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January 23, 2023 6 min read

Tattoo machines are essential tools for any professional tattoo artist and are often incorrectly referred to as “tattoo guns”. Although the two terms are often used interchangeably, budding tattoo artists need to understand the differences between a machine and a gun. Many people mistakenly use the term "tattoo gun" because of the stereotype that tattoos are associated with violence and gangs, but this is not the case. Tattoo machines have been used since the late 1800s when Samuel O’Reilly patented the electric tattooing machine and revolutionized how tattoos were done. 

A tattoo machine works by using an electric motor that causes needles to puncture the skin multiple times per second. This is what creates the design of a tattoo. The needles on a machine range from 1 up to 100 depending on what type of work or shading you are doing. The power source can be either electricity or air pressure, which helps to control the depth at which needles penetrate the skin. They typically come in two styles: rotary machines or coil machines. Rotary machines use a cam-driven needle bar that allows for more precise control of how much ink is laid down, while coil machines create a magnetic force between coils allowing for more powerful strokes at faster rates.

When using either type of machine, artists should always wear gloves and protective clothing to prevent a possible infection from accidental contact with blood or other bodily fluids during procedures. Additionally, all equipment should be sterilized before use—both new and used equipment—to ensure there are no potential health risks associated with getting a tattoo. 

Tattoos may have become popularly associated with violence and gangs in recent decades, but they have much longer histories than that. Many cultures around history have incorporated tattoos into their rituals for thousands of years as symbols of strength or luck; some Egyptian mummies even have them! It's important to remember that although it may have negative connotations in popular culture today, tattoos still deserve respect as an art form based on tradition and skill rather than its modern reputation as something only related to criminal activity or dangerous lifestyles.

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 So why are they called machines and not guns?

 This question can be explored in depth and the answer may surprise some. Tattoos are created by needles that puncture the skin, creating a permanent image that is unique to each individual. Unlike guns, which use bullets or other projectiles to create a physical effect on their target, there is no “projectile” used in creating tattoos. Therefore, it would be inaccurate to call them guns since no projectile is used with this tool. The machine itself uses an electric motor, which helps regulate its speed and depth so that even lines can be created with precision and accuracy each time. It also ensures that the needles don’t go any deeper than necessary into the skin, avoiding any unnecessary damage or hazards. 

Furthermore, the average tattoo gun has three main parts: a power supply unit; a disposable needle cartridge containing multiple needles; and a handpiece that holds the needle barrel and attaches to the power supply unit. The power supply regulates voltage to ensure a consistent operation throughout the entire session while providing smooth ink flow from start to finish. Each of these components works together to make sure that a safe and proficient tattooing experience can be achieved every single time. 

Tattoo machines have been around for centuries, with evidence dating back centuries ago in ancient Egypt where tattoos were done using wooden sticks carved with symbols thought to protect against evil spirits or diseases. Later on in Europe during the industrial revolution in 1891, Samuel O'Reilly invented the modern-day tattoo machine with springs, coils and an electromagnetic motor – which is believed to still be in use today!  

No matter what you choose to call it – gun or machine – it cannot be denied that tattoos have come a long way from the crude tools of ancient times. From precise studies of human anatomy to advanced engineering designs for tattoo machines - one thing is certain: tattoos will remain popular for many years to come!

Tattoo machines have gone through a remarkable transformation since the original invention of the device by Samuel O’Reilly, an American tattoo artist hailing from New York City, in 1891. O'Reilly's machine was based on Thomas Edison's earlier technology which relied on electromagnets powered by electricity for operation. His design took the existing technology to a new level and made reliable, successful tattoos are possible more consistently and efficiently than ever before. 


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This revolutionary device transformed the field of tattooing forever, allowing for accuracy and precision that had not been achievable with the tools available before its invention. The machine enabled artists to work faster and with increased control over their needles, allowing them to experiment with different techniques to create intricate designs. Furthermore, its portability was beneficial as it allowed people who previously may not have had access to professional tattooing services to receive tattoos in places outside of traditional studios. 

The adoption of this device quickly spread around the world as more artists began to see its potential. As time went on, numerous improvements were made that further enhanced its capabilities - such as adjustable voltage settings which gave artists greater control over their needle speed and depth - eventually making it one of the most popular tools among those in the industry today. It is now considered a staple piece of equipment within many modern tattoo parlours, having been used successfully for decades and becoming an integral part of what makes up tattoo culture today. 

Though the basic functions of the modern-day tattoo machine remain consistent with that of its invention, it has been subject to many advancements over the years to make it more efficient for both artists and customers. For instance, these machines now feature adjustable settings related to power, frequency (speed), and needle depth, which helps increase precision when applying ink to the skin. This allows artists to easily adjust the settings during long sessions or multiple customers throughout a day, creating intricate designs due to its accurate distribution of ink within a design - essential for producing certain effects such as shading or blending colours seamlessly. In addition, modern machines are also designed with ergonomics in mind to reduce fatigue in the arm and shoulder muscles of tattoo artists during longer working periods. Furthermore, some machines have wireless capabilities which allow control from a distance via mobile phone apps that can be used for specific purposes such as monitoring power levels or stopping the machine if an emergency occurs. This helps create a safer environment for both artist and customer as well as provides an improved learning experience for novice tattooists who may want to watch a master at work without being nearby. 


There is no denying that the modern tattoo machine has come a long way since its initial conception, with many updates and improvements that have been implemented over the years. It was designed to accurately create permanent marks on the skin without causing any damage or discomfort, which is something that the traditional "tattoo gun" is unable to do. This could be because these two tools have very few similarities: other than having a handle/grip of similar shape, they are fundamentally different in terms of their design, function and purpose. That being said, it makes sense to refer to this device as a “machine” rather than a “gun” due to its marked differences from the latter. 

This distinction isn't just important for those looking to become professional tattoo artists but also for anyone who finds themselves talking about these devices; by understanding the difference between them you can avoid making any wrong assumptions or unfounded comparisons. Furthermore, this knowledge can help you gain an even greater understanding of what it takes to be successful as a tattoo artist; being able to differentiate between a machine and a gun when working with inks may prove invaluable down the line. 

The evolution of this tool has been nothing short of incredible; it's gone from being something that was relatively crude in comparison to its modern counterpart, with non-electrical components such as needles and tiny coils made out of cotton thread that provided limited functionality - to its current form - a sophisticated device capable of producing intricate designs at varying depths and speed levels which allow for more control over how each piece looks overall. This impressive transformation has allowed not just for better results when it comes to tattoos but also - importantly - gives practitioners more assurance when carrying out procedures knowing that their clients will experience minimal pain during the process. 

In conclusion, recognizing this important distinction between machines and guns will not only benefit you in your pursuit of becoming an educated professional tattoo artist but also those around you who may not have extensive knowledge on these topics. Being aware of this difference can ultimately lead to more informed decision-making when discussing tattoos and their various aspects - allowing for an even greater level of precision within the industry!

Have you ever gotten a tattoo? If so, did you know what it was officially called before reading this post? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

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