Do you need multiple tattoo machines?

As a tattoo artist, one of the most common questions you’ll get from beginners is “Do I need multiple tattoo machines?” The short answer is that while you can get started with just one machine, having multiple machines offers some key benefits. In this article, we’ll look at the pros and cons of having multiple tattoo machines and help you decide if it’s worth investing in more equipment as a new tattoo artist.

The Basics of Tattoo Machines

First, let’s do a quick overview of how tattoo machines work. A tattoo machine uses electromagnets to move a needle up and down rapidly, puncturing the skin and depositing ink into the dermis layer. The main components are:

  • Frames – Hold and support all the components
  • Coils – Electromagnets that provide the up/down motion for the needle
  • Tubes/grips – Holds the needles and ink
  • Power supply – Provides power to the coils

Within these basics, there are many options when it comes to frames, coils, power supplies, etc. This variety allows tattoo artists to select machines tailored for different purposes and preferences.

Why Have Multiple Machines?

While it’s possible to tattoo with just one machine, most professional tattoo artists recommend having at least 2-4 machines available. Here are some of the biggest benefits of having multiple tattoo machines:

1. Allow Use of Different Needle Groupings

Tattoo needles come in a range of groupings – how many needles are soldered together into one tip. Common groupings are 3, 5, 7, 9, and so on. Each grouping creates different effects best suited for certain tattoo styles:

  • 3-5 RL needles – Thin, precise lines
  • 5-7 RS needles – Shading and coloring larger areas
  • 9-12 M1 needles – Dense color packing and bold lining

Having machines set up with different groupings makes it faster to switch between tasks compared to constantly swapping out needles.

2. Dedicate Machines for Different Tasks

In addition to needle groupings, it’s handy to have certain machines dedicated to specialized tasks:

  • Lining – A machine tuned for clean, crisp lines
  • Shading – A machine optimized for smooth shading
  • Color Packing – A machine capable of driving color deep into the skin
  • Portraits – A machine with finesse for detailed facial work

Having machines tailored for each application allows you to work more efficiently and achieve top-quality results.

3. Prevent Cross-Contamination

Using a different machine for each client helps avoid cross-contamination – the transfer of blood and bodily fluids. Swapping out grips or tubes between clients raises health risks if improper sterilization occurs.

4. Reduce Machine Failure Issues

No machine lasts forever. O-rings dry out, coils burn out, and components fail over time. If you only have one machine, just one malfunction means you cannot tattoo until it’s fixed. Having backup machines prevents shutdowns and missed appointments.

5. Customize Machines for Comfort

Tattoo artists often get chronic hand, wrist, and arm pain from tattooing. With multiple machines, you can customize each to help maximize your comfort.

  • Lighter machines to reduce fatigue
  • Larger grips sized for your hands
  • Rotating grips to find the least stressful angles

The ability to tailor machines to your body mechanics can extend your tattooing career.

Start with 2-3 Machines

A good starting point for new tattooers is having 2-3 machines:

  • An all-purpose machine for moderate lining and shading
  • A lining machine optimized for crisp lines
  • A color packing machine for vibrancy

This versatile setup can handle most tattoos. As your skills grow, you can add more machines for specialty techniques.

Buying Your First Machines

As a beginner, stick with entry-level or mid-range machines in the $100-$300 range per device. Top professional machines often cost $500 or more. Here are some things to look for:

  • Stainless steel construction
  • Quality components from reputable suppliers
  • Lightweight but durable
  • Easy to adjust and tune
  • Options to upgrade parts later

Ask fellow artists for machine recommendations and read reviews online from sites trusted by tattooers. Always test machines thoroughly before using on real clients.

Power Supply Considerations

In addition to the machines themselves, you need power supplies with pedal controls. A couple options exist:

  • Individual power supplies – One for each machine. More costly and space intensive initially. Allows the most customization of voltage, stroke, etc for each machine.
  • Dual power supplies – Powers two machines from one supply. More affordable and compact, but less flexibility. Useful for backup liners and shavers.

Make sure to get high-quality power supplies designed for professional tattooing. Cheaper hobbyist models can cause machine problems and inconsistent performance.

