tattoo machine maintenance and cleaning

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Whether you use ROUND or FLAT tube tips, all tattoo tube tips need maintenance.

All tubes and tips need to be cleaned and inspected thoroughly.

1. Tube and Tip Cleaning After soaking your tubes overnight in the disinfectant of your choice, I use a small nail brush to scrub my tubes and tips. After scrubbing the outside of the tubes and the tips, I use a pipe cleaner and a Q-tip to clean the inside of the tubes and the tips. This cleans out all excess ink that may be left inside. If you don't remove this ink it will stain your tubes when you sterilize them. When finished cleaning you will need to put them in the ultra sonic.

2. Tube and tip maintenance Check the tips of your tubes for wear and tear. If you notice grooves inside of your tube tips then you will need to get out a jewelers file and do some filing These grooves are caused by the rubbing of the needles against the inside of the tube. The amount of wear and tear depends on how many rubber band you use to hold your needle bars in place. You can use a flat file for your flat tube tip,
and a round file for your round tube tips. If you don't file these tips the ink will start to spit and the grooves will make your needles wear prematurely.You must be careful not to create a sharp edge of the end of your tube tip. If the tube tip is warn beyond repair then it is time to replace the tip with a new one.

This tech tip on cross-contamination I think will be the most important tech tip that I will ever write, because cross-contamination is something that should not be overlooked and should be taken very serious by everyone involved in the tattoo and piercing industry. For those who don't already know, cross-contamination is the spread of micro-organisms from one surface to another or from something that is contaminated to something that is not. One of the biggest mistakes that I see when I visit a tattoo shop or when I'm at a convention is don't get me wrong, most tattoo shops do follow strict methods to prevent cross-contamination..but there are a few that need to clean up there act. All the sterilization in the world is not going to make a difference to your client or to you if things are getting cross-contaminated. Cross-contamination is a very serious and a very deadly situation. When I tattoo I treat the situation with what I call UNIVERSAL PRECAUTIONS. Universal precautions is a system that prevents the spread of infections from person to person. Simply put, it means that I treat all blood and other body fluids as potentially infectious. Treat every client as if they have every known disease to mankind. With this in mind you tend to take every precaution and you are much more aware of cross-contamination. Some of the ways that cross-contamination can occur is as follows:

* if strict attention to hand washing is not observed
* if clean instruments are placed on unclean surfaces
* if contaminated and clean instruments come into contact with one another
* if one or more tattooist use the same equipment or materials

Here are the most common observations that I have noticed:

1. answering the telephone with soiled gloves

2. adjusting overhead light with soiled gloves

3. adjusting power supply with soiled gloves

4. touching ink bottles or ink tray with soiled gloves

5. adjusting or handling furniture or equipment with soiled gloves

6. stuffing garbage into the garbage can without changing gloves

Simple things you can do to prevent cross-contamination. Preparation of the work area is the key. It is very important that you completely prepare your work area so as to avoid having to leave the work area in the middle of a tattoo to get something that may be needed. Interrupting your procedure increases the risk of cross-contaminating surfaces.

* place a container labeled "dirty instruments" in the work area for the collection of non-disposable instruments for sterilization.
* cover any work surfaces with disposable coverings.
* make sure all the items needed are in easy to reach places.
* ensure that the work area is clean and tidy and free from items and objects unrelated to the tattooing process. Before putting on your gloves, you should be sure to cover surfaces that may become contaminated, in the event that an item has to be handled or adjusted while tattooing.

1. place the required amount of single use, disposable ink cups into your stainless steel ink cup trays and dispense inks into cups

2. cover light fittings and power pack controls with cling film

3. cover spray bottles with single use plastic bags, so only the nozzles are exposed.

4. place water to be used for rinsing between colors in disposable cups and dispose of water and cups after each customer.

5. tissues or wipes to be used during tattoo procedures should be stored where they cannot become contaminated

6. clip cord should be covered with cling wrap.

7. tattoo machine should be covered with a single use plastic bag.

8. rubber bands on the tattoo machine should be changed after every tattoo.

9. a new disposable single use razor should be used on each customer then disposed of.

10. stencils should never be reused.

11. Acetate stencils should never be used since they cannot be effectively

12. remove petroleum jelly from container with a sterile tongue depressor. Never use your bare finger or gloves.

