing high-quality work with as few imperfections as possible.

Learning how to use a tattoo gun properly might seem daunting but if you know the steps, the process is simple, and using one will start to feel like muscle memory at a certain point.

We’re going to break down all of the steps involved with using a tattoo gun, so keep reading to learn what a tattoo machine is, how to use it, and how to use it in a safe way.

What Is a Tattoo Gun?

If you’re wondering, “what is a tattoo gun,” it’s one of the most important aspects of the entire process of giving a tattoo. In the shortest terms, it’s the tool that actually transfers the ink into your skin. It uses a rotary oscillating needle that comes in contact with your skin to create the tattoo.

The power of the machine creates a vacuum in a way that allows the ink to be pulled into the skin. The ink can make it as far as your lymph nodes.

Additionally, the machine vibrates the needle to help break down the skin so that the ink can be absorbed. It is important to note that the type of tattoo machine you use can affect the quality of your tattoo.

The tattoo machine is usually made up of three primary parts:

  • Needle
  • Armature bar
  • Tube

Modern tattoo guns will use electromagnetic coils that work to move the armature bar. That bar is what uses the barred needle to start pushing ink into the part of the skin where you are transferring your design.

You will notice that a tattoo gun will also consist of other parts such as o-rings, the top binding post, the back spring, the frame base, etc. A tattoo gun is made up of a variety of small parts but all you need to be aware of is the type of machine you are using and the quality of your work versus the mechanics of it.

Wondering How Deep Tattoo Ink Goes?

The pigments from tattoo ink will get imprinted within the dermis, which is the connective layer of tissue right between the epidermis, or your top layer of skin, and the subcutaneous tissue. This is something that would be helpful to know because your clients might ask. The actual ink goes about 1.5 to 2 millimeters below the surface of the skin.

The reason for this is to ensure the design is layered beyond the epidermis since the outer layer of skin does shed over time. Keep in mind that the epidermis layer sheds and then our body replaces that layer of skin. If the tattoo isn’t reaching the dermis, the tattoo would be more of a temporary design rather than permanent.

The depth that the tattoo gun must go to transfer the design is the reason for the pain. Our blood vessels and nerves will be in this area and these are the reasons why clients will bleed and have pain in the area where you are applying the tattoo.

As an aspiring tattoo artist or enthusiast, you should also know that there is such a thing as too deep. If you go past the dermis and reach the subcutaneous layer, you could put the client at risk for irreversible scarring. This is referred to as “blow-out,” so keep in mind that you should be going exactly 1/16th of an inch deep into the skin to keep from over-traumatizing the client. 

How to Use a Tattoo Gun: Step by Step

Learning how to use a tattoo gun isn’t difficult. After learning to assemble them and understanding what settings work best for certain designs, it will become easier. One of the top tattoo gun tips to remember after setting up will be to continue practicing and not rush the process.

To get started with your client, you’ll need to follow the steps below.

Sterilize Your Equipment and Wash Your Hands

You need to sterilize everything you use, for every project you take on. The tattoo gun itself needs to be sterilized along with any other tools you plan to use. Washing your hands is also important, although you’re expected to wear gloves.

This step is vital to ensure safety for yourself and the client, given that you’re breaking the skin and that blood will be present. This is one of the best ways to limit cases of contamination or infection of the area that you’re tattooing, so always wear medical-grade gloves.

Assemble Your Equipment if You Haven’t Already Done So

Depending on your experience, you will need to decide on what you’re using. Often, you’ll be buying the pieces individually or you’ll be buying a kit. The good thing about a kit is that it’s beginner-friendly.

The downside is that they are often of lower quality and this is something that could affect the quality of your work. Individual pieces may be for the more seasoned artist but will result in higher-quality designs. Before starting, you will need to put the tattoo machine together based on the method you’re using.

Set the Needle Length

The needle will fit well into the slot designated for it. The needle shouldn’t go any farther than two millimeters past the entry point of the tattoo gun. It should also go no less than one millimeter past the entry point.

A 12-gauge needle is usually seen as the standard, but it depends on what you plan to use it for. Eight and 10-gauge needles are also common. A 10-gauge may seem more usable because it doesn’t slow down as easily as an eight gauge.

While a 12-gauge is often the most popular option, it’s mainly due to the fact that they are the easiest choice for shading larger areas. Keep in mind, though, that the flow of ink will be faster for this option. When setting your needle length, you need to be aware of the different needle diameters and the uses they are meant for.

Place Everything as You Need It

Having everything pre-placed limits mistakes. This should always happen before starting, and each ink cap you use should be within the barrier of all of the equipment that you’ve laid out. 

Plug in the Tattoo Gun

Before taking clients, decide if you’ll be using an analog or digital power source. You want to fine-tune the voltage as well before you put the needle close to the skin.

Start Pouring in the Ink You’re Working With

Preparing the ink you need will involve having a different cap of ink for each color you’re using. You will use the housing bottle to fill the ink caps and you should do your best to only let the needle touch the ink and not the actual cap.

Do a Test

One of the most important things to do is to test the machine first. You should try running the gun on the skin of something like a certain fruit or something you don’t need. This should always be done before you start tattooing on actual skin.

Also, while testing that all of your equipment works and that the ink transfers properly, you should also offer your client the option to have a skin test done. This is mainly to see if the client has a reaction to the ink.

The skin test is usually done 24 hours before the actual appointment, as this would be enough time to notice any adverse reactions. The test should be on a rarely seen area of the skin and should be a barely noticeable drop of ink. Tattoo ink allergies are rare but this should still be offered to the client.

Start Tattooing

Getting started might be harder than the setup process. That may only be if you haven’t used a tattoo gun before. After putting everything together, getting started and finishing the design is all you have to focus on.

With this, using an outline and lining the tattoo is the best way to get started, although it can be difficult to line the tattoo your first time. To get you started the right way, ensure everything is set correctly. Tattoo machines go anywhere from four to 12 volts.

Most tattoo machines should run anywhere from 7.5 to 8.5 volts when you’re designing on the skin, although you can go to nine volts when you’re lining the tattoo. Adjust this depending on where you are in the process.

For example, if you’re shading, you can get closer to 10 volts if needed, Eight volts should often be your minimum. Finding the right balance won’t take long, but this is why a practice run is always encouraged.

Learning Every Trick of the Trade

Becoming a tattoo artist will open doors to a growing and lucrative career. Whether you want to learn the trade and work under someone with more experienced or you decide to work for yourself, to get started the right way, you need to learn your way around a tattoo gun.

Florida Tattoo Academy is a faster and safer way to unlock a career with expert tattoo artists on staff to guide you. To get started, request information about our program and get ready to reserve your seat for your next career move.