A tuned machine is a machine which exhibits smoothness, consistency and versatility in its performance, no matter the use (lining, shading...). To be able to tune or repair a tattoo machine and to make that machine do exactly what you want it to do and not have to change your style to accommodate the way the machine runs is essential.
Most of the time machines do not arrive pre-tuned and ready to tattoo. Some artists prefer different qualities in their machines and will have no choice but to tune and modify the new or old machine to their own needs. This must be done with knowledge of the machine’s function, not haphazardly…this is science and physics, not magic. All these things, combined with the artist’s technique are what make a perfect result which will not only be seen in the finished tattoo but during the tattooing process as well.
Tattoo machines work using a basic principle. Two coils are attached to a spring, and then attached to a power supply. When the gun is in a state with no power applied a spring holds two contacts together. The lower contact point is also attached to the coils and the tattoo needle. When power is applied to the circuit, the coils become magnetic, pulling the armature bar and spring down; the contacts break, opening the electrical circuit.
The spring forces the armature bars upwards, bringing the contacts together, completing the circuit again. This causes the coils to pick up and pull down the armature bar, breaking the contacts, over and over again moving the needle up and down...to fast in most cases for the human eye to see. The hum you hear are the contacts being made and breaking.
Tuning your power supply to your Machine
Most tattoo guns are DC and most power supplies come in two forms: regulated and non-regulated. Regulated means that the output voltage will always be what your setting says. If you choose 13 volts then the output will be 13 volts. Non regulated machines will give you an average of 13 volt output. The regulated machines are more expensive but save contacts and provide a more smooth running machine therefore, better tattoos. Attach your power supply to your gun; you should also have a footswitch setup so that it works as the on/off switch for power to your gun. Ensure that your gap has been set...
Liner contacts should be set the width of a dime apart and shaders should be set the width of a nickel apart. Turn on your power supply, set the output voltage to your desired speed. The higher the voltage the faster the machine will run. A fast smooth machine is good for lining and a slower machine is preferred for shading, but practice will determine your use.
Step on your foot switch; ensure proper operation of your gun by observing needle bar movement and needle tip movement. Look for needle wiggle or shimmy, correct accordingly.
Now listen to your gun. Does it sound smooth, choppy, weak or no sound at all. If your points are too far apart, the machine will not operate. Turn in your contact screw until a nice smooth hum is achieved. This is the proper setting for that voltage, observe needle bar movement of between 1/16th of an inch and 3/32nds of an inch at this time...your machine is now tuned.
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