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How to Tune Your Tattoo Machine for Lines and Shading

The art of tattooing is a highly complex process to begin with, but many that are just getting their start in the art overlook the regular tuning that is essential to keeping their tattoo machine running smoothly.  A properly tuned machine can keep lines and shading the highest quality possible. There is also the added benefit of less wear on the machine, helping to extend its life.  In this post, we’ll look at the basics of tattoo machine tuning that will be necessary in everyday use.

Contact Screw

The contact screw is vital to the performance of your tattoo machine.  It plays an important role in adjusting the length of the stroke.  Moving the contact screw up or down changes the gap between it and the armature bar resulting in a longer or shorter stroke.

As you use the tattoo machine, carbon will build up on the contact screw and can affect performance.  The carbon buildup can be gently filed or sanded off, but take extra care not to damage the screw itself while clearing the buildup.  When replacing the contact screw, it is best to use a silver screw due to its soft nature, but copper, brass and stainless steel will all work as well.

Tuning for Lines and Shading

To the seasoned user, the idea of tuning a machine for lines or for shading may seem like a mundane task.  But, for many new users it can be a bit daunting and confusing.  This process comes back to the contact screw and adjusting the armature bar gap, or the gap between the end of the screw and the armature bar.

For line work it is usually recommended to use a shorter stroke.  The common measurement for this is roughly 1mm, just about the thickness of a dime.  Alternatively, when tuning the tattoo machine to perform shading, you want to leave a larger gap.  This will create a longer stroke for the needle.  Typically, you want to set an armature gap closer to 2mm, or about the thickness of a nickel.  Play around with various gaps and experiment a little, and over time you will find the perfect tuning for your needs.

It is very important that you understand how to properly tune your tattoo machine when getting your start with tattooing.  There is much more to this complex art than the simple adjusting of a contact screw to increase or decrease a gap, but you have to start somewhere, and lines and shading are the most important part of any tattoo, so what better place to start?