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Guide to Buying Tattoo Supplies

Updated on November 11, 2009
by Mr. Wright
by Mr. Wright

Tattoo Tools

Whether you're just getting into tattooing or you're a more experienced tattooist, you may be interested in checking out new tools... Well, more than likely if you're a more experienced tattooist you're already pretty set in your tattooing tools and brands, but for those just getting into the business, you may find some usefulness out of this.

When tattooing, and learning how to tattoo, you want to make sure that you have all the right tools and supplies before you get started. By having appropriate tattoo needles, tattoo gun, and other tattoo machine parts, you should be prepared for anything that comes your way... Granted you have some experience and/or an experienced tattoo artist behind you back teaching you the ticks of the trade.

You want to shop around a bit and do a little trial-and-error before choosing the right tattoo tools that work for you for the money you pay. Once you've found that style, type, and brand, stick with it.

You may consider asking more experienced tattoo artists which tattoo tools they use, which ones they prefer, and which ones are terrible.

Below, you'll find a quick guide to purchasing tattoo tools and supplies.

Tattoo Guns

The actual tattoo gun is essential to any and all tattoos; it's the tool that pushes the ink into the skin. When purchasing a tattoo gun, you want to make sure that you're getting the right machine and gun for the price.

The first thing you want to consider is purchasing a high quality metal such as iron, copper, or brass. This will ensure the durability of the tattoo gun.

You can find brass tattoo guns with cool designs, such as dragons, skulls, eagles, and more. These guns work well, are made of a heavy metal, and look cool.

Next, decide if you want an all-in-one gun or if you want to have 2 different ones- 1 for lining and 1 for shading. The tattoo guns that both line and shade, tend to need more adjustments and are typically more powerful.

Once you've decided what metal and what type of tattoo gun you want, you'll want to shop around and compare prices. You don't necessarily need the most expensive, but remember that you pay for what you get, so you don't necessarily want to buy the cheapest, either.

  • In order to keep your tattoo gun at opptimal performance, you will need to tune it occasionally. You can either learn the machine and tune it yourself, or have someone tune it for you.
  • Buy a tattoo gun that matches your experience level. Consider buying a tattoo kit (see below for more information).
  • You need to wipe the tattoo gun down and fully sterilize it between people to ensure proper health and safety. You need to do this even if you fully wrap the gun during a tattoo.

Tattoo Needles

When buying tattoo needles, make sure that you stock up with a variety of needles so that you always have needles for shading and various sized outlines and details. You want to make sure to have small needles for thin outlines, tiny details, and small tattoos; large needles for bold outlines and larger fill areas; and shading needles.

  • Liner needles are those that are grouped in a circular pattern and used mostly for outlining tattoos. You want to make sure that you get a good mix of sizes; typical sizes are 3, 4, 5 and 7, but you may consider needles grouped in 8, 9, 11, 13, 14, 15 and 18.
  • Shader needles are those generally grouped in rows two to form a flat shape, which is why they are commonly referred to as flats. Shader needles are typically grouped in 4, 6, 7 and 9, but the combinations are endless and for the most part up to you. Shader needles are not only used for shading but also blending, as well as filling in large amounts of color, which is why many tattooist use round liners or magnum (mag) liners for the larger fills. The largest shader you can buy are 45 flats or 100 round.

When buying tattoo needles, you want to shop around, so that you can compare quality with price. Price includes shipping in addition to the actual needles. Factor in shipping costs with shipping times; most larger companies will charge flat rates based on the size of the order.

When you find the needle that is of great quality most of the time and is a reasonable price, you want to stick with that company.

  • Check each needle for burs, barbs, or just too much gap between each individual needle before using the needle, as you could scar the client.
  • This is more common sense, but it can't be repeated enough- NEVER reuse tattoo needles, especially from one person to the next; you can spread a myriad of bloodborne pathogens and diseases.

Tattoo Machine Parts

There are three essential parts to any tattoo machine- power supply, footswitch, and clipcords. You can either buy each part separately, or you can purchase a tattoo kit (see below).

You will want to keep extra parts on hand so that you can fix broken tattoo machines. It's not uncommon for a spring to break or capacitor to fail. By keeping spare parts on hand, you won't have to stop use for the day.

You can either purchase rebuild kits, which will provide everything you need to fix or rebuild a tattoo machine, or you can purchase parts to rebuild your tattoo machine.

You'll want to purchase spare

  • Machine frames
  • Chucks
  • Armature bars
  • Binders
  • Spring clamps
  • Spring saddles
  • A larger variety of coils

As for the other parts that you're going to need, you want to make sure that you purchase disposable tattoo machine parts.

  • Needles
  • Grommets
  • Barrier bags to cover the machine
  • O-rings to reduce chatter
  • Rubber bands to hold the needles in place.

As for tubes, you can purchase reusable or disposable plastic tubes; it all depends on the setup that your are using.

Tattoo Kits

Tattoo kits are a great way to get the basic materials,especially for beginner tattoo artists. Like everything else, you want to shop around for the right tattoo kit, as there are so many different tattoo kits that you can purchase for a number of companies, and each company has their own idea as to what's important to have in a kit for beginners, intermediate, and professionals.

Make sure that the tattoo kit has a clip cord and a foot switch so that you can hook up your tattoo machine to a power supply.

You may consider buying spare parts for your kit. With continuous use, the springs can snap. So definitely check out buying spar parts for your tattoo kit (see above).

  • Before you tattoo, you want to make sure that you know what you're doing. Remember that professional tattooist have to undergo an apprenticeship before thay can be licensed and allowed to tattoo clients. If you don't know how to properly tattoo, you can seriously injure the person you are tattooing, not to mention spread infection and disease.
  • Just because you have a tattoo kit, it doesn't mean that you're a tattoo artist. Anyone over 18 can purchase a tattoo kit and tattoo supplies, but in no way does that mean that you know how to properly use one.


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