13. area of skin to be tattooed should be cleaned and disinfected
using one of the following:

a. 70% isopropyl alcohol
b. alcoholic (isopropyl and ethyl) formulations of 0.5-4% chlorhexidine
c. aqueous or alcoholic povidine-iodine (1% available iodine)

The time between skin disinfection and skin penetration should be at least 2 minutes...but preferable 5 minutes. Multiple-use deodorants should never be used prior to the placement of a stencil. Remember cross-contaminating is not only deadly to your client but also you and your family and the whole tattoo industry. So do the right thing and KEEP IT CLEAN! JOHN

P.S. if you use an ultra sonic cleaner before your sterilization, make sure that it has a top on it to prevent any microorganisms from becoming air borne and contaminating your shop.


This tech tip is not about how to outline, it’s more about expanding your horizons by utilizing the correct outline for the style of tattoo that you are doing. For example, have you ever seen a tattoo that was just too weak because of its outline....or a tattoo that just had too many lines and was too complicated...?

In this tech tip I’ll present some outlining strategies that when used appropriately can make the difference between a good tattoo and an outstanding tattoo. Back in the 70's when I started tattooing all I used was a 4 needle outliner and I used it on everything I did. It was versatile, it could have the appearance of a 3 needle outline(fine line) if I worked off the tip or a 5 needle outline (solid bold line) if I just worked it right...

I worked this way for many years.... I did this because this I the way that I learned to do things. It worked fine until I got involved with doing larger pieces. When I did larger work I noticed that something was just missing and could not figure it out. I started studying the master tattooist of that time period and what I notice was that they were using different outlines in the same tattoo. It wasn't the design, or the shading or the color (although they all contributed to a great tattoo) it was the use of varying outlines in the tattoo that did it.

I started asking around to fine out how to make those different size outliners and got a lot of help from some old time tattooist that I knew. They showed me how to make a jig and then how to assemble the different needle groups. They also showed me how to make the different tubes to use with them. Now anytime that I do a tattoo that is bigger then the size of a baseball... use at lease two different outliners.

When I take on large size pieces I will start with a five the beef up some lines with a eight and the beef up even some more with a fourteen needle outliner...and if I have to I will finish the job with a 3 for the real fine line detail. There is one thing that sticks in my mine that an old time tattooist once told me...if you cant make out what a guy has tattooed on him from across the room then it ain't worth the skin that it was put on. By using different size outliners in a tattoo it gives the design more of a three dimensional look.

If I could use graphics in this tech tip I would show you some examples (I will talk to Gillan & Gena about using some graphics in the future) but for now you will just have to use some of your artistic abilities to figure out where to use thin lines and where to use thicker lines. Until the next tech tip...keep the ink flowing.

P.S. Just remember what I told you in my first tech tip..if you increase the amount of needles that you are using then you will have to do one of two things...turn up the power or use a tattoo machine with a larger amount of coils!


This tech tip will be for those of you who just buy your needles and strap them on your machine without any adjustmens or fine tuning. If you make your own needles then you probably know what will be discussed in this tech tip. Whether or not you make your own flat shaders or your own rounds for shading and coloring, there is one more thing that you need to do before you strap them on your machine and use them.

If you take the time to spread the needles of the flat shaders with an exacto knife then the ink will flow down the needles at a better rate and the needles will puncture the skin a lot easier. If the needles are not spread, it is harder to penetrate the skin,
resulting in having to turn your power supply up, in turn making the machine working harder, which will cause the machine to run a lot hotter,

Also, if you spread the needles on your fat shaders, you will cover a larger area of skin and get the job done a lot quicker. The chances of scaring the skin is greatly reduced. One way that I find to spread the needles is to lay the needle bar flat
on a piece of glass and with an exacto knife real carefully put the blade between the last needle on one side and from the needle tip slowly push down toward the solder...then spread the last needle on the other side...working your way to the middle needles. Always spread them a little at a time as not to cause the needles to split apart and separate from the group. This usually happens on the end needles. With a little practice it becomes easier and easier. You might want to practice with some used flat shaders that have been sterilized, till you pick up the knack.

Now as for the round needles that are used for shading and coloring...if you are making them yourself then make or buy a jig that makes them loose, you don't want to use tight round shaders to put in color, it will not get the color in evenly and will opt to scarring more easily. And I find that if you solder the needles together further
back from the tips then they wont be as tight.

There is another thing that I do to help the ink puddle up on the skin (this is something that you want your ink to do) and that is to take the solder out of the groove of the underside of the flat shaders. Remember the ink travels and gets under the skin from between the grooves of the needles, the ink around the needles is usually pushed away by the elasticity of the skin. I also file all the excess solder that may be there, this keeps the splattering down. One way to eliminate splatter is to put a slight bend in the middle of your needle bar forward to compensate for the tension of the rubber bands.

Good luck and I hope this helps you get the ink under the skin a little bit better and a little bit faster

hope this guide helps and if it did please click the button so others can find the guide more easy thanks
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