How to Use a Tattoo Pen for Beginners

How to Use a Tattoo Pen for Beginners

Embarking on the journey of tattoo artistry can spark great excitement and apprehension. Modern rotary tattoo machines have completely revolutionized the age-old craft of tattooing. This comprehensive guide aims to equip beginners with extensive knowledge and detailed instructions for effectively using a tattoo pen to create beautiful works of body art.

All About the Tattoo Pen

A tattoo pen, the core tool in any tattoo artist's toolkit, allows you to precisely and controlledly deposit ink under the skin in order to create designs. There are two main types of machines you might come across as a beginner:

Rotary vs Coil Tattoo Machines

  • Rotary tattoo machines utilize a rotary motor that allows the needles to move up and down in a smooth, fluid motion. They operate very quietly, which makes them ideal for intricate line work, detailed shading, and complex tattoo designs that require a high level of precision. The lack of vibration gives rotaries unmatched control and accuracy.
  • Coil tattoo machines use electromagnetic coils to move the needles up and down. They produce an audible buzzing sound with each poke as the needles penetrate the skin. The feedback provided by the noise and vibration is useful for making bold outlines or lines requiring extra "punch". Coil machines seem to come alive in your hand, and while the buzzing can be intimidating at first, it allows artists to "feel" the tattoo process once skill and control is developed.

Therefore, rotary machines allow for finesse and intricate details, while coil machines bring the force needed for bolder, more defined lines and shading. Once an artist understands the unique capabilities and learns to master each type of machine, they can be combined to fit the needs of any tattoo design.

All About the Tattoo Pen

Preparing Your Tattoo Pen for Use

Before beginning to put ink to skin, you must properly set up and prepare your tattoo pen - the key tool used for creating body art.

  • Carefully assemble the machine by connecting the coils, contact screws, binding posts and tubes that form the basic framework. Insert needles into the needle tube grips, adjusting their depth based on the tattoo style and body area being worked on. Tighten the grip screws securely.
  • Connect the power cord from your 6-12 volt power supply to the appropriate connection point on the machine. Battery-powered supplies allow for portability. Set the operating voltage based on the manufacturer's recommendation - too high can damage the machine, while too low reduces performance.
  • Attach the foot pedal using a clip cord so you can precisely control the operation of the machine while your hands are busy tattooing.

    TATVIDA Wireless Tattoo Machine | Beginner Freindly

    Apply a $35 discount using code:  PULSE

    Developing Machine Intimacy

    To use a tattoo machine skillfully, you must develop an intimate, almost instinctual knowledge of the equipment. This means:

    • Practicing assembling, disassembling and handling all of the various parts - needles, grips, stroke wheels, contact screws, binding posts, cam followers, etc - so there are no surprises mid-tattoo. Understanding each piece will make the machine feel like an extension of your body.
    • Adjusting needle depth settings - shallow for creating faint gray lines or deep for depositing thick, dark outlines.
    • Customizing machine performance by experimenting with different stroke lengths, contact screw positions, and cam followers to find the right speed, impact, and overall "feel" based on your personal preferences.
    • Strictly following autoclave sterilization protocols and using proper barriers/disposal methods to prevent contamination or infection. This includes protective gear like gloves, masks, goggles, etc. to minimize risks.

    Your goal is to know your tools so intuitively that the machine becomes one with your hand, translating artistic vision directly into inked reality.

    Basics of Tattooing Technique

    Before unleashing your creative talents, first master the core fundamentals of the tattoo process. It all starts with the stencil - the blueprint that provides an outline for the final piece. Next, prepare the "skin canvas" to receive the artwork by thoroughly cleansing the area and removing any oils, creams or hair that could interfere with proper ink application. Carefully shave and exfoliate the area, apply the stencil solution, let it dry, and then use your transfer paper to imprint the design onto the skin. The canvas is now primed and ready.

    Choosing an appropriate tattoo design for your current skill level also matters. As a beginner, opt for straightforward pieces that allow you to get comfortable with the tools without navigating a highly complex composition. Simple phrases, geometric shapes, small symbols, or botanical elements offer great starting points. Master the basics first, then let your creativity run wild!

