Different Types Of Tattoo Machines: What Best Suit Your Needs?

A tattoo machine is a handy device designed to carve tattoos on the skin. There is a wide range of machines that tattoo artists can select to create intricate designs for specific customers.

However, as a beginner, you may not yet be familiar with the different types of tattoo machines available. But don’t fret. This article will provide a complete and comprehensive guide to help you understand the qualities of some popular machine types and what makes each one special and unique.

Different Types Of Tattoo Machines (Ultimate Guide)

Before jumping right into specific machines, it’s noteworthy that while there are always brand new designs and models in the marketplace that come with versatility, coil tattoo machines and rotary tattoo machines are the most admired and used widely by several experienced artists.

Coil Tattoo Machines

The coil tattoo machines are often associated with the traditional vibe from tattoo shops

Professional tattoo artists often favor coil machines as they are affordable and readily available in the market. However, they create more unnecessary buzzing noise while working, which sometimes distracts artists from focusing on their creative process.

The first machine based on the single coil machine was patented by Thomas Riley of London in 1891, 20 days after tattooist Samuel F. O’Reilly patented the first-ever electric tattoo machine. 

A coil machine utilizes electromagnetic coils to move an armature bar up and down. It’s similar to the hammer effect, with the release of the springs causing the armature bar to push the attached tattoo needles into the skin.

Coil machines also have many variations with different uses:

  • Liner: Its task is to apply a single pass of ink on the skin to mark a dominant line. The gap between an armature bar and spring is 4-5mm. It often has a rigid contact spring and a high-speed frequency (120-150 Hz) that gives clear lines and color separation. However, this machine works well for outlining, not packing colors. 
  • Shader: This type of coil machine’s primary purpose is to fill large areas and apply different ink gradients. This machine is set up to have a longer distance between the armature bar and spring (9-10mm). This goes deeper into the skin and needs more power than liners to hold a more significant number of needles. Besides, it has softer spring contact and a frequency of 60-100 Hz. However, it is not used to make outlines.
  • Color packer: The goal of this machine is to fill in colors for the tattoo. This hits harder than a shader, allowing colors and pigments to pack deeper into the skin and avoid going over the work again. However, this is not recommended for greyscale and shading gradients. 

Coil tattoo machines bring about both benefits and drawbacks:


  • Easy to regulate speed and power
  • Easy to customize 
  • Practically versatile
  • Faster completion time
  • Heavyweight allows more control for the artists
  • Make the process less painful


  • Disturbing sounds
  • Difficult to set up
  • Sensitive to voltage fluctuation

[alert-success]Read more: Reviews Of The 7 Best Coil Tattoo Machines[/alert-success]

Rotary Tattoo Machines


Aside from the coil tattoo machines, rotary tattoo machines are also preferred by most tattooists because of their superb features.

In 1978, Manfred Kohrs, a German tattooist and conceptual artist, invented the rotary machines based on original technology. Since then, rotary machines have marked their popularity in artistry, ushering in a new age of detail and control.

Rotary machines are powered by a spinning motor that draws and releases the attached needles. This means the needle enters your skin in a smooth, almost cyclical pattern that is contrary to the forcefulness of coil machines. Because of this, rotary machines tend to reduce the amount of time needed for healing.

Similar to coil machines, rotary machines also vary depending on different purposes:

  • Direct-drive: The force is directly transmitted to the cartridge or needle. The motor rotation keeps the needle moving in continuous oscillation. The rod of the needle is then sealed with the rubber bands to dampen the oscillation.
  • Slider: It transmits the motion through a longitudinal transferring element. It often provides a quiet, powerful, and smooth performance.
  • Pen: This is a pen device with an ergonomic design. It is the latest development of rotary machines that has been introduced by Cheyenne, the German tattoo equipment supplier company. It utilizes a cartridge system that gives complete freedom of movement during tattoo procedures.
  • Commutatorless motor: The machine utilizes a magnetic drive. It usually weighs less than the other types. However, it is costly, so not every artist can afford it.

Although rotary machines are less customizable, they are conquering the market and becoming widely used throughout the tattoo industry for the following reasons:

  • Lightweight
  • Incredibly simple to use
  • High efficiency
  • Less hand and finger cramping
  • Speed can be adjustable
  • Works smoothly without noise 
  • Minimal adjustments required

[alert-success]Read more: (Top 10) Best Rotary Tattoo Machine – Reviews & Top Picks[/alert-success]

Coil Machines Vs Rotary Machines: Which Should You Go For?

Rotary vs Coil Tattoo Machine Pros And Cons

Although both coil machines and rotary machines have advantages and disadvantages, and the choices depend mainly on an individual’s preferences, it’s crucial to consider some fundamentals below to choose the suitable tattoo machines.


Coil machines often bring about an iconic and traditional look, along with various choices and customizations to build your own devices. On the other hand, rotary machines are more modern but come with fewer options and customizations.


Rotary machines are smooth and make no sound at all, which is regarded as a positive feature. However, on the flip side, coil machines are often associated with a buzzing sound, which can be disturbing to many artists and customers. 


The majority of tattooists prefer the lightweight feature of the rotary machines over heavy coil machines because artists can work for long hours without getting fatigued. Oppositely, coil machines tend to cause pain in their fingers, hands, and wrists, especially in longer sessions. However, some find the weight of the coil facilitates their machine’s control to make precise artwork. 

Ease of use

Even though rotary machines are easy to operate, their settings are sometimes complex to control. On the other hand, coil machines’ speed and power are easily regulated. Still, their functions often require tattoo artists to be familiar with the machines to operate them effectively.


Some experts say that a single rotary machine can create both smooth lining and shading. However, unlike the rotary counterparts, the most significant downfall of the coil machines is that they can either fulfill shades or lines. Thus the investment doubles, and the procedure becomes complicated.

Replacement parts/customization

Parts of coil machines are typically not expensive and are easy to customize and change. However, in the case of rotary machines, artists need to send the machine back to repair or buy a new one when they break or do not work due to their unique design.


Cleaning is often a noticeable challenge for coil machines because the only way to autoclave the device is to take each piece apart then autoclave the frame. Also, coil machines can’t be sprayed with disinfectant because it will erode the coils and cause damage to the machine parts. 

On the contrary, tattooists can wipe or autoclave the rotary machines effortlessly while still avoiding cross-contamination. 


An excellent coil machine typically costs around 500$, while one rotary machine often costs higher (around $800). However, depending on the setup, you often need at least 3 coil machines, while only one rotary machine is required.

Bonus Tips

As a tattoo artist, having equipment that suits your needs can boost your performance and quality of work. To find a perfect machine for you, look for the following tips before purchasing tools for the next project. 

  • Materials: Selecting high-quality materials is essential as they reduce the risk of breaking the machine and affecting the procedure while in use. Make sure to check the material’s origins when buying the machine.
  • Sizes and shapes: The size and shape of the tattoo machines also need to be considered because you can be exposed to cramps while working if the process takes an extended period or the machine does not fit your hand.
  • Different types of machines: As tattoo machines are designed for specific uses, even the shading process requires various devices for soft shading and solid coloring. Hence, it is best to invest in different machines for specific purposes. Using the wrong tattoo machines may negatively destroy the tattoo and damage the customer’s skin.

The Final Words

Hopefully, this article has provided an in-depth insight into different types of tattoo machines to create body art. Although there are various machines available, coil machines and rotary machines are among the most popular.

Besides, as the tattoo machine is an essential base of the art form, choosing the one that matches your art style is the first step to delve deeper into the industry. Hence, make sure to test the machines before investing in one.

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