Becoming a great tattoo artist isn’t simply a matter of honing your artistic skills. You must perfect your communication and listening skills, understand your clients’ wants and preferences, be adaptable, and display the utmost attention to detail. Above all else, however, you need the right tattoo machines to help you bring your designs to life.
Choosing a good tattoo machine isn’t as easy as it first appears, though. When you start looking into these devices, you can quickly become overwhelmed.
You’ll come across so many different brands and types, functionalities, and additional accessories. Not to mention that you’ll see tattoo guns at vastly different price points, making it exceptionally challenging to select high-quality equipment that fits your budget.
If you want to make the right decision, read through this thorough guide that will take you through the mistakes you’ll want to avoid, the types of machines you could use, and the factors you should consider when buying one.
5 common mistakes beginners make when choosing a tattoo machine
Mistakes are how you learn. However, not all of them need to be your own – sometimes, it’s better to learn from other people’s mistakes. Take a look at some of the most common beginner mistakes to avoid when choosing your first tattoo machine.
1. Buying a cheap tattoo gun
Becoming a tattoo artist isn’t cheap. Just the apprenticeship could cost up to $10,000 – and what about the permits and licenses, business registration, furniture, and decor for your shop? You would want to save as much as possible when starting out as a tattoo artist, but you should never cut corners on your equipment.
There’s usually a reason why a tattoo machine is cheap – it’s made of low-quality materials, it’s not well-designed, or maybe it doesn’t have all the necessary features. Whatever the case is, you can expect a cheap machine to be less reliable and less durable.
You’ll find yourself needing a replacement sooner than you’d think, so you’d eventually spend more on all the replacements than if you had just bought a slightly more expensive, higher-quality tattoo gun in the first place.
2. Not looking into the reviews
It’s in your best interest to examine other tattoo artists’ reviews, testimonials, and comments before buying your first tattoo machine.
They’ll tell you more about the user experience, common problems, and feature highlights. Some will even compare products in their reviews, explaining why one machine is better than the other or providing alternatives.
Just remember to take the reviews with a grain of salt – some negative reviews might be exaggerated and written by frustrated individuals, while some highly positive reviews might be paid. Look into a few different sources to gain a deeper understanding of the products before buying them.
3. Neglecting comfortability
As a new tattoo artist, you’re likely excited to gain experience, hone your skills, and try new things. You might want to rush and buy the coolest tattoo machines with the best designs and the latest accessories. While there’s nothing innately wrong with this, it could cause problems if you prioritize appearances and neglect comfort.
How a tattoo machine fits in your hand, how heavy, and how comfortable it is will significantly impact your work. If you can’t get a proper grip on it, you’ll make a mistake that could ruin your design. If it’s so heavy that your hands start shaking from the weight, you’ll never be able to create clean, crisp designs with straight lines. That’s why you should always prioritize comfort above all else.
4. Buying the wrong kinds of accessories
Different tattoo machines need different kinds of accessories. Rotary machines typically use smaller needles than coil machines, for instance, so choosing the right needle size is critical. Different foot pedals will work with some machines but not with others. Replaceable springs, grips, and grommets come in different sizes, so you’d waste money if you bought the wrong size.
Pay attention to the kinds of accessories you’re buying and ensure they’re suitable for the tattoo machine you’ll be using.
5. Investing in just one tattoo machine
Finally, one of the biggest beginner mistakes is buying just a single tattoo machine. Now, there’s no need to get every single tattoo gun you can get your hands on – you might buy a machine you’ll never even use. However, you should have different machines for different purposes.
Liners, for instance, are used for creating crisp lines, making them perfect for detailed work but not so great for coloring your tattoos. Shaders, as their name suggests, are used for adding depth to your designs, but they’re not ideal for creating intricate details.
You’ll need at least a couple of different tattoo machines if you want to make a name for yourself as a tattoo artist.
Different types of tattoo machines and their pros and cons
There are many kinds of tattoo machines, including liners and shaders, direct drives, pens, sliders, and more. However, there are just two main categories of tattoo machines based on how they work – rotary tattoo machines and coil tattoo machines. Take a look at them below.
Rotary tattoo machine
Rotary tattoo machines are a relative newcomer to the tattoo industry, gaining popularity only in the past decade or so. They have small yet surprisingly powerful electric motors, making them excellent for more intricate designs.
Rotary tattoo machines are lightweight and almost silent, making them the most common choice for beginners.
Coil tattoo machine
A coil tattoo machine is what you think of when you think of a tattoo machine. Dating back to the late 1800s, they are hefty, bulky, and noisy. They take some time to get used to, but once you’ve mastered them, you can create incredible designs with ease.
