Tools of the Trade: What Do Tattoo Artists Use?


Tattoo artists have come a long way from using charcoal and a tapper.  The modern day tools are easier, safer, and more sanitary.  Artists pay attention to quality and flexibility of equipment.  Of course, budget is a concern, but the better their tools, the more styles they can supply, which brings in more business and acclaim.  So what exactly do modern day artists use?

Welcome to the Machine

The tattoo machine is at the heart of the artistic process.  Some work with one or several machines.  Coil machines have been around longer and are less expensive.  Alternatively, rotary machines are lighter, quieter, and more precise in moving the needle.  Electric machines run on DC power, affixed with switches for hands-free manipulation.  Power sources depend on the kind of machine chosen.

You Need the Needle

Tattoos can’t be provided without the needle.  Needles vary depending on a chosen task.  It’s rare that a tattoo necessitates just one needle.  Needles come in round and flat varieties.  The two types of flats are simple flats and magnums.  The former is arranged as a single row of needles.  Magnums are double rows in a staggered arrangement.  Artists decide on an arrangement depending on desired shading and coloring.

Tools of the Trade: What Do Tattoo Artists Use?

Inks Are Where It’s At

Needles force ink under the surface of the skin.  Inks are mixed pigment powders, including water and alcohol, propylene glycol, or glycerin.  Pigments are made from a variety of chemicals that include carbon, metals or metal oxides.  Inks may be pre-mixed or artists can buy pigments and carriers separately.  Pre-mixed varieties are pre-sterilized.

The Bare Necessities

Aside from the major components, tattoo artists need other elements.  Each artist needs an autoclave, which sterilizes equipment.  Gloves and anti-bacterial soap are tattoo parlor staples.  To make a comparison, a tattoo shop needs similar equipment found at a dentist’s office; it’s important to protect patients and themselves from infections and blood-born diseases.  Artists shave an area of the client’s skin to better prepare for it to accept the ink.  If you’re interested in learning information about additional tools, find more at

The Modern Era

Tattoos have existed in various forms for a long time, but in today’s society, they are more accepted and widely sought.  Therefore, it’s likely you have a number of questions if you’re considering getting your first tattoo or if a loved one is thinking about getting “inked.”

Are They Safe?

Again, making a comparison to other kinds of services, accidents and infections can occur, but generally, as long as you choose a reputable artist and studio, you have very little to worry about.  The practice offers no more risk than getting a tooth pulled, an ear pierced, etc.  Of course, you should stay away from people who are looking for people to ‘practice’ on or don’t have an official shop, tattooing out of their house or garage.  Yes, there are procedures that address tattoo removal, yet it’s more or less a permanent process, so you should take your time in choosing a good artist.

Does It Hurt?

Different people have varying tolerances, but this remains as one of the most common questions.  It does not tickle, but is it akin to breaking a bone?  No, not at all.  The area of the body and size of the tattoo will be variables.  For example, even if you have a high tolerance for pain, getting a tattoo on your chest, where there is little fat tissue, can be painful, especially if you desire a large tattoo that will require several hours to complete.

Depending on the patient and the artists’ schedule, you may have to come in for several sessions if you want a tattoo to cover a large area of the body.  Tattoo artists admit that a person’s expectation for pain is probably worse than the actual irritation provided by the needles.  Also, the temperament of the artists and their willingness to make you feel comfortable helps with receiving the ink.   Also, experienced artists take the area of the skin into consideration regarding how hard they press down on the needle.

How Can I Ensure I Get a Great Finished Product?

As mentioned above, be sure to choose a reputable artist with an established studio.  Most artists understand a person’s tendency to be reluctant, so they will display their art on the walls along with pictures of finished products.  Moreover, if you are not choosing a pre-made design from the wall or a book, a good artist will sketch it out and show you what the finished product will look like.

Of course, artists require skill but it’s not like they are using a needle freehand on your skin.  They will sketch out the design and then provide you with a temporary tattoo.  When the ink is applied, they are more or less following the lines already present.

David Taylor is a tattoo artist who specializes black and white tribal work. With a newly opened tattoo studio employing 3 other tattoo artists he is writing articles to help spread his name online.

Image Credit: ShutterStock

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