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First Tattoo Machine: A Tattoo Beginners Essential Guide

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Last Update on December 3rd 2023 By TPS

Tattoo machines are the backbone of any tattoo artist's toolkit. The tattoo beginner, aspiring artists and enthusiasts alike need to understand the nuances of these machines to make the best choice for their needs when looking for their first tattoo machine.


This comprehensive 10 step guide provides an in-depth look at the different types of tattoo machines, their components, and the factors to consider when choosing the perfect one for your first tattoo machine. By the end of this guide, you'll be well-equipped to select a your first tattoo machine that complements your artistic style and enhances your tattooing journey.

Top 10 items to know when purchasing your first tattoo machine

1. What are Tattoo Machines?

The first electric tattoo machine was invented by Samuel O'Reilly in 1891. O'Reilly based his design on Thomas Edison's electric pen, which was originally used for duplicating documents. The electric pen worked by puncturing paper with a needle, and O'Reilly modified it to puncture skin with ink, creating the first tattoo machine. This invention revolutionized the tattoo industry, using electromagnetic principles and converting electrical energy into mechanical motion. It allowed artists to work faster and more efficiently than with traditional hand-poked methods. 

Over time, tattoo machines  also known as tattoo guns continued to evolve, with different designs and modifications catering to different tattoo styles. In the 1970s, the introduction of rotary tattoo machines allowed for more precision and control, as they eliminated the need for a separate power source. Today, there are many different types of tattoo machines available, each with its own strengths and weaknesses. Understanding the two primary types of tattoo machines - coil and rotary - is essential to help you select your first tattoo machine.

Tip: Consider experimenting with both types to find the one that feels most comfortable and natural to you for your first tattoo machine. This will be the first of many so don't get to hung up by it.

2. Types of Tattoo Machines

There are two main categories of tattoo machines: coil machines and rotary machines. Coil machines are the traditional style of tattoo machine, with electromagnetic coils powering the needles. They are known for their power and ability to handle thicker lines and shading. Rotary machines, on the other hand, use a rotating motor to power the needles. They are known for their quieter operation and smoother lines, making them a popular choice for detailed work and color tattoos.

Within these categories, there are also subtypes of tattoo machines, each with its own unique features. Some machines are designed specifically for lining, while others are better suited for shading or color work. Factors such as the machine's weight, balance, and grip also play a role in choosing the right machine for your tattooing needs.


Rotary Tattoo Machine

Mechanism: Rotary machines use a rotating motor to create a smooth up-and-down motion of the needle. This mechanism is forgiving and ideal for detailed work.

Noise and Vibration: Rotary machines are relatively quiet and produce minimal vibration, ensuring a comfortable experience for both the artist and the client.

Weight and Size: They are generally lightweight and compact, making them easy to handle and convenient for traveling.

Versatility: Rotary machines are versatile and can be used for various tattooing styles, including lining, shading, and coloring.

Maintenance: They require less maintenance due to their simpler design and fewer moving parts.


Coil Tattoo Machine

Mechanism: Coil machines use electromagnetic coils to create a powerful, rapid needle movement, offering precision and solid lines.

Noise and Vibration: They are louder and produce noticeable vibrations, which some artists and clients may find less comfortable.

Weight and Size: Coil machines are often heavier and bulkier, providing a substantial feel during tattooing.

Versatility: They are often specialized for specific tasks, like lining or shading, and artists may use different machines for different aspects of a tattoo.

Maintenance: Coil machines may require more frequent maintenance due to their intricate coil and spring systems.

Tip: Test various coil and rotary machines to identify which type aligns better with your tattooing style and comfort level. As your first tattoo machine, tattoo beginners are recommended to start with a rotary machine as these are simpler to use.

3. Tattoo Machine Components

A tattoo machine consists of several critical components, including the frame, coils, armature bar, springs, contact screws, and needle bar. Each component plays a unique role in the tattooing process.


Coil Tattoo machines

  1. Coils: Electromagnetic coils that generate magnetic fields for machine operation.

  2. Armature Bar: Attached to the coils, moves up and down, transferring motion to the needle.

  3. Front and Rear Springs: Control the machine's flexibility and responsiveness.

  4. Contact Screw: Regulates the machine's circuit, controlling the power flow.

  5. Frame: The machine's structure, holding components together.

  6. Grip: Handle acts as a counter weight to the coils and is held by the tattoo artist for control and precision.


Rotary Tattoo Machines

  1. Motor: Powers the rotary mechanism, typically housed in the pen body.

  2. Needle Cartridge: Contains needles and is easily replaceable for hygiene.

  3. Pen Body: The grip section resembling a pen for ergonomic handling.

  4. Power Connection: Links the machine to the power supply.

  5. Adjustable Needle Depth: Allows artists to control how deep the needles penetrate.

Tip: Familiarize yourself with each component and its function. Its good practice with your first tattoo machine and all subsequent ones, to learn how to disassemble and reassemble the machine for cleaning and maintenance. Wrapping your machine needs to occur each time you use it as it stops any cross-contamination that could occur.

4. Choosing the Right Tattoo Machine

Choosing your first tattoo machine can be an overwhelming task with so many brands and models available on the market. This section will provide you with a comprehensive buying guide to help you make an informed decision.

Factors to Consider

Before purchasing your first tattoo machine, there are several factors to consider:

  • Usage: Will you be using the machine for outlining, shading, or both?

  • Experience Level: As a tattoo beginner, know this will be the first of many tattoo machines.

  • Budget: How much are you willing to spend?

  • Personal Preference: What type of machine are you comfortable working with?

