How To Set Up & Use A Tattoo Machine

  • Written By Dan Hunter on August 12, 2019
    Last Updated: November 28, 2020

In this guide, I’ll be describing the procedure for setting up and using a tattoo gun correctly. If you’re new to tattooing and not sure where to begin, keep reading for some useful tips.

The starter kit typically comes with the basic essentials, such as:

  • Needles
  • Armature bars, which is what controls the needle
  • Coil parts, which is what controls the armature bar
  • Tattoo gun, possibly more than one, depending on the kit
  • Ink: some kits include basic colors while others contain a variety

The contents of starter kits will vary depending on price.

How to Set up a Tattoo Gun Correctly

Step 1 – Arrange the Components

Putting a tattoo machine together can seem confusing the first few times you do it. Start by organizing all the parts in front of you. This will give you a better view of everything and help to make sure you assemble it correctly.

Look at the machine first. There should be a contact screw and underneath it a front spring—these should be at a distance similar to the thickness of a coin. The distance between these two points is what controls the line you’re tattooing. If it’s off, this could ruin a tattoo. Correct it by turning the drive of the screw which will increase or decrease the distance.

Step 2 – Prepare the Needles

Check your needles. These should have been pre-sterilized and supplied in an unopened package. Inspect them for any flaws. Bent or dull needles can cause more bleeding, leading to a painful tattoo and, potentially, scarring.

The tube, which is where you hold the machine, should also be inspected. There are two types: disposable and autoclaved. These should be supplied in a sealed package. If the package is opened, discard it. Insert the needle into the tube.

Step 3 – Assembly

Once the needle is in the tube, you need to insert it in the tube slot. Slide it up enough to tighten the wingnut slightly. The wingnut is what connects the tube with the machine.

Make sure the eye loop of the needle is turned to the left when you insert the armature bar nipple ring. This will ensure the needle is inserted correctly, If not correct, it could lead to a very painful skin piercing, with no ink.

Set the correct length of the needle—meaning the distance from the tip of the tube to the needle. Tighten the two screws to secure it. I recommend keeping it at between 0.04 of an inch and 0.07 of an inch.

A useful tip is to place a rubber band around the coils. This will help to stabilize the needles, resulting in a much cleaner line.


If you have a starter kit, you could have received a power supply as well. These work fine, however, there is usually no way of adjusting the settings.

I suggest buying a power supply which has either an analog or digital display. Before starting, make sure everything is tuned correctly and use the right voltage, depending on the machine. This is typically between 1.5 and 18 volts.

Another essential is a footswitch and a clip cord. The clip cord is what connects the machine with the power supply. You will most likely have to purchase these separate from the kit, although they aren’t expensive. The clip cord has to be connected at the bottom of the machine. Once everything is set up and working, you’re ready to start.

How to Use a Tattoo Gun

Keeping everything spotlessly clean is crucial, to avoid infections. Be vigilant when washing your hands before handling the machine. It’s also advisable to wear latex gloves while preparing and using the machine. This prevents any bacteria being transferred during the tattooing process.

The correct way to hold a tattoo gun is by keeping a firm grip on the needle tube. The machine tends to vibrate quite a lot, depending on the size: bear this in mind when you start. Think of the tube like a thick pencil, try to hold it similarly. Make sure the machine is over the top of your hand. If it’s underneath, you aren’t holding it correctly, and won’t be able to tattoo. Use the footswitch to control the power.

I highly suggest practicing on artificial skin or certain fruits if you’re new to tattooing. These surfaces can also help determine if the needle is correct. If there is damage, the needle is going too deep. Remember that practice makes perfect. Don’t be in a hurry to start on your first tattoo before you have tested your equipment—and your abilities. Setting up and using a tattoo gun will soon become second nature.

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