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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, used primarily for outlines and black work, and a shader machine, used for shading and coloring. There are enough differences between the two methods that most tattoo artists keep multiple machines on hand for setting up for either form of application.

Needle Configuration

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A significant difference between a liner and shader tattoo machine 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 resembling a comb.

Speed and Power

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Tattoo machines 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 deep into the skin, creating vibrant and lasting color.


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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 instead of 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. A higher amount of wraps in the coil strengthens the electromagnetic force that moves the needles.


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Shading tattoo machines are usually slightly heavier than lining machines, with the former averaging between eight and 10 ozs and the latter weighing in between seven and eight ozs. It is important for tattoo artists to use a tattoo machine they are comfortable with, in case the weight of the machine results in fatigue.


Linda Becksterhed is a professional writer with a legal and crafting focus. She handled creation and distribution of fan newsletters from 1998 to 2001 and maintains an entertainment blog. She is a paralegal and an accomplished fiber artist, specializing in yarn, spinning fibers and crochet and knit designs.

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