How to choose a tattoo machine

Jun 30, 2018

How to choose a tattoo machine

Choosing a tattoo machine is a personal matter. The best way to find a tattoo machine that suits you is to visit a trade show, and if possible try out some machines before you invest in any.

Essentially the gun is a paintbrush which allows you to paint a picture, so getting the right one is important. Whether you choose coil or rotary, you need to be sure that the ink and any accessories you may need are also readily available.

Talking to other tattoo artists on a forum is a great way to hear other people's points of view, and to get ideas of which guns are best to invest in, and which are best avoided.

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Rotary Tattoo Machines

Rotary Tattoo Mchines are named for their mechanics: a needle is attached to the top of a rotating cylinder, and the rotation steadily drives the needle in and out of the skin. This results in quiet, gentle application of ink. The consistency of the needle’s movement makes it great for filling in color evenly. They’re also quite easy to use, with few moving parts for simple maintenance.

There are some drawbacks to rotary tattoo machines. Because of the nature of the rotation, you have to use a complete stroke (in and out). Also, it’s not easy to shade with rotary machine since they are so smooth and consistent with the needle drive.

Although most of these use electric motors to turn the cylinder, a relatively recent invention of pneumatic machines are also available.

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  • Quieter than the coil machine

  • Less damage to skin

  • Easy to use for beginners

  • Lower maintenance

  • Meddle movement in fast and consistent

  • Better for filler work


  • Line depth and shading is often more difficult

  • Full stroke is needed to complete the motion

  • Fast needle movement sometimes makes it hard to create stitched lines

Coil Tattoo Machines

Coil tattoo machines are more common than rotary machines. When you think of tattooing and that trademark buzz associated with it, you’re thinking of coil tattoo machines. These machines have current running through their coils to create an electromagnetic field that closes and breaks a circuit in a rapid, periodic manner, pulling an armature bar (along with the attached tattoo needle) into the skin and then springs it back. While most are double-coiled, single or triple coil tattoo machines are available as well. Coil tattoo machines are highly customizable, but be careful with your warranty to be sure alterations don’t void any guarantees.

These machines hit a lot harder than rotary machines, meaning healing might be slower and more skin damage is possible (especially with unskilled application from the artist). However, more intricate linework can be created than with the steady rotary machines. The artist has more control over the depth and power. This control doesn’t come easily, so it’s better for experienced artists. With so many moving parts and a variable number of coils, it’s easy to modify these machines, but at the same time, they tend to require more maintenance and tuning.

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  • Makes very smooth, refined lines

  • Faster completion time

  • Great for intricate lines

  • Has an overall better control

  • Easy to build your own machine


  • Noisy

  • Good for more experienced tattoo artists, may not be to good for beginners

  • Harsher on the skin

  • More moving parts

  • Higher maintenance