How To Set Up A Tattoo Gun:

Looking to enter the world of tattooing and wondering how to set up your tattoo gun so you can ace your lines and shapes like a pro?

Dipping your toes into the world of tattooing is exciting, but as you take your first steps as a new tattoo artist, you’re still new to this kind of body art, and learning the basics of the machine you’re using is crucial.

Having a good quality tattoo machine is a good first step to becoming a tattoo artist, but knowing the correct setup and knowing how to tune your tattooing gun is crucial; it makes a world of difference when it comes to your lines and shapes.

But wait, let me tell you something.

I’m here to help teach you hows to assemble, set up, and use your tattoo gun correctly. So if you’ve nervous and not sure where to begin, I’m here to give you the full rundown.

Here’s the full rundown!

tattoo gun

Different Types Of Tattoo Machines:

Before we start, let’s get down to the basics of the different types of tattoo machine you will find yourself getting to know in tattooing:

Rotary tattoo machine

The most common is the rotary tattoo machine; this machine is operated with a compact DC motor, which rotates clinically. The DC motor also enables more energy to be sent to the linear needle drive.

This is one of the easiest tattoo machines you’ll find amongst tattoo artists as they’re highly consistent and versatile. They are also less maintenance, and it feels like an ink pen while designing, making it brilliant for beginners.

Coil tattoo machine

Although the rotary tattoo machine is the most consistent, coil tattoo machines are the most commonly utilized machines available.

The coil machine is industry standard, and there are two options to choose from simple coiled and triple coiled tattoo machine. The coils deliver an electromagnetic circuit that drives the needle of the tattoo machine up and down.

The major benefit of the coil machine is that the speed and regulating power are fairly simple; it is also simple to personalize and interchange parts. This tattoo machine is the most popular as it offers greater performance and power.

How to Set up a Tattoo Gun Correctly

Setting up your tattoo machine is essential so it won’t fail when you least expect it. The best way to get your tattoo gun set up is to know your kit, the differences between coil and rotary tattoo machines, and how liner and shader guns differ.

Knowing these mechanics and understanding the basic operation will allow you to come to terms with the setup much quicker.

Let’s break it all down:

Step One: Arrange all the components:

At first, glance, putting your tattoo machine together can be quite daunting and confusing, but after a few tries, it should come to you more naturally.

The best way to help battle the confusion is to organize all the parts in front of you; this is because it can help make sure you assemble all the parts correctly and in the right order.

Take a look at the tattoo machine in front of you; you should notice a contact screw with a front spring underneath (around the thickness of a coin). The distance of these two parts controls the line you’re tattooing.

You need to make sure this is on as if not, it could ruin the tattoo; turning the drive of the screw will decrease or increase the distance until it is the right level.

You should also have these at hand as well as the tattoo machine itself:
  • Power supply
  • Unit with clip cord
  • Foot pedal to control the current
  • Tattoo needles
  • Armature bar
  • Ink caps
  • Inks.

These should all be included in a starter kit, but if not, you can go for these accessory components separately to ensure you have good quality components that will last.

Step Two: Prepare the needles:

First, you need to check your needles; they should be pre-sterilized and in an unopened package.

The needle condition and quality is something else that is crucial to check; they should be smooth and perfectly straight.

You should always check for flaws; if the needle is bent or dull, this can cause more bleeding and lead to a more painful tattoo. In the worst case can cause scarring– ouch!

The needle should be inserted into the tube– the tube is where you insert the needle and hold the machine; it should be inspected to ensure it is in place and up to standard.

There are two types of tubes:

Disposable: with disposable tattoo tubes, everything you need comes in one handy unit, including the grip, tube, and tip. But they need to be disposed of after every use.

Autoclaved: Autoclaved tubes are reusable, but the components are often sold separately; however, they are much more convenient than disposable ones.

Both autoclaved and disposable tubes should come in a sealed pack, and if they aren’t, you should discard them straight away.

Size of the needles:

The size and type of needle you need all depend on the task you will accomplish; if you’re looking to create dimension, you should go for a needle that varies in diameter and taper length.

Essentially the smaller the diameter, the more control you have over the ink flow; narrower needles are brilliant for detailed designs and precise lines, whereas a needle with a larger diameter will be better for shading and spreading.

The taper or point length is how deep the needle will get under the skin.

To put it simply, by type, needles are divided into liners and shaders. The liners are smaller and used for more detailed pieces; they are used to outline the tattoo image, and the shaders fill in pieces, add color and even shade the image.

To arrange your needles, you should arrange them on a single bar, liner needles sitting closely together to form a round tip while shades are placed to create a straight or curved line.

Step Three: Assembly:

Once all the machine parts have been check and prepped with the proper needles, you can begin assembling your tattoo gun.

But before you touch anything, remember to thoroughly wash your hands with antibacterial soap, scrubbing for at least 30 seconds and rinsing under warm water.

