How Do You Setup a Rotary Tattoo Machine (Step-By-Step Setup Guide)

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There are many different rotary tattoo machines on the market, but it is important to know that not all of them are created equal. This article will show you- how do you setup a rotary tattoo machine for optimal performance and then demonstrate some troubleshooting tips if something goes wrong.

Rotary tattoo machines are different from coil tattoo guns in that they use a motor to spin the needle bar. This leads to a quieter operation which is most noticeable when you have multiple rotary machines running at once during your session or if you are doing cosmetic tattoos with lots of shading, but it also means there’s more maintenance involved. When time is money and interruptions can cost thousands, proper setup and troubleshooting will ensure optimal performance every time so you never lose business because of issues arising with your machine.

First things first – let’s learn how to properly set up a rotary tattoo machine!

How Do You Setup a Rotary Tattoo Machine?
Photo: How Do You Setup a Rotary Tattoo Machine?


How Do You Setup a Rotary Tattoo Machine

The details of the parts you must know before setting up a rotary tattoo machine are discussed below:

The Frame: The frame holds everything together on the outside while allowing for plenty of space inside where all the cool stuff happens. The frame should be sturdy and fit comfortably in your hand, with all the knobs and adjustments easily within reach.

The Armature Bar: This is a metal bar that the needle hangs from, and it can be either fixed or adjustable. Most rotary machines come with an adjustable armature bar so you can change the distance between the needle and contact screw depending on the type of tattoo you’re doing.

Rotary Tattoo Machine Parts Name
Photo: Rotary Tattoo Machine Parts Name


The Coil: Fixed coils are becoming less common as more machines use interchangeable coils, which simply means you can replace them if they wear out rather than having to buy an entirely new machine. Coils generate the electrical current that powers the needles, and there are two types – constant-voltage (CV) and variable-voltage (VV). Constant-voltage coils are cheaper because they produce a steady voltage independent of the number of needles, but variable-voltage coils give you more control over the intensity since it varies with how many needles are down.

Contact Screw: The contact screw attaches to your power supply and delivers electricity into the machine by way of the ground clip that comes attached. A rubber washer at its base helps cushion against vibration while preventing damage caused by metal on metal friction.

Needle Bar Assembly: This is where all the magic happens! The needle bar assembly consists of several parts – feeder/pressure spring, bearing housing, armature shaft, and bearings, drive pinion gear, and finally- the needle bar itself!

Needle Bar Springs: Spring tension helps keep your needles securely attached once they’ve been placed on their respective tattoo machines so you never lose them during a procedure. Over time these springs will wear out just like everything else, but replacing them isn’t too difficult if done correctly.

The Hook-Up: Once you have all the parts assembled inside the frame, attach one end of your ground clip cable into its designated port (usually either red or black). For safety reasons always make sure that any exposed metal on your machines, such as the needle bar or armature bars themselves, are firmly connected to a ground clip.

The Power Supply: The power supply attaches to either end of the contact screw and generates electricity at whatever voltage you prefer (usually between 5 and 12). Coil Machines use constant-voltage coils which make them relatively simple in terms of settings while rotary machines with variable-voltage coils allow for more control over output intensity during procedures.

How to Setup a Rotary Tattoo Machine

Attach the Power Supply Cord to the Machine and Plug It In

Tattoo Machine Power Supply
Photo: Tattoo Machine Power Supply


  • Plug the power supply cord into an outlet.
  • Connect the other end of the cord to the tattoo machine.
  • Turn on the machine by flipping the switch at the back.

The power supply cord should be securely attached to both the machine and outlet to ensure that it functions properly. Always make sure that you are using a compatible power supply for your rotary tattoo machine. Using an incorrect power supply can damage both the machine and cord. If you have any questions about how to attach the power supply cord, please consult your local tattoo artist or technician.

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Turn On the Power Supply and Adjust the Voltage (Typically Between 12 and 18 Volts)

To turn on the power supply, plug in the cord to an outlet and press the switch at the end of the cord.

The voltage can be adjusted by turning the knob on top of the power supply. Clockwise rotation increases the voltage while counterclockwise decreases it. The machine should be set to around 15-18 volts for standard use. Experiment with different voltages to find what works best for you. Too high of a voltage may cause damage to your machine or skin, so be careful!

