The Ultimate Guide to Tattoo Voltage | Painful Pleasures Community

The Ultimate Guide to Tattoo Voltage

Understanding tattoo voltage is crucial to nailing your unique style and key techniques. Learn all about voltage in this blog!
by Danny Tress Last Updated: June 13, 2024

There are so many adjustable factors to consider when you’re tattooing… and tattoo voltage is one of THE. MOST. IMPORTANT. If you’re just starting out or you’re trying a new style, knowing what voltage to use can get confusing. If you’ve ever found yourself scratching your head (hopefully not while holding a live machine) over what voltage to use and when, you’re not alone.

So we’re diving into the (perhaps shocking) subject of what voltages to use and when. Let’s zap through the basics so you’ll feel confident to take on whatever style feels right to you.

What Is Tattoo Voltage?

If you’re already a seasoned artist, feel free to skip over this part. But in layman’s terms, tattoo voltage is the electrical current that powers your tattoo machine. It affects your machine’s speed and how hard the needle hits your client’s skin. Knowing how to use the right tattoo voltage is paramount for nailing certain styles and techniques while also reducing trauma to your client’s skin so their work can heal well.

How Does Voltage Affect Tattooing?

Two Critical battery packs sitting in a Critical charging dock

Like we said above, the voltage setting on your tattoo machine determines the speed and force of the needle. A higher tattoo voltage causes the needle to move faster and hit the skin with more force, while a lower voltage results in slower needle movement and less force. Selecting the correct voltage is vital for various aspects of tattooing, including shading, lining, and color packing. It affects the quality of the finished tattoo and the healing process.

Voltage Range Chart

Here’s a basic voltage range chart to guide you:

Lining: 7.5v–9v

Shading: 6v–8v

Color Packing: 7v–9v

Please note that these are general guidelines. The ideal voltage may vary depending on the machine type, needle setup, and personal technique.

The Voltage Spectrum

Let’s break it down:

1. Lining (7.5-9V):

When you’re laying down crisp, bold lines, you want a bit more oomph. A higher voltage helps the needle penetrate the skin quickly and cleanly, giving you those solid, steady lines. Think of it like a sharpie – you want it to leave a mark the first time. There are, of course, exceptions to this rule… particularly if you’re doing delicate linework, fine line tattoos, or single needle tattoos (check out our blog on how to do single needle tattoos here).

2. Shading (6-8V):

Shading is a bit more nuanced. You need enough power to get the pigment in there, but not so much that you’re causing too much trauma to the skin. It’s like sweeping with a broom—consistent, even strokes. Aim for a mid-range voltage and adjust based on the client’s skin and the area you’re working on.

3. Coloring + Color Packing (7-9V):

When packing color, you need a balance between speed and power. Too low, and you’ll spend all day on one area trying to pack your color in. Too high, and you’ll have a very unhappy client with traumatized skin (and too much blood… this puts healing time in jeopardy and also means you’ll be wiping a hell of a lot more often). Finding that sweet spot ensures the color goes in smoothly and evenly.


Variety of tattoo machines on a workstation counter with tattoo battery packs

Different machines have different power requirements. So depending what tool you’re working with, your voltage requirements are likely to vary.

Rotary and Coil Machines

Generally, rotary machines can operate at lower voltages compared to coil machines. Coil machines often need more voltage to get the same effect as a rotary. That’s because coil machines use electromagnetic coils, and a strong magnetic field keeps them running—to maintain a strong magnetic field, you’ll need a higher voltage. Factors like spring tension also play a role in why you’ll likely need a higher voltage to operate your coil machine. To learn more about rotary versus coil machine operation, check out our blog here.

Pen Machines

Pen-style tattoo machines are designed to mimic the feel and handling of an actual pen. They’re a type of rotary machine, so they operate using a rotary mechanism, but they’re engineered for even more precise control and quieter operation. The streamlined design allows for easy handling and maneuverability, making it suitable for detailed work and longer tattoo sessions. Pen machines often require a specific voltage range that balances speed and precision without causing excessive trauma to the skin. Typically, they perform best when you’re usinhg a slightly lower voltage range than traditional rotary machines, due to their efficient design.


Close-up of Peak Vega tattoo power supply set to 8.,0v

Needle Configuration

Larger needle groupings, like your biggest mag configurations, require more power (higher voltage) to move effectively through the skin. Conversely, if you’re using a single needle, you don’t need a lot of power to get it moving. Always adjust your voltage according to what configurations you’re using.

Technique & Style

Obviously, you’ll be switching up your needle configurations as you change styles and techniques. So, yes, your tattooing style and techniques also influence your optimal voltage. More intricate work may require lower voltages for precision, while bold linework might benefit from higher settings. Refer back to the standard optimal recommendations for lining, color packing, and shading as a handy reference.


Close-up of FK Irons battery pack on the back of a tattoo machine

Ensuring the safety and comfort of your client is paramount. Incorrect voltage settings can lead to excessive trauma to the skin, resulting in poor healing and dissatisfaction with the tattoo. Here are safety considerations to keep in mind:

  1. Skin Type: Consider the client’s skin type and adjust the voltage accordingly. Clients with sensitive skin that’s easily inflamed will be less tolerant of higher voltages.
  2. Pain Management: Higher voltages can result in more discomfort for the client. Always strive for a balance between efficient tattooing and client comfort. Even if you feel like you could power through a color packing session a little more efficiently by cranking up your voltage… don’t do it if it comes at the expense of your client’s comfort AND the overall healing time for the tattoo. Skin that’s overly worked might not heal well at all.

Bonus Tips and Tricks

Here are a few pro tips to keep your voltage game strong:

  • Listen to Your Machine: A happy machine hums. If it sounds strained or erratic—or if it feels shaky, unmanageable, and full of intense vibration—your voltage is probably off.
  • Test on Fake Skin: Practice makes perfect. Use synthetic skin to get a feel for different voltages without turning your clients into test subjects.
  • Ask Other Artists: Everyone has their own tricks. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice about which voltages work best for other tattoo artists.


Voltage is a key player in your tattoo toolkit. Getting it right can mean the difference between a beautiful, lasting piece and a painful disaster with tons of blowouts. Keep experimenting, stay curious, and don’t be afraid to make adjustments. Remember, even the most efficient tattoo artists had to start somewhere, usually with a few mistakes along the way.

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