Artists, because this is art, create tattoos by injecting ink into a person's skin, the dermis. To do this, they use an electrically powered tattoo machine. The machine moves a solid needle up and down to puncture the skin between 50 and 3,000 times per minute. The needle penetrates the skin by about a millimeter and deposits a drop of insoluble ink into the skin with each puncture.

The tattoo machine was invented by Samuel O’Reilly in the late 1800’s, and was based on the design of the autographic printer by Thomas Edison. This basic design has really remained unchanged since its invention.

Tattoo machines have the same basic components no matter what brand of machine they are using:

  • A sterilized needle.

  • A “tube” which draws the ink through the machine.

  • An electric motor linked to a tattoo power supply.

  • A foot pedal (just like those used for sewing machines, which controls the movement of the needle).

There are two types of tattoo machines. Liners and shaders are the two types of tattoo machines. They are basically the same, but the needle gaps are set up just a little different. The gap for a liner machine is around the thickness of a dime, and for a shader is the about the thickness of a nickel to cover more area. Liner machines cane have 1, 3, 4, 5, or 7 needles in use. Shader needles are in a straight row and usually have 4, 6, 7, or 9 needles. The process of soldering needles together in different groups is an art all to itself. The best tattoo artists have mastered this technique.