At this point, your tattoo machine is ready to go! Have fun experimenting with different techniques and colors!

Set the Stroke Length by Adjusting the Screw at the Front of the Machine

Rotary machines are popular among many tattoo artists because they offer more control and precision than other types of machines. Stroke length is one important adjustment you can make to improve control.

By adjusting the screw at the front of the machine, you can set the stroke length to be longer or shorter. This will affect how deep the needle goes into the skin with each hit.

To set the stroke length, loosen the screw at the front of the machine and adjust the black slider to the desired length. Make sure to tighten the screw again when you’re done. You can also hold down the foot pedal while you slide the slider to get a really fast cut.

Some artists prefer a shorter stroke length for more precise work, while others prefer a longer stroke length for speedier coverage. Find what works best for you and stick with it – experimentation is key! Just make sure that you don’t go too crazy with the adjustment, as too short of a stroke length can cause discomfort for your client.

Fit a Cartridge Onto the Needle Bar and Tighten Down Its Screws

Tattoo Needle Bar
Photo: Tattoo Needle Bar


Rotary tattoo machines are some of the most popular ones on the market today. They use a rotary motor to spin a needle bar and thus create tattoos with them. In order for you to attach your cartridge onto the bar, follow these steps:

  • Fit it into place from below while holding down its screws with one hand; Make sure that they don’t come loose when you’re doing this! These particular cartridges have holes in their backs so that needles can be inserted without any problems fitting them inside. Once they’re all in position, tighten up their bolts using either an Allen key or something else like pliers – just make sure not to overdo things here because you could damage them otherwise! Just apply enough pressure until they’re nice and snug.
  • Screw down the cartridge’s screws in a cross formation so that they don’t move around when you do this. The best way to do this is by holding it in place with your dominant hand while doing so – just be gentle and remember not to apply too much pressure! When tightening them, they should look like an “X” or “+”.
  • You can then add some ink into the cartridge using either a needle tip attachment or even something else which will help you get inside of one of its holes such as pliers’ jaws (just make sure they’re rubberized!). Once it gets filled up completely, screw-on another top lid onto the whole thing for protection purposes; Otherwise, the ink will evaporate over time and you’ll have to refill it again.
  • Finally, get your rotary tattoo machine set up and ready to go by attaching its power cord into the back of it as well as a clip cord if you’re using one! Then all that’s left is for you to select the right needle depth and speed settings before starting off on your next masterpiece.

Now that you know how to attach a cartridge onto the needle bar, make sure to practice with some disposable ones first so that you can get used to handling everything before moving on to something more permanent. Have fun with this new skill and happy inking!

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Troubleshooting Tips

Rotary tattoo machines can be finicky by nature so it’s always best to expect something might go wrong before setting up for work that day. Fortunately, most issues are usually minor annoyances rather than major problems that will cost you thousands down the line! Here are a few of the most common problems that tattoo artists encounter while setting up their machines, and how to troubleshoot them.

The Machine Doesn’t Turn On

You may have forgotten to attach your ground clip or power supply! Make sure you connect both ends properly so electricity can flow through the machine without issue. If this doesn’t solve the problem check to make sure all parts are connected inside the frame.

The Armature Bar is Moving When It Shouldn’t Be

This means there’s either too much or not enough spring tension on your needle bar assembly which affects how far down each individual needle makes contact with it when in use. To fix this just adjust your armature springs until everything feels right again, but keep in mind that over-tightening can damage your machine.

The Machine Runs but the Needles Don’t Move

This is usually due to a lack of voltage being delivered from the power supply, so increase the setting on your unit until the needles start moving as they should. If the issue persists it might be time for a new coil!

The Needles Fall Out or Are Jumping Around

One of two things is happening here – either you have too much spring tension on your needle bar springs which isn’t allowing them enough movement, or there’s something wrong with your contact screw/clamp assembly and it needs to be tightened down more. Try adjusting the spring tension first and if that doesn’t work get in touch with your supplier for a replacement part.

The Machine is Making Grinding Noises

The most likely cause of this problem is either dirt or metal shavings stuck somewhere inside which are causing friction between parts. Open up the unit and clean away any debris you find before reassembling everything back together again! It could also mean that some other internal components need oiling or replacing entirely!

