Modern tattoo machines have several basic components:

  • A sterilized needle
  • A tube system, which draws the ink through the machine
  • An electric motor
  • A foot pedal, like those used on sewing machines, which controls the vertical movement of the needle.

The general steps involved in creating the tattoo are outlining, shading, coloring, and bandaging.


Outlining or black work uses a single-tipped needle and a thin ink. The artist begins by creating a permanent line over a stencil. Most start at the bottom right side and work up (lefties generally start on the left side) so they don't smear the stencil when cleaning excess ink from the permanent line.


After cleaning the area with soap and water, the artist uses a thicker ink and a variety of needles to create an even, solid line. Improper technique during this step can cause shadowed lines, excessive pain and delayed healing.


The artist then cleans the tattoo and overlaps each line of color to ensure solid, even hues with no holidays -- uneven areas where color has lifted out during healing or where the artist missed a section of skin.


After using a disposable towel to remove any blood and plasma, the artist covers the tattoo with a sterile bandage. Some bleeding always occurs during tattooing, but most stops within a few minutes.