    Tattooing Process

    Holding the Pen

    Hold the tattoo machine like you would a normal pen or pencil - firm enough to maintain control, but not so tight that you become fatigued after prolonged periods. Get a feel for the weight, shape, and balance before touching needle to skin. Be conscious of grip pressure and tension.

    Hold the tattoo machine like you would a normal pen or pencil

    Grip Techniques

    Experiment with standard "writing", tripod, or pencil grips to find the one that gives you the highest degree of precision and comfort when operating the machine. Your grip affects the depth and consistency of lines, as well as overall control.

    Angle and Pressure

    Maintain a consistent angle of about 45-60 degrees between the machine and the skin's surface as you work. Start gently and increase applied pressure slowly as needed to ensure the needles fully deposit ink without causing trauma or excess irritation to the skin. Each area of skin and stage of the process requires a different touch.

    Starting with Outlines

    The foundation of every tattoo begins with solid outlines. Use tattoo needles configured for lining to create definitions and boundaries. Work slowly and intentionally to lay down clear, crisp dark lines that delineate the composition. Let your lines flow like ink on paper.

    Transitioning to Shading

    Once satisfied with the outlined sketch, transition smoothly into the shading phase. Switch to higher needle groupings allowing for softer, broader application. Use different techniques - dotting, feathering, stippling - to build depth, contrast and gradients. Work gradually to develop tones.

    Adding Color

    When ready, introduce and blend colors one by one, taking care to pack the pigment evenly and completely for vibrant saturation. Work systematically from light to dark, often starting with yellows and ending with blacks. Allow each layer of color to dry before moving on.

    Avoiding Overwork

    Remain mindful not to overwork the skin, which leads to trauma, prolonged healing times, damage and scarring. Recognize warning signs like excessive redness, swelling, bleeding, and changes in skin texture. Know when to stop and let the skin rest.

    Ink and Skin Interactions

    • Adjust your technique based on skin type - some clients have oily complexions, others may be very dry and sensitive. Tailor needle depth and work patterns to properly implant ink while minimizing irritation.
    • Vary pressure and motion based on skin thickness and elasticity in different body areas. Thicker skin requires more force for ink to properly take, while thinner areas demand a much lighter touch.
    • Learn to deposit the optimum amount of ink so colors are brilliantly satur-ated without damaging the skin. Select pigments complementary to the client's natural skin tone.
    • When layering or blending colors, apply lighter brighter tones first. Work up to darker shades to prevent muddying. Building this foundation prevents the colors from bleeding together.
    • Avoid overworking any given area. Know how much is too much for the skin to handle. Excess irritation leads to poor healing, scarring and weakened tattoo results.
    Adjust your technique based on skin type

    Aftercare and Maintenance

    A tattoo's story doesn't end at application. Clear aftercare guidance ensures client satisfaction and tattoo longevity - part of the artist's duty.

    Equally vital is caring for tools of the trade. Religiously clean pens and replace worn parts like needles. Well-maintained machines are durable partners in artistic journeys. Respect your equipment, and it will respect the living canvases you transform.

    Though the ink may dry, the tattoo tale persists through diligent aftercare and upkeep. For artists, clients, and machines - caring onward is the way.

    Troubleshooting Common Issues & Tips

    Tattooing has its hiccups, just like flubbed piano notes - misfires, skipped lines, and ink flow problems can occur. These issues are frustrating but familiar to artists.

    Machines overheating acts like cars on hot days, inconveniently stalling progress. Navigating issues requires steady hands and equipment familiarity, gaining an understanding of each technical quirk. Like when diagnosing a car's strange noises, tattoo troubleshooting needs inside-out machine mastery.

    You should know your tools intimately in order to quickly resolve problems as they arise. This will help keep sessions smooth so that artwork emerges unblemished by technical difficulties.

    When trouble strikes, stay unflappable; your machine knowledge determines how quickly rhythm resumes during the tattooing process.


    The mastery of using a tattoo pen is a gradual process, demanding patience and commitment. With a solid grasp of equipment, technique, and aftercare, beginners can set forth confidently on their tattooing path. Remember, every great artist was once a beginner, and with persistence and passion, anyone can leave a permanent mark on the canvas of skin.

    Read More