If you use a coil tattoo machine, remember that you’ll have to switch between different ones for different tasks. Each comes with unique accessories and equipment and is usually specialized for a specific job, such as shading or lining.
7 factors to pay attention to when purchasing a tattoo machine
Now that you’re aware of the most popular types of tattoo machines and the most common mistakes to avoid when selecting them, let’s look at some of the essential factors you’ll need to consider when making your purchase.
As previously mentioned, buying the cheapest tattoo gun you can find is usually a big mistake. However, investing in the most expensive option could be one as well.
Sometimes, you’d simply be paying for the brand name and not the quality by investing in the most expensive machine.
It’s best to go over all your options, from the cheapest to the most expensive ones, and get something in between. Again, use others’ reviews to learn more about each machine you’re interested in, then decide accordingly.
2. Ease of operation
Like with any product, ease of operation is a crucial consideration when buying a tattoo machine. Do you need to go through 300-page instruction manuals to even begin to understand how the machine works? How easy is it to set up the machine? Do you need an engineering degree to adjust the settings and turn it on?
While you are sure to get used to any tattoo machine after using it for a while, it’s always best to go for products that are easy to use right from the start. The more gradual the learning curve, the easier it will be to focus on what’s important – and that’s creating impeccable designs that your clients will cherish forever.
As discussed, comfortability can impact your work. A heavy, poorly-shaped tattoo machine will make it difficult to create high-quality tattoos that your clients will be proud of. It will also cause you significant discomfort and even pain – affecting your hands, arms, and neck.
To ensure that you buy a tattoo machine with excellent ergonomics, you should consider visiting a tattoo supply shop in person. Brick-and-mortar shops will usually have higher prices, so if you want to save money, visit them to test out a tattoo machine in person, then order it online later.
4. Low noise emission
High noise levels will impact you and your clients, especially first-time clients. Those coming to you for their first-ever tattoo are likely scared already – they don’t know what to expect from the experience, and they don’t know how painful it will be or how well the design will come out. If they hear a loud tattoo machine, they might run out the door.
For everyone’s comfort, it’s always best to purchase tattoo machines with low noise emissions.
Though it’s not something you should prioritize above all else, appearances still matter with tattoo machines. After all, if you’re trying to market yourself as a hard-core tattoo artist who creates serious designs, using a baby-pink tattoo machine with unicorn and heart decals might make your clients suspicious of your work.
Find a tattoo machine that matches your taste and style.
One of the worst things that could happen to you while tattooing a client is your machine breaking down mid-session and hurting them. That’s what happens with cheap tattoo machines made of low-quality materials.
Look for tattoo guns made of strong, sturdy frames that are still lightweight. The highest-quality tattoo machines are usually made of steel, aluminum, or brass.
7. Hidden features and advantages
Not all tattoo machines will come equipped with everything you need. For instance, the product might not include power supplies and foot pedals. You might not get replacement coil wraps or needless. When ordering your first tattoo machine, read the fine print and learn precisely what it comes with.
Additionally, pay attention to the specific features.
Can you change the stroke length, and is the machine portable? Does it come with cables, or is it wireless? Examine all the features carefully to ensure that you make the right choice.
Recommended tattoo machines
If you need additional help finding the perfect beginner-friendly tattoo machine, look at our top picks below.
Dragonhawk is a reputable brand with many high-quality products on offer. Dragonhawk Mast is lightweight, ergonomically shaped, and fantastic for beginners. It’s gentle on the client’s skin, quiet, and suitable for both lining and shading.
Cheyenne Hawk is one of the most popular brands in the tattoo industry. It has a powerful, durable motor that can easily handle working for hours at a time. It’s exceptionally quiet with minimum vibration, so working with it will be a piece of cake. The only issue is that the powerful motor can be uncomfortable for your clients, so avoid using it on those with lower pain tolerance.
On the more expensive side, the FK Flux Max is a tool for professionals that’s still beginner-friendly. It’s easy to use, comfortable, and adjustable. Forward-weighted to give you more control, it comes with 0.1 increment voltage adjustments, allowing you to fully customize the settings to suit your needs.
Last but certainly not least is the Prophet T100. It’s a wireless tattoo machine with excellent capabilities. It comes with a 35-slope OLED screen, an intelligent CRM system, a powerful motor, and a long-lasting battery that can go for up to 12 hours. It has customizable settings and an ergonomic design, and it’s virtually silent when turned on. It has just about the same configuration as top tattoo machines but only half the price. This is very attractive to tattoo artists with a small budget.
Choosing your first tattoo machine is a big deal. You’ll need to consider countless factors, from the design and weight to the price tag, ergonomics, user-friendliness, and quality of materials. Don’t be afraid to take your time when purchasing it. Go through the reviews, learn about different brands, and ask around to find out what would work best for you.