I previously talked quite a lot about tattoo machines, how to make them, and even how they work. However, for all you tattoo artists that follow this site, I want to provide some specialized information just for you! This also helps any tattoo newbs who feel inspired by all these tattoo gun posts lately. There is a certain finesse required for wielding tattoo pens properly, and I want to talk about what goes into that. Stick around and learn how to shade, line, and color with your own two hands. Using tattoo pens could never be simpler!
Permanent Tattoo Pens
Obviously, I’m talking about permanent tattoo pens. While temporary ‘tattoo pens’ lurk out in the market, I only want to focus on the real deal today. Most artists use two different pens, depending on the function they need them for. The first and most frequently used tattoo gun is the liner, with their second go-to gun being the shader. Both are critical to artists around the world. As their names might give away, liners work great for outlines and small details, while shaders are used for colors and wide gradients. The difference between a shader and liner is usually the size of the spring.
As you use your tattoo pen of choice, make sure to ink at a 45 degree angle to the skin. This prevents ink from leaking out or excess damage to the skin. The depth of your needles is also very important—if you go too deep, the tattoo will heal as a blurry mess, and let’s just say that that’s a nightmare for both you and your client! Use a specialized tattoo chair or tattoo bed to reach every part of your client’s tattoo zone better. Since you need to stretch the skin to make an even canvas, this extra bit of accessibility really pays off in the end.
Just to remind you, you should encourage your client to go through with basic hygiene before they enter your studio. It sucks to tattoo someone when they smell like crap. Tell them to wash with typical antibiotic soap, grab some tattoo numbing cream and apply it ahead of time if they need it, and shave the area they want tattooed. This makes using your tattoo pen much easier in the long run!
Dragonhawk Atom Rotary Pen Tattoo Machine Japan Motor for Tattoo Artists
To start off some tattoo artist pen recommendations, let’s look at the Dragonhawk rotary pen tattoo machine. It makes very little noise compared to its fellow rotary pens, runs between 5-10 V, and has a stroke of 3.5mm. This makes it pretty decent for tattooing outlines—especially for the price. Its main disadvantage is that it’s difficult to clean. You have to get past glue in order to get at the interior! But, once you disassemble it the first time, cleaning goes smoothly.
Its lightweight design helps artists with joint issues and muscle issues like arthritis or carpal tunnel. This item provides all of the functions of a high-end tattoo pen for a very affordable price. If you’re just getting started with pen style tattoo machines, this one will work well for any budget.
HoriKing Premium Aluminum Tattoo Machine Gatrides Pen
Since this is just the tattoo machine, I’ll focus on the features of the pen itself and ignore the possible improvements that your own needles would give it. Unlike lots of other cheap pens, you can disassemble this and replace parts as you please. You won’t have to buy a whole new pen if a small part stops functioning correctly (which won’t happen for a while, anyways—I have yet to see one break). This also makes it incredibly easy to sterilize. It comes in three different colors, with orange being my absolute favorite.
The HoriKing tattoo pen works for both shading and lining, so it fills in any niche that your current tattoo machines can’t quite reach. The pen has just a little give as you use it, although several other types of tattoo guns have more give, so take that with a grain of salt if that’s important to you. Its noise is about average for its type of design. Like most rotary tattoo pens, this one feels light in your hands and is compatible with all sorts of needle brands.
Dragonhawk Mast Pen Rotary Tattoo Machine Space Aluminum for Tattoo Artists Gift Box
To complete your permanent tattoo pen set, this Dragonhawk mast pen rotary tattoo machine provides a customizable stroke length of 2.8-3.5mm and works alright for well for outlines and spectacularly for shading. The only downside is its power, which ranges from 6-10V (not far below average, but still worth mentioning). It’s lightweight, quiet, and compatible with many types of needle brands. The kit version includes a few needles to test with and a power supply system that works perfectly with the tattoo pen gun.