If all else fails, try using compressed air to blow out dirt from every nook & cranny then apply an ultra-thin coat of machine oil to all metal surfaces.

How to Maintain a Rotary Tattoo Machine

There are several factors that can affect how well your machine works overtime including humidity levels, friction between parts, and overall usage frequency. Rotary tattoo machines require more maintenance than coil types because of their complex internal components which tend to get dirtier faster as a result!

  • Cleaning Your Machines: First things first – disconnect the power supply before doing anything inside your casing! It’s also advisable to wear a dust mask to avoid breathing in any harmful particles.
  • You’ll need a few basic items for cleaning including isopropyl alcohol, Q-tips, compressed air, and a brush. Start by removing the armature shaft and needle bar (make sure they’re both clean first) then use your brush to clean away any dirt or debris from inside the frame. Be careful not to damage any of the components while doing so!
  • Next, pour some isopropyl alcohol into a container and dip your Q-tips into it before scrubbing all contact screws/clamps as well as the spring tension screw on the backside of the machine. Use compressed air to blow out any liquid and allow everything to dry completely before reassembling.
  • Finally, apply a light coat of machine oil to all moving parts and you’re done!

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How to set up a rotary tattoo machine for lining?

There are a few things you need to do in order to set up your rotary tattoo machine for the lining. First, make sure that the needle is screwed on tightly and that the contact screw is in the correct position. You should also adjust the stroke length and tension according to your preference. Finally, be sure to check that the ink flow is consistent before beginning your work.

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How to set up a stigma rotary tattoo machine?

The first step is to remove the front and rear caps from the Stigma tattoo machine. This will expose the needle bar, which you can then lift out of its resting place. The next step is to adjust the height of the stroke by turning the black screw at the top of the machine. Turning it clockwise will make it shorter while turning it counterclockwise will make it longer. You’ll want to do this until the needle barely touches your skin when you pull back on the armature bar.

Now, take a look at where the two needles meet on either side of the stroke – they should be parallel with each other (or as close as possible). If they’re not, you can adjust them by loosening or tightening the machine’s tension springs, located on either side of the needle bar. Loosening them will make it easier to move the needles closer together while tightening them will push them apart – you’ll want to play around with this until they meet evenly across from each other.

If you’re having a hard time adjusting the needles like this, try removing them from their seats and re-seating them to make sure they fit. If that doesn’t work, go ahead and replace one or both of your needle cartridges with new ones (making sure neither cartridge is bent).

Now it’s time to adjust the machine’s contact screw – turn it clockwise until it touches your skin when you pull back on the armature bar and tighten down its lock nut so nothing moves anymore after that point. Finally, set up your power supply for either 110v or 220v operation depending on where in the world you’ll be using this machine most often (you should check every few months just to be safe if you want to keep it at 220v). Plug your power supply in and turn it on, then test the machine by lifting the armature bar all the way up and letting it fall – it should make a nice, solid “thunk” when it hits the contact screw. If everything looks good, you’re ready to start tattooing!

How to set up a dragonfly rotary tattoo machine?

The first step is to remove the end cap and unscrew the front housing. You will then be able to remove the motor. Next, you need to connect the wires coming from the motor to the contact screw. The black wire goes on the negative terminal and the red wire goes on the positive terminal. After that, you can replace the front housing and screw it in place. Finally, put on the end cap.

You will now need a power supply unit (PSU) and some needles. The needles come in different sizes, so make sure you get the right size for your project. Connect one end of the power cable to your machine and plug it into an outlet on your PSU. Then, take the other end of the power cable and plug it into the tattoo gun. Turn on your machine by flipping the switch on the back. You will then need to adjust the power settings. The higher the number, the more power your machine will have. Experiment with different numbers until you find one that works best for you.

Now it’s time to load some ink into your dragonfly gun! Take an ink cap and fill it about halfway with ink. Then, use a sterilized needle to pierce a hole in the top of the cap. This will allow you to dispense ink as you work. Be careful not to get any ink on your hands, as it can be difficult to remove. Now hold your gun like you would a normal tattoo gun and start working!


Now that you know how to set up, maintain and troubleshoot your rotary tattoo machine, you’re ready to start rocking some sweet new ink! Just be sure to keep these tips in mind so your equipment stays in good condition for as long as possible.