How to Set Up Liner & Shader Tattoo Machines

Updated February 21, 2017

Tattoo machine set-up is the same for both liner and shader machines. The shader has larger coils to produce more power for pushing larger needle groupings. Use appropriate needles and their corresponding tubes for each machine. For beginners, it's a good idea to seek the guidance of a licensed tattoo professional if you are unsure of your set-up. Improper machine set-up can cause scarring, unnecessary pain and wavy or "blown out" lines.

Insert a needle tip into the hole in the top centre of the tube and carefully push the needle through the tube until the needle tip protrudes from the tip (or tapered end) of the tube. Perform this slowly so the needle tip doesn't catch on the inside of the tube.

Push the nipple of a top hat grommet through the looped hole at the top of the needle.

Slide the looped end of the needle and upper portion of the tube into the tube vice (or clamp) of the tattoo machine.

Insert the armature bar tip into the opening on the backside of the grommet. This secures the needle to the armature bar.

Adjust the needle depth by sliding the tube up or down until the tip of the needle barely protrudes from the tapered end of the tube.

Turn the tube vice thumbscrew (or clamp key) firmly on the tattoo machine until the tube no longer slides in the tube vice.

Wrap two small rubber bands around the coils and needle bar of the machine. The rubber bands must rest where the upper portion of the tube meets the needle in the front of the machine,and between the two contact points on the back of the machine. This prevents the needle from bouncing around during the tattooing process.


Failure to use new and sterilised needles and tubes can cause infection and transmit blood-borne diseases such as HIV and hepatitis B and C. Do not tattoo someone without first receiving professional training through an apprenticeship.

Things You'll Need

  • Liner or shader needle
  • Liner or shader tube
  • Top hat grommet
  • Two small rubber bands
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