Cleaning & Maintenance

To keep machines running smoothly:

  • Thoroughly clean machines and grips after each use
  • Disinfect machines regularly
  • Lubricate coils with tattoo machine oil
  • Inspect o-rings and springs for wear
  • Change worn parts as needed

Take time to tune and test machines often. Replace any dodgy components right away. Well-maintained machines make for happier artists and healthier clients.

Adding More Machines Over Time

Once up and running, many artists gradually expand their machine collection. Extra machines allow you to:

  • Specialize in certain styles like realism or new school
  • Always have tuned machines ready to go
  • Have backup machines available
  • Experiment with machine configurations

Choose new machines that complement your existing setup. Try out different frame styles, coil types, and configurations to find your ideal workflow.

Key Considerations When Buying Machines

With many machine options out there, keep these factors in mind as your shop grows:


  • Material – Aircraft grade aluminum, iron, composite polymers, etc.
  • Geometry – How frames are shaped and assembled.
  • Comfort – Hand fatigue, grip diameter, weight distribution.
  • Tuning – Ease of adjusting spring tension, stroke, etc.


  • Wire material – Copper, silver, gold, platinum, etc.
  • Number of coil wraps.
  • Core types – Iron, neodymium rare earth, etc.
  • Power efficiency.
  • Heat management.


  • Bearings, springs, rubber pads, contacts.
  • Precision manufacturing and durability.
  • Ease of replacement and maintenance.

Machines can get highly technical – consult experienced mentors when evaluating components and builds.

Top Professional Machine Brands

Once you decide to invest in high-end machines, these industry-leading brands offer stellar quality and innovation:

Brand Notable Features
Cheyenne Pioneers in rotary technology, powerful Sol Nova machines
FK Irons Robust coil machines, carbon fiber wrapping
Baltimore Street Irons Innovative neodymium magnets, sleek designs
Dragonfly High-precision Swiss manufacturing, ergonomic grips
Bishop Carbon fiber coils, lifetime guarantee

Of course, many other quality brands exist too. Read reviews, ask around, and test machines out yourself before purchasing.

Used Machines Can Save Money

Once confident in assessing condition, buying used can get you substantial savings. Places to find used machines include:

  • Online auction and classifieds sites
  • Tattoo conventions
  • Directly from other tattooers getting rid of old machines

Inspect used machines closely prior to purchasing. Replacing a worn part here and there is fine, but run if a machine seems totally thrashed.

Questions to Ask About Used Machines

  • What condition are the coils in?
  • Why are you selling this machine?
  • How old is the machine?
  • Has this machine been serviced and tuned up recently?

Take machines for a test drive yourself rather than relying on videos. Make sure strokes feel smooth and consistent at a variety of voltages.

Renting Machines is an Option

If you want to try expensive machines without purchasing, some companies offer rentals. For example, Tattech rents machines for conventions and guest spots. Benefits include:

  • Testing machines before buying.
  • Temporary backups for your existing setup.
  • Use of niche machines rarely needed.

Drawbacks can include limited rental inventory and high demand. But renting lets you use thousands of dollars of equipment for a fraction of the cost.

Focus on Skill Development as a Beginner

In the early stages of your career, focus more on developing your technique than collecting lots of equipment. Master the basics on just a few machines first. Once you’re more established and earning steady income from tattooing, then invest in more machines.

Learning proper machine tuning and maintenance is also a better use of time than buying the latest gear. A skilled artist can do amazing work with just simple, reliable equipment.

Key Takeaways

  • Have at least 2-3 machines as a new artist: a liner, shader, and color packer.
  • Add more machines later to specialize in certain styles.
  • Buy quality entry and mid-level machines in the $100-$300 range when starting out.
  • Invest in high-end $500+ machines once established and profitable.
  • Maintain machines closely and tune them regularly for best performance.
  • Consider purchasing well-maintained used machines to save money.
  • Renting enables short-term access to expensive equipment.
  • Focus on honing technique as a beginner before buying lots of machines.

Having multiple tuned machines makes tattooing much easier. But you can still succeed with a limited budget and just a few humble machines. Skill and dedication ultimately matter far more than equipment alone when it comes to creating art.

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