Setting up your tattooing gun is simpler than you may think; the solution is to connect all the parts and tune the tattooing gun machine the right way.

Step one: Find the contact screw and the front spring underneath; as I said earlier, they should be around a dime’s thickness– this step is crucial as it will define your linework, so precision is key.

Step Two: Unpack the needle from the sterile packaging and insert it into the tube, then slide the tube into the machine slot and tighten the wingnut, fixing the tube. Make sure you turn the needle eye loop to the left too.

Step Three: Set the armature bar nipple in place to ensure the needle is in the correct positioning on the tattoo gun machine. If this step isn’t done right, the needle could damage the skin, and there will be no ink flowing out.

Step Four: Adjust the needle length (which is the distance from the tube tip to the needle) to around 0.04 0.07 of an inch.

Step Five: If you’re using a coil tattoo machine, then make sure you slide the two rubber bands around the coils, as this will help stabilize the needle and promote cleaner lines (I would recommend doing this, especially if you’re a beginner).

Step Four: Connecting the Power Supply

The majority of beginner tattoo gun machine kits come with a fitted power supply unit to make it easier, but usually, this is not adjustable.

Getting yourself a better quality power supply with variable controls is better. It tends to be fitted with an analog or digital design, which helps you regulate the power running through the fuse to your gun.

This type of tattoo gun machine is much easier to use. It accurately adjusts the current and prevents any machine knock-downs when working in different locations that vary in voltages.

Changing The Needle In Between Colors:

One of the trickier bits to know about setting up your tattoo gun is how to change the needle between colors.

  • Firstly you should dispense all the colors you will need for the tattoo into separate color cups. When you are using a new color, all you need to do is dip the tip of the needle into the color of your choice.
  • Make sure you have a cup of clean water to rinse the needle in between colors, so you don’t have the different colors bleeding together.
  • You need to wipe off all the excess in and blood from the needle every time you dip the needle in the ink (and when you switch colors) to make sure the tip of the needle is as clean as possible, so the colors are sharp and not tainted.
  • Make sure after every color change, you wipe the tip of the needle with a paper towel to remove any excess ink with water, so again it doesn’t affect the colors in your design. 

Using Your Tattoo Gun Machine:

Keeping everything clean is critical when using a tattoo gun machine as it avoids infections. When using your tattoo gun, make sure you are vigilant and wash your hands thoroughly before handling the machine.

I recommend to wear latex gloves when preparing and using the machine to prevent any bacteria or germs from being transferred during the tattooing process.

Hold the tattoo gun with a firm grip on the needle tube; this is because the gun will vibrate a lot while using– it’s important to have a good grip.

Hold it the same way you would a thick pencil, using the footswitch to control the power, ensuring the machine is on top of your hand and not underneath. If you have it underneath, you won’t be able to tattoo.

Before diving in the deep end, make sure you practice on artificial skin or fruit to get to grips with the hand motion and hold the rotary tattoo machine.

If you notice damage on the fruit or skin, then that means you’re going in too deep; practice makes perfect after all. Don’t rush to start your first tattoo until you’ve tested and got used to your equipment and built up your confidence.

With time you will be so used to setting up and using a tattoo gun that you can do it in your sleep!

What is the difference between a shading and lining tattoo gun?

The main obvious difference between shading and lining with a shader tattooing gun is the length of the front spring; shader tattoo machines tend to have longer springs than liner machines.

A shader tattoo machine is also much more powerful as the machine requires more power to work the larger number of needles, plus shader designs offer more vibrant and bold colors.

How do you set up a shading tattoo gun?

Before you set up your shading tattoo machines, you should set the gap between the armature bar and contact screw for shading to approximately 2mm or the thickness of a nickel.

Then attach the needle tube that is ideal for shading to the tattoo gun and insert the needle bar into the tube, securing it to the machine.

Then reset and adjust the speed of the tattoo machine, so it is ideal for shading. The power supply should be around 8-10 V for shading.

Can you use a liner machine for shading?

Yes, any tattoo artist can use a shader machine to line and shade with a liner tattoo machine, but the tattoo won’t turn out as good. This is because a shader requires a different needle grouping to a liner.

You usually want a softer tattoo machine for shading.

Where do the rubber bands go on a tattooing gun?

The rubber band should be straight going around the machine rear, so the coils and the armature bar are secure and easily accessed.

How hard do I press when tattooing?

You should push the needles 1mm-2mm into the skin, needles are designed not to be pushed in too deeply, but you do need to make sure it goes in deep enough to start the tattoo.


All in all, as beginner tattoo artists, it is best to get to know the starter kit we are using, learning how to tune a tattoo machine and learning how to set up your tattooing gun is so important.

After a couple of tries and a bit of practice down the tattoo shop and at home, practicing setting up your gun and assembling your gun and you’ll be a pro when it comes to setting up your tattooing gun in no time!

Getting to know your kit and how to use your gun will make a world of difference in your tattooing skill, trust me.