If you're looking to buy a new tattoo power supply and you haven't bought one before, this guide is here to help. New power options keep being developed, and we're here to help you make the best choice based on your power source and machine types. Staff artist Davey Arnold gives us his best tips and information on picking your next supply.
Start At The (Power) Source
Before anything else, you absolutely must know what your country’s power specifications are; most power supplies are labeled “100V NORTH AMERICA” or “220V EUROPEAN” but the reality is that it’s up to you to know which voltage you need. Since you’re reading before ordering it’s pretty safe to say you’re one of the smart ones, but just in case you’ve forgotten, you can check a handy chart of power output by country here.
Types Of Tattoo Power Supplies
There are a few types of power supplies you’ll need to know in order to make your decision. The most common type you’ll see is the digital power supply. Digital power supplies can come in a whole range of sizes and shapes, but they always have a digital display on them. The digital display gives you a reading that is easy to see from a distance, so if your machine starts to act up during a session you can immediately tell if the power source is the issue. Digital power supplies can generally deliver more voltage, up to 18V and beyond.
Analog power supplies are a slightly older style and, like the name says, they use an analog display. Analog displays look a lot like a barometer or a compass face; they’re easy to see, but until you’re familiar with reading it, you’ll need to stay close by to check your power levels. While it used to be true that analog power supplies lasted longer than digital ones, new digital supplies have pretty much closed the gap here.
Finally, the newest power supplies on the market are wireless power supplies. Wireless adapters have been around for a while, but we’re starting to see native wireless power supplies on the market. These power supplies don’t have antennas or bulky cords and you can choose which channel you want to connect them to your foot switch on. The downside to these set-ups is that they’re usually really expensive to buy as a complete set. With a wireless pedal, these bad boys can run you well over $400.
Machine Type Matters
You need to know your machines in order to get the performance out of them, and that matters when you’re looking to buy a new power supply. You should already know the best voltage range for all of your machines (ie. Your liner works best between 6V-8V, etc.) because the voltage varies so much by build. If you have been using your machines in a particular range but it keeps going up over time, grab a multimeter and check your power supply output; you might actually be getting less voltage than you’re “using.”
My personal preference is to use an analog power system whenever I’m using my coil machines (usually when I’m lining). It gives enough power for my liners and it doesn’t run out of juice. I’ve also had fewer issues with my analogs over the years, so I don’t mind using it for big outlines and little one-off pieces. If it’s just an outline or a grayscale tattoo, I’ll probably just use my analog power supply. Disclaimer: this might be more nostalgia than anything, I’ve had this analog power supply since I was an apprentice.
Now if I’m using my rotary machines or my Neuma hybrid I’ll use my digital power supply because it gets more power, and those machines can go way up above 14V for regular use (the Neuma is better off with the air pump, honestly, way better performance). It doesn’t make sense to use an analog power supply that maxes out at 15V when I might need a lot more to get really good performance out of my machines.
These types of personal preferences get developed over time, through tattooing a LOT, using many different machines in as many setups as you can imagine. If you don’t feel comfortable deciding, you’re a new artist (hopefully an apprentice), or you have a bunch of different machine types, I’d recommend you stick with a digital power supply. They’re inexpensive and they have a wider range of output levels, meaning you can work with more machines with them. If you’re relatively inexperienced, that’s a huge deal, because you’re going to be trying all kinds of equipment as you learn.