Tips And Tricks On How To Tune A Tattoo Machine Properly

Written by: Pete

Understanding how to run your power supply and adjust the components on for your tattoo machine is essential to perfecting the quality of your work. You can’t just turn on a machine and hope for the best; there are precise adjustments you need to make depending on the type of work you’re doing, such as lining or shading, as well as the particular needle you are using.


Why You Should Tune Your Machine

how to tune a tattoo machine

Tuning your machine properly helps multiple aspects of the tattooing experience.

  • It ensures your tattoo needle doesn’t “hop” or jump on the skin of your client.
  • It helps the ink deposit into the dermis more thoroughly.
  • It makes sure your lines are smooth and consistent.
  • It prevents unwanted swerves when you are tattooing.
  • It helps maintain the longevity of the machine.
  • It prevents overworking the skin and causing trauma.

Identify the Key Parts of Your Tattoo Machine

Tuning a tattoo machine involves understanding and adjusting all the parts of the machine. Remember that some of these components vary for rotary and coil guns.

Machine Coils

If you are using a coil gun, how the gun runs is dependent on the coils. The coils are clear and evident pieces on these guns. There is an electromagnetic current that runs a cycle motion through the coils and this moves additional components that move the needle. The more coils your gun has, the more powerful the gun is.

Front and Back Springs

These springs are what cause the current and movement in your machine. The springs use tension to create the action that influences the movement of the tattoo needle.

Rotary Motor

If you are using a rotary machine, there is an electric motor that runs inside this machine which spins, running other components which make the needle move. Rotary motors are more consistent and predictable and do not need internal adjustments.

Contact Screw

Present on both coil machines and rotary machines that don’t use cartridges, this helps keep the current flow consistent.

Armature Bar

This is what controls the speed of the needle of your gun, moving up and down to force the needle to do its job. This is influenced by the contact screw’s force. Larger bars have a greater force but work at a slower speed, much like any lever.

Steps for Tuning

The first steps for tuning your machine include the proper adjustments of your individual components. Keep in mind that there are many machines, like rotary tattoo pens, which do not need some of these individual adjustments as they are all internally set.

If you are setting up your tattoo gun for the first time, we recommend checking out our article on, A Beginner's Guide On How To Set Up And Use A Tattoo Gun.

  • Identify the Gap - The space between the front string and the contact screw should be dime-sized space for optimal performance. You can literally slide a dime in the space to confirm, but eventually you’ll be able to eyeball this gap.
  • Adjusting the Contact Screw - The contact screw should be tightened or loosened depending on the design work you are performing.
  • Attach Your Coils - This step is only applicable for a coil machine. It’s important that your coils have a secure fit in your gun.
  • Set Up Your Needles - This is a complex process with multiple individual pieces and steps, so be sure to read our guide, here.

Tune Your Tattoo Machine in Three Steps

    1. Adjust the Power - Now, it’s time to turn on the power and run your machine. Adjust the voltage to get the speed you’ll need for your design, and make sure the current is running smoothly. If the power supply is weak or too low, there will not be enough current to move the armature bar. The machine will be at the correct voltage once you hear the infamous buzzing sound; for safety, turn up the voltage one more step once you hear the buzz
    2. Set the CPS Value to 130 - CPS indicates the Cycles Per Second of the armature bar and the movement of your needle. This will be on the display of your power supply. The contact screw is the component that regulates the CPS. If there is a low CPS on your display, tighten the contact screw by fastening it. If there is a high CPS, unfasten or loosen the contact screw. Once you’ve hit 130, you’re ready to go.
    3. Set the Duty Value to 50% - Duty Value can be read on your power supply display. It denotes how much time your machine is active during a tattoo session. It’s adjusted using the back spring on your tattoo machine. By loosening the screw that holds the rear spring and rotating the armature bar, you put a bit of pressure on the back spring. Once retightening the screw, the duty value should be adjusted to 50% on your power supply.

Common Problems for Tattoo Machines

Like any electronic device, you are likely to encounter some problems with your machine as you work with it. Here are a few of the most common problems that artists encounter.

Issues With the Back Spring Tension

This is why it is important to set the Duty Value of your machine to 50%, otherwise, your machine may denote issues with the back springs by showing sparks! Adjust the springs by loosening the screw and bending them slightly.

Machine Overheating

One of the most important reasons to invest in a quality gun and power supply is to combat issues of overheating, which can happen in cheaper machines when you push the voltage too high. In addition, this causes too much tension in the gun and gun components.

Power Problems

Power issues, such as a circuiting power supply, can often be adjusted by making sure a machine has its own outlet and adjusting the voltage.

Take a look at our top recommendations for the Top Tattoo Power Supplies

Our Final Thoughts

The easiest way to learn how to set up and tune your tattoo machine is through the mentorship of a professional. Watching what they do prior to a session and then mimicking their steps in your own practice is often less confusing than reading directions and trying it on your own. Regardless of how you master tuning, it is essential to creating successful and professional tattoos.

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