Differences Between Liner & Shader Tattoo Machines

Written by marilla mulwane
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Differences Between Liner & Shader Tattoo Machines
Tattoos are made with liner and shader machines. (Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images)

Power flows through a tattoo machine's circuit and travels from one end to the other. When the power reaches the end of the machine, the needles move up and down. There are a few different tattoo machines. Two of them are the liner and the shader. They look nearly the same and are built the same, but with several differences.


Liner and shader tattoo machines do what their names imply. Liner tattoo machines make lines. The machine is used for outlines as well as small details in the tattoo design. Shading is done with shader tattoo machines. They generally shade black or black variants. Colour effects done with the shader also is possible.


Liner tattoo machines use few needles to create precision lines. The machine holds one to 10 needles, with the most common figurations being one, three, five and seven. Shader tattoo machines hold many more needles to create shading effects and to fill in large areas faster. The machine holds more than 10 needles, with the most common figurations being four, six, seven and nine.

Machine Position

Although the liner and shader tattoo machines look the same, the shader has a slightly angled position. Liners have an upright position. The position is created by the contact screw at the top of the tattoo machine. The angle of the shader allows for a more efficient shading technique.


Every tattoo machine has a capacitor that works like a battery that stores energy, only it reacts much faster than a battery. It charges and discharges in seconds. Liner tattoo machines have a smaller capacitor, which reacts quickly so the machine runs faster for more precise lines. Shader tattoo machines have a larger capacitor so the machine runs slower.


The current flows through the coils in the tattoo machine. The smaller the coils, the faster the current will travel because of the shorter distance. For that reason, liner shader tattoo machines have smaller coils, and shader tattoo machines have larger coils.

Contact Gap

There is a gap between the armature bar and the tattoo machine's springs. The bar moves up and down, hitting the contact points on the machine's springs. The bigger the contact gap, the longer it takes the bar to touch the contact points. For faster liners, the gap is the width of a dime. For slower shaders, the gap is the width of a nickel.

Needle Position

Liner needles are arranged in a circle. The more needles, the thicker the line drawn. Shader needles have a straight line arrangement, like the points on a comb. The line of needles colours more skin faster and creates the shading effect.

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