Difference between a liner & a shader tattoo machine

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Many aspiring tattoo artists have several questions about the technical aspects of tattooing. It can be difficult to get answers from the tattooing community, so doing your homework on your own is important.

One of the most common tattooing questions is about the difference between a liner machine, for outlines and black work, and a shader machine, for shading and colouring. There are enough differences between the two set ups that most tattoo artists keep multiple machines on hand that are set up for either application.

Needle Configuration

One of the most noticeable differences in a tattoo machine set up for lining and one set up for shading is the number of needles and how they are positioned. A machine that is set up for lining will usually use fewer needles than a shading machine so that the work can be more fine and detailed. Liners can be set up with anywhere from one to seven needles, which are positioned in a circle. Shaders are set up with more than four needles, which are usually in a straight line that resembles a comb.

Speed and Power

Tattoo machines that are set up for lining usually run faster than those set up for shading. Liners also use less powerful capacitors than shaders, which are best set up with a 47uF to 100uF capacitor. The higher power capacitor used in a shader tattoo machine powers the larger amount of needles and allows them to penetrate the skin enough to create vibrant and lasting colour. A liner can be set up well with a 22uF capacitor.


When setting up a tattoo machine, a good rule of thumb is to use a higher wrap coil when you are using more needles. This applies when setting up a tattoo machine for shading versus lining. A machine set up for shading should be set up with a 10 to 12 wrap coil, while a machine set up for lining works well with an eight wrap coil. The more wraps there are in the coil, the more powerful the electromagnetic force that moves the needles becomes.


Shading tattoo machines are usually slightly heavier than lining machines, with the former averaging between eight and 284gr. and the latter weighing in between seven and eight oz. Larger artists that can handle a heavier weight for longer amounts of time may be more comfortable with a heavier machine for either lining or shading. It is important for you to be comfortable with the weight of your tattoo machine so that fatigue doesn't cause your quality of work to suffer.