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How to maintain your tattoo gun: Tips and tricks for longevity

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Maintaining your tattoo gun is not just about ensuring your equipment is operational; it's about safeguarding the quality and safety of the tattoos you create. Over time, even the best tattoo machines can suffer damage to wear and tear, leading to inconsistent performance, increased maintenance costs, and potential dissatisfaction from your clients.

So, we'll explore essential tips and tricks for keeping your tattoo gun in top condition, extending its lifespan, and ensuring it performs optimally every time you ink.

What is a tattoo gun?

 

a tattoo gun dipping in a tattoo ink

 

A tattoo gun, also called as a tattoo machine, is a handheld device used by artists to create permanent tattoos on the skin. It operates by rapidly moving a needle in and out of the skin, injecting ink into the dermis layer.

This precise movement allows artists to create detailed and intricate designs. Tattoo guns can vary in type, including rotary and coil machines, each with its own specific mechanisms and use.

Regular maintenance tips

1. Routine checks and adjustments

  • Needle alignment: Check the needle's alignment before starting any tattoo session. Misalignment can cause uneven lines or damage to the skin.
  • Voltage adjustments: Regularly check and adjust the voltage settings on your tattoo gun. Different styles of tattooing might require different voltages, and maintaining the correct voltage will ensure the best results and prevent overheating.
  • Spring tension: If you are using a coil tattoo machine, check the springs' tension. Proper tension is crucial for optimal performance. If the springs are too loose or too tight, they can affect the machine's function.

2. Cleaning procedures

  • Grip and tube: Remove and clean the grip and tube regularly to remove residual ink and debris. Sterilise using an autoclave.
  • Ultrasonic cleaners: For a deep clean, use an ultrasonic cleaner to help remove ink particles from small crevices. Ensure that the cleaner is suitable for tattoo equipment.
  • Disassembling the machine: Follow the manufacturer's proper disassembly and reassembly guidelines. Clean each part thoroughly.
  • Autoclaving: Sterilise metal components, such as grips and tubes, to ensure they are free of contaminants.
  • Dry properly: After cleaning, make sure all parts are completely dry before reassembling your tattoo gun. Moisture can cause to bacterial growth or rust.

3. Advanced maintenance

  • Motor lubrication: Periodically lubricate the motor if recommended by the manufacturer.
  • Replacing worn parts: Check for wear on components like springs, contact screws, foot pedals, and armature bars. Replace any worn or damaged parts promptly.
  • Calibrating needle depth: Regularly calibrate the needle depth to ensure consistent and accurate tattooing results.

Essential maintenance products

 

an artist holding a tattoo gun

 

  1. Medical-grade disinfectant wipes: For cleaning and sanitising surfaces and components after use.
  2. Enzymatic cleaner: Breaks down protein residues such as blood and ink from metal parts.
  3. Autoclave or cold sterilant: Sterilises equipment that can either withstand high heat or requires cold sterilisation.
  4. Tattoo machine oil: Lubricates moving parts to ensure smooth operation.
  5. Basic tool kit (Allen wrenches, screwdrivers, pliers): Essential for disassembling and adjusting the tattoo gun.
  6. Tension gauge: Helps adjust the tension on springs accurately.
  7. Ultrasonic cleaning machine: This uses high-frequency sound waves to clean parts thoroughly.
  8. Clip cord covers and machine bags: Disposable covers that help prevent cross-contamination.
  9. Rust prevention spray: Prevents rust and maintains the integrity of metal components.
  10. Spare springs, contact screws, and needles: For quick replacements and repairs during tattoo sessions.

Storage tips for tattoo guns

Clean before storing:

Always ensure your tattoo gun and its components are thoroughly cleaned and dried before storage to prevent rust and contamination.

Dry environment:

Store your tattoo equipment in a dry environment to avoid moisture, that can lead to bacterial growth and corrosion.

Protective cases:

Use protective cases specifically designed for tattoo equipment. These cases organise your tools and provide cushioning to prevent physical damage.

Temperature control:

Avoid storing tattoo guns in places with high-temperature fluctuations. Consistent, moderate temperatures help prevent the degradation of metal and electronic parts.

Upright position:

If possible, store the tattoo gun in an upright position to avoid any pressure on delicate parts, which might bend or misalign under continuous pressure.

Dust covers:

Even in a case, it's wise to use a dust cover to prevent airborne particles from settling on the equipment, which could interfere with mechanical functionality.

Separate components:

If space allows, store components separately to avoid unnecessary stress and contact that could cause wear and tear.

Avoid direct sunlight:

Store your tattoo gun away from direct sunlight. UV rays can degrade certain materials over time and cause fading or weakening.

