Tattoo Machines - How to Choose?

The most basic and important tool of any tattoo artist is definitely a tattoo machine. If you want to test your skills as a tattoo artist you need to understand the difference between the types of tattoo machines. Nowadays, the most popular types are:

  • rotary
  • and coil tattoo machines.

Rotary tattoo machines and coil tattoo machines operate two different ways to achieve the same outcome of moving tattoo needles in and out of skin to deposit ink into the dermis with each insertion. Moreover, the weight of tattoo machines is different, they are also vary in principle of operation, mechanism and even the sound during the tattoo process.

Coil Machines

The most commonly seen and used type is a coil tattoo machine. A traditional coil tattoo machine utilizes electromagnetic current passed through a pair of coils to trigger a draw and release of the machine's armature bar. It's a hammer-like effect, with the release of the springs causing the armature bar to essentially tap the attached tattoo needles into the skin


The variations of coil tattoo machines are impressive. You can find a tattoo machine with single coils, there are double coils at the same time, triple coils are also as an option. A lot of different combinations exist, but the standard type of tattoo machines is still a double coil tattoo machine. Despite of standards coil tattoo machines may also vary by the type of work you’ll choose:

  • lining,
  • shading

But the specificity of coil tattoo machines is inside the inability to do both - drawing lines and shading. So that’s why most artists prefer to work with two coil machines.

Please also note that coil machine cannot do both: drawing lines and shading, that’s why most artists usually purchase two coil machines.

Rotary Machines

Rotary tattoo machines move needles up and down using a small DC motor that’s encased in a hard outer layer. These machines are incredibly simple but they are becoming more and more popular in the industry these past couple of years. The weight, noise and versatility are the main advantages why many tattoo artist prefer the rotary machine. With popularity comes diversity and today, there are many different types of rotary tattoo machines available. The main types are:

  • the Direct Drive,
  • Armature Bar Guided,
  • Linear Action
  • and Swashdrive.

Unlike coil tattoo machines, rotary machines can be used as:

  • a liner
  • and a shader at the same time
    (it only depends on the type of needle bar you decide on).

So a tattoo artist can successfully complete an entire tattoo, no matter how laborious the design, using only one tattoo machine. Rotary machines offer some huge advantages over coil tattoo machines even though the most professional tattoo artists prefer to use the second because their costliness and availability. A rotary machines are becoming more popular with a growing number of tattoo artists now.

The best way to determine which tattoo machine is right for you is to try them out. Getting the right one is an important step in the process of finding your way as an artist.