Choosing the Best Type of Tattoo Machine for You

Any tattoo artist can attest to the importance of a tattoo machine— it becomes a true extension of your arm through and through. If you’re just starting your venture as a professional tattoo artist, you might not have developed a preference just yet and would like some guidance!

Everyone wants to know what the best tattoo machines are and sure, who doesn’t? However, the “best” really does differ from tattoo artist to tattoo artist because of unique tattoo styles and techniques. To help you decide what works best for you, we’ve created a comprehensive tattoo machine guide to help in picking the right tattoo machine!

Tattoo machines or tattoo guns can be broken down into four main camps of machines: coil tattoo machines, rotary tattoo machines, liners and shaders. Liners and shaders are, for the most part, coil tattoo machines but we’ll come back to that later. The main difference between coil and rotary machines is the internal workings on of each—coil machines run on coils while rotary machine run on a wheel.

Coil Tattoo Machines

Let’s start with coil tattoo machines. A coil machine is powered by the charging of internal coils that create an electromagnet. This electromagnet, in turns, pulls the tattoo machine’s armature bar which then pushes the tattoo needle down into the skin and back up again. While dual-coiled machines seem to be the more popular choice, single-coiled and triple-coiled machines are also available in the market. When you walk into a tattoo shop, you can almost instantly recognize whether a tattoo artist is utilizing a coil machine because of the hammer-like sound it creates. You can’t miss it! There’s also a vibration coming off the machine which some tattoo artists prefer.

Rotary Tattoo Machines

A Rotary tattoo machine is a lot different in comparison because it doesn’t operate in the same magnetic draw and release method as above. Instead, it runs on an internal pulley system composed of an electric motor that rotates the armature bar. This actually increases the gun’s stability making rotary machines gentler on the skin because it doesn’t “hammer” in and out like a coil tattoo machine; instead, it keeps a steady pace of inserting and releasing the needle.

Lining Tattoo Machines

Clean lines are the basis of all tattoos. A machine that is created specifically for executing crisp line work is called a liner. Most do run on coils and a lining machine will use groups of needles in a circular pattern to deliver ink to skin. Most liners are lightweight giving ultimately giving you more control of the intricacy and precision of your line work.

Shading Tattoo Machines

Most shaders also run on coils. Used to deliver larger swaths of color, shading or depth, shaders tend to be a lot heavier because of larger coils that are more powerful and because they contain a larger grouping of needles. The heavier weight is ideal when shading because you actually want the machine’s weight to help you push ink in without forcing it too much on your own.

To break things down even more, we created this infographic to demonstrate the key differences between coil and rotary machines. Because each machine’s pros can be the other’s cons, we thought we’d keep it positive!

coil tattoo machines vs rotary tattoo machines

It’s also important to remember that every tattooer’s experience is very different, adding individual brands and machine sub-types, can also really skew preferences. It’s important to talk to your mentors, advisers, fellow tattoo artists, and gauge their own personal choice in what machine works best for them. Ultimately, most tattoo artists actually own different machines and interchange them regularly depending on the type of tattoo they’re creating.

Check out our extensive collection of professional tattoo machines in both coil and rotary formats from industry-leading brands! Want a personal opinion on what you should get, contact us! We’re seasoned tattooers ourselves and run a successful tattoo shop, we’d love to help you out.

Do you prefer one over the other? Did we miss a pro? Let us know!