Regular checks:

Even during storage, periodically check your tattoo gun for any signs of oxidation or other issues. This can help you address problems before they lead to permanent damage.

Troubleshooting common issues in tattoo gun

 

an artist tattooing a client using a tattoo gun

 

Machine not powering on:

  • Check all cables are securely connected, including the power supply to the machine and the foot pedal.
  • Inspect that the power supply is functioning correctly and delivering consistent voltage.

Inconsistent power or erratic needle movement:

  •  Clean and adjust the contact points (front spring to contact screw). Any dirt or oxidation can affect the conductivity.
  • Adjust the power supply voltage. Different techniques and needle groupings may require different voltages.
  • Check if the armature bar and springs are properly aligned and tensioned. Incorrect tension can lead to erratic needle movement.

Excessive noise or vibration:

  • Ensure that all screws and bolts on the tattoo machine are tight. Loose parts can cause additional vibration and vibration.
  • Properly lubricate moving parts to reduce friction, which can cause excessive noise and wear.

Needle problems (sticking or not moving smoothly):

  • Check if the needle is installed correctly and securely. Make sure it moves freely without any obstructions.
  • Ensure that the needle bar and tube are perfectly aligned so that the needle can move smoothly.

Poor ink flow:

  •  If the ink is too thick, it may not flow properly. Consider diluting it with an appropriate diluent.
  • Verify that the needle and the tip are compatible in size and shape, ensuring optimal ink flow.
  • Ensure the tip and the entire tube are clean, as clogs can prevent ink flow.

Overheating:

  • Allow your machine to rest periodically to prevent overheating, which can damage the motor and affect performance.
  • Inspect the wiring for any shorts which can cause overheating.

Upgrading and replacing parts

Coils

Coils are crucial for the machine's operation as they generate the electromagnetic field that drives the needle. Upgrading coils can help improve the tattoo machine's performance, especially if the original coils have degraded over time. Higher-quality coils can provide more consistent power output and better heat resistance, enhancing both lining and shading work.

Armature Bars

Armature Bars directly influence how the tattoo needle moves. Switching out the armature bar can adjust the machine's speed and hit. Lighter armature bars generally increase the speed, which is ideal for precise lining, while heavier bars are better suited for shading as they provide a stronger hit and more control.

Capacitors

Capacitors play a role in the tattoo machine's power stability, smoothing out the electrical current that powers the coils. A worn-out or inadequate capacitor can lead to power fluctuations, affecting the machine's performance. Upgrading to a capacitor with a suitable microfarad rating can stabilise performance, with higher values typically used for shading and lower for lining.

Springs

Springs affect the machine's responsiveness and flexibility. Over time, springs may lose their tension or become bent, which can alter how the machine runs. Replacing old springs with new ones can restore the machine's original functionality or even customise its responsiveness to better suit different styles of tattooing.

Contact Screws

Contact Screws are essential for the electrical circuit in coil tattoo machines. These screws can wear down or corrode, which impacts the conductivity and, consequently, the machine's performance. Upgrading to a high-quality contact screw made from materials like brass, copper, or silver can ensure better and more consistent conductivity.

Needle Bars and Tubes

Needle Bars and Tubes are the parts through which the needle moves. Frequent use can wear these parts out, affecting the stability and precision of the tattooing process. High-quality or speciality needle bars and tubes can enhance performance, especially with options like disposable tubes or ergonomic grips for better control.

Power Supplies

Power Supplies are pivotal for regulating the electricity that powers the tattoo machine. Upgrading to a more sophisticated power[ supply can provide more precise control over the voltage, which translates into smoother and more consistent needle movement, crucial for both detailed work and overall machine reliability.

Foot Pedals

Foot Pedals control the start and stop mechanism of the tattoo machine via the power supply. A reliable foot pedal is crucial for maintaining control over the tattooing process. Upgrading to a high-quality pedal can provide better control and responsiveness, which is particularly important during long tattoo sessions.

Clip Cords and RCA Cables

Clip cords and RCA cables connect the tattoo machine to the power supply, and they need to be in good condition to ensure consistent power delivery. Over time, cables can fray, get twisted, or break, leading to power loss or fluctuations. Upgrading to durable and high-quality cables ensures reliable and uninterrupted operation.

Final thoughts

Keeping your tattoo gun well-maintained is key to making it last longer and helping you do your best work. Implementing the straightforward tips in this article, you can avoid common issues, reduce repairs, and keep your equipment in good shape. A reliable tattoo gun ensures high-quality tattoos and helps maintain your professional reputation.

 

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  • Mark Joshua Luz
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