A lot of cheap tattoo guns require some prior tuning and part replacement, but this one works well straight out of the box. All of you professionals can still take a peek at the insides, of course, but you’ll find everything satisfactory. It starts warming up at about five hours, but I’ve never heard of them outright overheating. It feels great to use even during low sessions and only has a low vibration.
Tattoo Eyeliner Pen
If you want to use your tattoo pen machine to apply permanent eyeliner, you must take several precautions. First, study as much as you can about facial muscles and structure. It might seem arbitrary, but because of the proximity to the eyes, permanent eyeliner is very dangerous when done correctly. Seek an apprenticeship with someone who already mastered this type of tattoo. Usually, they go by the term ‘permanent makeup artist’ or ‘permanent cosmetic artist.’
Some makeup companies also sell ‘waterproof tattoo eyeliner pens’ which look like markers and do exactly what you imagine. I cannot recommend any of these due to the type of ink they use. However, if you want to apply permanent eyeliner at home and in your usual style, that might be the way to go.
Tattoo Pen Kit
If you’re shopping for a complete kit for yourself, it’s best to start with something small and affordable. Unless you already have a lot of fame from working at another studio and are transferring customers from your old shop along with your favorite tattoo machine, you need to focus on mastering your art with one tattoo machine at a time. This is the kit I recommend for people striking out on their own.
Dragonhawk Cartridge Tattoo Machine Kit Pen Rotary Tattoo Machine Cartridge Needles Power Supply
This rotary tattoo pen comes with a power supply, foot pedal, several compatible needles, and all the wires you need to hook it up right out of the box. Look for inks compatible with both rotary pen tattoo machines and your own sense of ethics. Lots of vegan and organic inks are out there—just make sure to stock an alternative for people with allergies or sensitive skin. Once you have both the kit, your inks, and your pigments, you’ll be ready to deliver brand new tattoos to whomever you want!
A key advantage of this kit to others is its noise level. It’s very quiet compared to other rotary machines. Its power supply is also surprisingly reliable—lots of kits out there come with sub-par power supply that you have to quickly replace, but this is no such kit. It’s easy for beginners to pick up and masters enjoy the light weight of the pen-style rotary tattoo machine.
What to Do After Using a Tattoo Pen
Once you finish creating your client’s tattoo, go ahead and provide them with an aftercare handout of some sort. Stocking up on tattoo lotion or tattoo sunscreen helps get you a little extra cash and ensures your client takes perfect care of their tattoo after they exit the shop. Aftercare is critical to the eventual outcome of a client’s tattoo. You can use your tattoo pen perfectly, but if your client goes swimming in a river or a similar risky activity, it can become ruined by infection. Your client’s aftercare ensures the safety of both your client and your business!
Aftercare aside, once your session is over, focus on cleaning up your pen. You need to disassemble your pen and completely sterilize it between sessions. The easiest way—and the way that most artists choose—is to use an autoclave. Once your pen is disassembled, you place all of the parts into the autoclave and seal them in. It uses high heat and increased pressure to completely disinfect your tattoo pen! As for the tattoo needles, I highly encourage you to toss pen sets between sessions and clients. They are incredibly difficult to sterilize completely, and given their very low price, it is just common sense to keep your clients safe and dispose of them as they’re used.
Final Advice on Using Tattoo Pens
We go into far more depth on how to use tattoo pens on our dedicated tattoo gun post. This includes the history of tattoo guns, the mechanics behind all types of tattoo guns, and a little more on how to use them. We also talk about how to make a simple tattoo gun at home with basic supplies—although this is meant more as a way to understand the basics of tattoo guns in a tangible way, rather than provide you with a tool to use on others.
Regardless of how you acquire your tattoo pen or your experience with tattoo machines, remember what these tools are at their core. They are a means of creating art, and with a little bit of ink, a tad of pigment, and a lot of experience, you can put together some striking and astonishing tattoos all on your own. The highest compliment an artist can receive is a request to give someone permanent art that they will carry always, for the rest of their life! So embrace these tattoo pens and start forging your path forward as the ultimate artist—your path will lead you to a feeling of pride that no other type of artist can hope to achieve!