The set up of a tattoo should be very ritualistic. Every thing you do should be the same every time you tattoo. This way you always know where everything is and where everything is not. If something is missing you know exactly what. Here is the best way I have figured out over the years; feel free to come up with what is most comfortable for you. This is a list of what you need for every tattoo.
1. Wax Paper
2. (2) hand sized plastic spray bottles
3. Three non-locking plastic baggies
4. One disposable razor
5. One wooden tongue depressor (Popsicle stick)
6. Tubes according to what needle grouping you will be using
7. Needles according to type of tattoo, sterilized and unopened
8. One new roll of paper towels
9. Ink caps
11. Pattern transfer chemical
12. One container of petroleum jelly
13. Two one inch rubber bands
14. Small plastic cups filled with water, same number as pigments used
15. Tattoo machine power supply with clip cord and foot switch
16. Tattoo machine
17. One box of latex gloves
18. Tattoo pattern
19. One small in sizes paper plate
20. Suitable work area with proper lighting
The first step of the tattoo process is to sterilize your work area. This means that you want to spray down all of your workstation surface and the chair your client will be sitting in with your bleach and water mixture. Spray the table then the chair. The reason you want to do this in order is because you don't have time to let the bleach water sit on the table. That way the table top is soaking for and extra few seconds while you spray the bleach water on the chair. You wipe the bleach off the table and let the chair soak while you set up. After you wipe down the table top you when to lightly spray water on the corner of the work station you plan to use. You always want to operate from one corner or the other so you have room to move your client around. If you work from the center then you will hit the table or they will get in the way as you tattoo. Rip off a sheet of wax paper about a foot or so in length. Lay down the wax paper in the water lined up with the corner of the table. The water you sprayed will hold down the wax paper and keep it from moving as you tattoo.
Ink caps are small plastic caps that you use to put the pigment in while you tattoo, kind of like what a painter calls their pallet. Most generally ink caps come in two sizes. #9 and #16 ink caps are the common sizes that you will use. The nines are the small ink caps, while the sixteen's the large. Count out the colors you will need to apply the tattoo and use that many ink caps. For the most part you want to use small ink caps until you see just how far the pigment goes. If your doing a small tattoo and fill all large caps then you will be throwing away allot of un-used pigment. Never try to put the pigment back in the bottle. This will cause massive cross contamination. The supply companies sell trays for the ink caps to fit into called ink cap holders. These look cool but you do not want to use them. Most are plastic which you can't autoclave, and the metal ones are too bulky to autoclave and package. A small paper plate works much better, and you get to throw it away when you're done. Remember sterile is good but nothing beats new.
After you determine how many ink caps you plan to use and what sizes the you take a wooden tongue depressor (popsicle stick) and get a healthy but controllable glob of petroleum jelly on the end if it. We use a depressor because it's long so it's easy to get what you need from the jar and its sterile cause it's new and disposable. Use the depressor to apply the jelly to the paper plate; you want to sculpt it in shape using the depressor. If you look at the small paper plate you will notice that there is a ring in the center. It stops just before the edge starts to rise up to make the lip and outside edge of the plate. You want to apply the jelly in shape to that inside ring leaving the center of the plate clean. The reason for this is so while you are tattooing and dip your pigment you have a place to set your hand. If you are dipping for pigment and set your hand on the outside edge of the plate it will flip and throw pigment on you and your client. Place the ink caps on the paper plate in a curved line following the curve of the inside edge of the plate. Make sure you space them out a little. You don't want red to get in your white and all your whites be pink. Another little trick of mine is to put just a small amount of jelly on the bottom of the plate so when you put it on the wax paper it doesn't move while you tattoo. Place the paper plate in the center of the wax paper so the curve of the ink caps is facing away from you. This is so your hand can use the resting point and fit nicely on the plate as you dip. Place the plate on the wax paper before you fill the ink caps, trust me when I say that dropping the plate once is enough to make you never what to do that again. Filling the ink caps is one of the last things you will do because the longer your pigments sit they will dry out and get hard. Next you want to lay the needles and tubes on the right hand side of the plate so they are out of them way at first. Then the machine and disposable razor go on the left with the extra baggie under them. Your machine should be pretended before you set up so you don't have to mess with it while the client is watching. You may have to make minor adjustments but you don't want to spend ten minutes tuning in front of the client because it may cause them to be nervous or think that the machine is failing. Next you want to make sure your spray bottles are full. The spray bottle with green soap should be 25% "green soap" and 75% water. Should you ever run out of green soap you can use regular antibacterial soap mixed with water in the same amounts. Antibacterial soap should only be used as a back up because it dries out the skin much faster than green soap, making the tattoo have difficulty healing.