Tip: Seek advice from experienced artists and attend tattoo conventions to try different machines. Avoid purchasing a machine solely based on its popularity; with your first tattoo machine its a good practices to prioritize its suitability for your unique needs. Full range of tattoo machines can be found here and our tattoo beginner kits here.

5. Tattoo Machine Brands and Models

Reputable tattoo machine brands often have a range of models suited for different skill levels and budgets for your first tattoo gun. For the tattoo beginner looking to purchase their first tattoo machine, several brands and models offer affordable and user-friendly tattoo machines.


Brands like Hawkin, Dragonhawk, CNC, and Wormhole are popular choices. Hawkin tattoo machines often come with simple and easy-to-adjust settings, making them suitable for those new to tattooing. Dragonhawk, on the other hand, is known for its budget-friendly rotary machines that are lightweight and easy to handle. CNC machines are favored for their durability and consistent performance, making them ideal for beginners looking for reliability.


Wormhole offers beginner-friendly pen-style machines that are easy to control and comfortable to grip, facilitating the learning process. These brands and their respective models provide accessible options for beginner tattoo artists looking to purchase their first tattoo machine, allowing practice and skill  development at an affordable price.

Tip: Research customer reviews and ratings for specific models you are considering. Opt for well-established brands known for producing reliable and durable machines. Read our DragonHawk beginner kits review here.

6. Tattoo Machine Maintenance

Maintenance is crucial for keeping your tattoo machine in top shape and something the tattoo beginner will need to learn. Having purchased your first tattoo machine, you need to begin by regularly disassembling and cleaning all the machine components, such as the grip, needles, and tube.


Use a mild, non-alcoholic disinfectant to clean these parts thoroughly. Lubricate the moving parts as suggested by the manufacturer, like the motor and pivot points, with a machine oil designed for tattoo machines. Check the power supply and cords for any signs of wear or damage, and replace them if necessary.


Routine: Develop a regular cleaning routine, lubricate moving parts, and store the machine in a dry and dust-free environment. Be cautious with cleaning agents to avoid damaging the machine. 

Keep it clean: Regularly clean your machine after each use with an appropriate cleaning solution. This prevents the buildup of ink and debris, which can cause malfunctions and reduce performance. Never put your tattoo machine in liquid, always use a wipe to clean.

Storing: Store your tattoo machine in a clean, dry, and safe location when not in use. Avoid exposing it to extreme temperatures or moisture, which can damage the machine and its components. Make sure the tattoo machine is turned off and unplugged before you start


7. Health and Safety Considerations

A key component to learn after purchasing your first tattoo machine is maintaining proper hygiene for your tattoo machine. It's crucial to ensure the safety and well-being of both you and your clients. Here are essential hygiene tasks that should be performed on a tattoo machine:

Cleaning: After each tattoo session, thoroughly clean the machine using a medical-grade, disinfectant solution. Remove any ink, blood, or tissue residue from the machine's components, including grips, tubes, and the machine body.

Disinfection: Disinfect all reusable parts of the machine by soaking them in an autoclave or ultrasonic cleaner. Follow the manufacturer's instructions for the recommended disinfection process and duration.

Covering: Use disposable barriers or plastic wrap to cover the tattoo machine, cords, and power supply. Change these covers for each client to prevent cross-contamination.

Sterilization: For parts of the machine that come into direct contact with the client's skin, such as grips and tips, ensure they are properly sterilized using an autoclave. Sterilization is vital to eliminate any potential pathogens.

Regular Maintenance: Schedule regular maintenance sessions for your tattoo machine, during which you can disassemble it, clean all components, and perform any necessary repairs. Keep a record of these maintenance sessions.

Disposable Components: Whenever possible, use disposable grips, tips, and needles. These should be discarded after a single use to prevent any risk of contamination.

Proper Storage: Store your tattoo machine and related equipment in a clean, dry, and dust-free environment when not in use. Ensure they are protected from potential contaminants.

Tip: Always wear disposable gloves, use disposable, single-use needles, and dispose of biohazardous waste correctly. Sterilize reusable equipment according to industry guidelines.

8. Tattoo Machine Accessories

Tattoo machine accessories are essential components that complement your first tattoo machine and contribute to a smooth and efficient tattooing process. Accessories such as grips, foot pedals, clip cords, and power supplies can significantly impact your tattooing experience.

Tip: Invest in high-quality accessories compatible with your first tattoo machine. Ergonomic grips and reliable power supplies will enhance your overall performance.


9. Beginner Tattoo Kit

A beginner tattoo kit is a treasure trove of essential tools and equipment necessary for tattooing. Instead of sourcing each item individually, a beginner tattoo kit conveniently gathers all the basics in one package. From the tattoo machine and needles to ink, gloves, and practice skins, a beginner tattoo kit ensures you have everything you need to dive into the art form right away.


Tip: When looking to your first tattoo machine, opting for a tattoo beginner kit can offer a cost-effective solution, as the bundled items are often priced at a more affordable rate compared to buying them separately.

The Final Thought

Selecting the right first tattoo machine is a pivotal step for the tattoo beginner to be successful. By thoroughly understanding the various types, components, and maintenance requirements, you can make an informed decision that aligns with your artistic style and goals. Remember that safety and hygiene are paramount, so never compromise on the quality of your equipment and accessories. It's also worth considering a beginner tattoo kit when looking for your first tattoo machine as it does offer some additional benefits over purchase the tattoo machine alone. Regardless of choice, with dedication, practice, and a well-suited tattoo machine, you'll be well on your way to becoming a skilled tattoo artist.

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