A lot of tattoo artists will say that holding a tattoo machine is like holding a thick pencil. But the reality is, most new artists find that holding a machine doesn’t feel that natural. 

Tattoo grips are wide and your machine vibrates, which makes it hard to figure out where to put each finger to keep your hand from shaking. However, if you don’t hold your machine correctly, it’s impossible to tattoo straight lines or hit the right needle depth.

While every tattoo artist holds their machine a little bit differently, there is one way that works best for most beginners.

But before we dive into that, we need to take a detour to the term “tattoo gun.” No tattoo artist calls their machine a “tattoo gun,” and if you say that in front of a professional, they will not take you seriously. 

Now that you know to say “tattoo machine,” let’s take a look at how to:

  • Hold your machine so you keep a steady hand (even while you’re lining) 
  • Make sure your machine is angled correctly
  • Customize your machine’s grip to making holding it easier

How to Hold Your Tattoo Machine: Hand Position

As mentioned before, every artist holds their machine differently. You’ll develop a preference overtime as you figure out what works for you.

For the most part, you can hold your machine however it feels most comfortable to you, as long as you’re still able to use the proper technique. However, we’ve found that most new tattoo artists find this method to be the most effective:

Make Contact with the Cartridge

We recommend making sure your middle finger is against the cartridge instead of the grip. If all your fingers are on the tattoo machine’s grip and you’re not making any contact with the cartridge, it will be harder to control, as if you were holding a pencil closer to the eraser instead of the tip.

Coil Tattoo Machines and Machines with RCA Cords:

If you are using coil tattoo machines, the coils will rest on the back of your hand. If your machine has a clip cord or an RCA cord, it should go over your arm instead of under.

tattoo artist holding a needle tube with the clip cord of the tattoo machine over his arm
tattoo artist holding a tattoo gun and tattoo needles with proper technique

Hold Your Machine at the Correct Angle

An important part of holding your tattoo machine is making sure your needles are going in at the correct angle. If they don’t, your lines could look fuzzy (known as a “blowout”), and you could add extra trauma to the skin.

We recommend holding your machine between a 65-85° angle. If you tattoo at too small of an angle, you could snag the skin. However, you don’t want to be at a perfect 90° angle because the tiny spaces between the dots will make your lines look lighter. 

When you hold your machine at a 65-85°angle, your tattoos look more solid because each ink deposit is oval-shaped and overlapping with one another. 

When you’re working with bigger needle groupings, work closer to that 85° angle to make sure the individual sharps are making it into the skin:

How to Hold a Tattoo Machine When Lining

Even if you’re holding the machine correctly, it can still be difficult to get good line work because you have to be very steady, even while the machine itself is vibrating. Using 3 points of contact can help eliminate any extra wobbles.

Use 3 Points of Contact to Tattoo Straight Lines

Anchoring” yourself to three points of contact while you’re lining helps you keep your hand from shaking, even though you’re moving.

Here’s how to create three points of contact:

  • Anchor your elbow to the massage table (if possible) or against your ribs.
  • Place your wrist against the skin.
  • Connect the pinky of your tattooing hand to the thumb of your non-tattooing hand.

Because you’ll be relying on this contact to keep you steady instead of just trying to keep your own body still, it’ll be much easier to keep your lines straight.

Pro Tip:
We recommend putting a tiny amount of Vaseline on the side of your glove to make it easier to glide along the skin. Just be careful not to get it all over your gloves, or it can affect the way you hold your tattoo machine.

Make Holding Your Machine Easier by Wrapping Your Grips

Even though you want a secure hold on your machine, you don’t want to be clenching your fingers tightly around a too-small grip. This will cause your hand to get tired way faster, which you don’t want if you’re planning to tattoo several hours a day.

Using a thicker grip can make it easier to hold your machine comfortably.

Pro Tip:
Wrapping your grips can help reduce the vibration you feel from your machine. The paper towels and grip tape will act as a shock absorber.

Take Your Tattoo Artist Journey to the Next Level

artist applying a tattoo with a tattoo machine or tattoo gun

Getting comfortable holding your tattoo machine is only the first step on your journey to becoming a professional tattoo artist. Next, you need to learn how to use your machine to create incredible designs on skin.

There’s a ton of information out there that promises to teach you to tattoo, but a lot of it is outdated or incorrect. This is why most tattoo artists trying to learn online pick up bad habits that can take years to unlearn.

If you want to learn how to tattoo the right way, you can still do it online and at your own pace.

We created the Artist Accelerator Program to give aspiring artists all the lessons and techniques they need in an easy-to-follow, 9-step roadmap that can take anyone from complete beginner to professional tattoo artist in as little as 90 days.

Inside the program, you’ll learn the skills tattoo artists use every day, get personalized guidance from professionals, and put together a portfolio that gets you hired. 

Skip the years of trial and error and start building a career you love today.

Click here to check out the Artist Accelerator Program

Looking for a tattoo apprenticeship?

Tattooing 101's Artist Accelerator 90 day program is the closest thing to a real apprenticeship

  • 500 video modules
  • Professional tattoo artist coaches
  • Private mastermind community
AUTHOR
Nathan Molenaar

Nathan is a licensed professional tattoo artist with over 8 years’ experience working at studios across the globe, including Celebrity Ink, the world's largest tattoo studio chain. When he's not tattooing, he spends his free time sharing his experience and knowledge with aspiring artists who dream of pursuing a career in the tattooing industry.

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