Never use a pump action bottle. The way they work is they pump the liquid out when depressed and as the rise they drawl in air. This means that they can drawl in blood and viruses as well contaminating the whole container. Only use plastic spray bottles. The other spray bottle should be straight water. You need three plastic non-locking baggies for the tattoo set up. Two of those baggies go on the spray bottles. Hold one up so you can see the corners of the baggie. You want to use your finger nails to rip off a small piece of the corner, just enough to leave a pin hole. Place the baggie over the spray bottle and stretch the hole over the spout. The small hole will stretch and fit over the nozzle tightly as to hold the baggie on the bottle. This way you're not fighting the baggie during the tattoo and it stays in place. Don't just tear a hole in it and expect it to stay where it needs to, because it won't. It also creates a seal around the nozzle do you don't get pigment on the spray bottle. Do this to both bottles and set them on the left hand corner of the wax paper. Place the water closest to you and the green soap on the other side of the water. You will use the water the most so you want it closer.
Now you want to count the ink caps and fill up the small plastic cups of water in the same number. You want to get the water in the cups as close to the top as you can without spilling them so you can dip your tube in without having to fight to get it in the water. If you only fill the cups half of the way it's a pain to get the pigment to wash out your tube. The purpose of the cups is to wash out the pigment as you change color. This is why you want one for each cap. You should line up the cups along the top edge of the wax paper so you can get to them with ease but they are still out of the way. If you spill one during a tattoo you will have to set up all over again because it will spread blood and pigment every where. Your spray bottles should be cattie-corner to the upper left corner of the wax paper, in front of the bottles should be your transfer solution or single use speed stick making a triangle shape. Your power supply should be out of the way but still close enough to get to should you need to make any adjustments. Make sure that the clip cord will not knock over anything on the table.
Now you're ready to pour the pigment into the ink caps. You want black first, then continue going from darkest to lightest color. This will be the order you will have to tattoo in so it's best to set up in this manor. While you pour the pigments you want to hold the bottle with one hand in the middle and apply your index finger and middle finger, one on each side of the spout. Sometimes the pigment will dry in the spout so you may have to unscrew the top and pour it out. If this occurs, set the bottle aside for the spout to be cleaned with hot water and a straightened paper clip after the tattoo is done. Should you run out of any pigment during the course of the tattoo then you should remove your old gloves, wash your hands, and then replace new gloves before you touch the bottle to avoid cross-contamination. When pouring the pigment always hold the bottle two inches above the ink cap. You want to drip not squeeze. If you squeeze then pigment will spray every where. Dripping breaks the stream of pigment so you don't cross-contaminate. This is more important when you are filling an already used ink cap. If you contaminate a pigment bottle then every person getting a tattoo with that pigment will be compromised. So drip two inches above the ink cap. The last thing you will do while setting up for a tattoo is to set the pattern in the center of the paper plate making sure you don't set it in pigment over-spill of water. It will ruin your pattern.
As you can see I am very specific when it comes to set up. The way I set up a tattoo is for a left handed person so you may want to find your own way but make sure you don't leave anything out. Once the client is seated, scrambling around looking for something does not look very professional. Either way you set up your tattoo, make sure it's how you set up every time and make sure that everything is nice and neat. The better everything looks the more professional you look. The more professional you look the more your client will be relaxed and trusting your best judgment. Plus if they come in and see the same set up every time they will see that you are very clean and very consistent. After the tattoo set up is the time you need to take your Zen moment. Before every tattoo you need to take a moment for yourself. Reflect on the tattoo and what you are about to do. Relax and center yourself to prepare for the next challenge. Always take your time, never rush and you will be fine. I personally smoke a cigarette, some of my friends drink a cup of coffee, and some take a walk around the block. Calm down and relax before every tattoo.
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