Q) A lot of artists I know are switching to disposable tubes. I have tried them a couple times and am not sure if I like them. What's the deal with disposable tubes, and do you recommend them?
A) For a long time, our industry was reluctant to take on disposables, and many artists used them only for travel. One of the big changes that's happening now is that you will find completely legitimate tattoo shops with no autoclave. Many shops are switching to disposables as a way of eliminating the need for a scrub room and the no-fun labor that goes with it. On the other hand, you give up some quality when you switch to disposables, so it's worth asking yourself what is important to you. I personally still use steel tubes. I have been using Morphix grips on these, which are lighter than steel grips but heavier than disposables. I do this because I have no choice- my setup has to be light or my career is over. I use lightweight machines, which go well with the lighter tubes- a heavy machine coupled with a lightweight tube creates a situation where the machine is continually pulling back on your hand, causing you to have to pull forward all the time. I know of a few artists who use heavy machines along with disposable tubes who developed severe wrist problems as a result. So balance is an issue. The tip is another issue as well- plastic tips react differently to friction against steel needles than a steel tube tip does, effectively slowing the needle down and causing the machine to work harder. This is something that you eventually can compensate for in the way you run the machine. My other issue is with the shape of the tips themselves; almost without exception, plastic liner tips tend to be bent back and away from the straight line that the needles move along. This is a by-product of the way the tubes are made- as the plastic cools and hardens, the tip bends away from the rinse hole (the cooling plastic shrinks more than the hole does) and ends up pointing in not quite the direction we need it to. If the plastic tube manufacturers actually did tattoos they would have figured this out a long time ago and reworked their molds to compensate for this hardening problem... maybe one of them will read this blog and decide to fix the problem. Until then, you will have to bend your needles back an extra couple degrees to keep them in contact with the back of the tube tip. I personally find this to be so lame that I won't use them, just out of principle. Also, I have a clave and a scrub dude, so I have no potential benefits from switching to plastic. I'll even admit that I am slightly opinionated about the subject... but plastic disposable tubes are improving gradually and will one day be almost as good as steel. I wouldn't be surprised at all if in ten years, steel tubes are almost totally a thing of the past. For now, though, I prefer steel.