Nearly 140 years ago, Thomas Edison invented an electric pen to speed up the process of creating duplicate copies of content. Little did he know that within 15 years, someone would figure out how to convert his electric pens, called Stencil-Pens, into rotary tattoo machines. That someone was Sam O'Reilly, who developed the first ink tube and needle system for use with Edison's rotary-powered electric pens in 1851. Just 20 days after O'Reilly filed his tattoo ink reservoir patent, a gentleman by the name of Thomas Riley patented the first single-coil tattoo machine across the pond in London, England. Soon after, fellow Londoner Alfred Charles South created the first double-coil tattoo machine. The ideas laid forth by these founding fathers of modern tattooing have been steadily improved upon ever since.
The tattoo machine has evolved by leaps and bounds since O'Reilly, Riley and South invented the first three iterations of the rotary and coil tattoo machines. Coil tattoo machines are no longer so heavy that they have to be suspended from the ceiling to be operable, like South's first double-coil tattoo machine was. Rotary tattoo machines are even more advanced and represent some of the quietest, gentlest tattoo machines available today. Let's take a look at what makes these two types of modern-day tattoo machines tick.
Coil vs. Rotary Tattoo Machines
Rotary and coil tattoo machines operate in two different ways to achieve the same goal of inserting ink beneath the surface of the skin (i.e. epidermis) and depositing it into the secondary layer of skin, called the dermis. On a rotary tattoo machine, the needle bar is attached to a nub on top of a cylindrical motor that spins clockwise, moving the needle bar back and forth in a linear fashion as the motor rotates (see image to right). That motion inserts tattoo needles into the skin and retracts them smoothly, in a series of constant, fluid motions. Coil tattoo machines work quite differently, in a much more complicated fashion. They utilize electromagnetic current to create and break a circuit in a cyclical fashion, moving the needles attached to the machine forward into the skin when the circuit is created and retracting them when the circuit breaks.
When power is delivered to a coil tattoo machine, the two coils are charged and turned into an electromagnet (see image below). The electromagnet created by the coils pulls the machine's armature bar down towards the coils, which subsequently forces the attached tattoo needles down and into the skin. The downward motion of the armature bar pulls the front spring down with it and causes the spring to disconnect from the contact screw above it that a second before had completed a circuit. That break in the circuit causes the electromagnetic field to collapse momentarily, releasing the armature bar from the coils. The spring attached to the armature bar wants to move back to its natural position, and it pulls the armature bar up with it. When the front spring reconnects with the contact screw, the circuit and electromagnetic field are re-established. That starts the process all over again, pulling the armature bar back down, forcing the attached needles into the skin, pulling the front spring away from the contact screw, and breaking the circuit once more.
The way a coil machine is powered creates a hammer-like effect that drives tattoo needles into the skin more forcefully than they'd be moved by a rotary motor. There's constant power delivered to a rotary motor that keeps it moving in a fluid, clockwise pattern, pushing needles into the skin and pulling them back out more smoothly. Rotary tattoo machines therefore tend to be gentler on the skin, and tattoos created with rotary tattoo machines often heal faster and with less scarring — particularly when inked by novice tattoo artists. That said, if you love the buzz of tattoo machines that's traditionally associated with tattoo shops, then a coil tattoo machine is the option for you — particularly if you're an experienced artist who can manage a coil machine with finesse. Rotary machines are incredibly quiet by comparison, and there are fewer moving parts involved, which means they're typically more low-maintenance than traditional coil machines.
Pros & Cons of Rotary vs. Coil Tattoo Machines
To make it easier for you to compare coil and rotary tattoo machines side-by-side, we've provided the following chart detailing the general pros and cons artists have raised about each type of machine. Please note that your artistic experience, the quality of the machine you choose, and your experience with the two primary types of tattoo machines will all impact the personal pros and cons you experience with a rotary tattoo machine versus a coil tattoo machine. These are just some of the general factors you should consider before deciding which type of machine to purchase.
Tattoo Machine Brands & Models
Once you've decided that you want either a coil or a rotary tattoo machine, it's time to take a closer look at the tattoo machine brands and models available to you. The following list contains some of the top options offered on PainfulPleasures.com. For a comprehensive list of the tattoo machines available to you, please visit our Tattoo Machines section. You can also read our full Coil vs. Rotary Tattoo Machines article for more in-depth details about the brands listed below, rotary and coil tattoo machine diagrams, and additional information about the differences between these two types of tattoo machines.
Baltimore Street Irons Coil Tattoo Machines – This Pennsylvania-based tattoo machine company was established by Charles "Trey" Freeland in 2007, but Trey's been making tattoo machines since 1996 and he still has an active role in all areas of his business. Every Baltimore Street Irons coil tattoo machine is crafted with great skill and dedication. All the machine parts and tattoo machines they manufacture are thoroughly tested and come tuned so they're ready to use right out of the box.
Bishop Rotary Tattoo Machines – These 4 oz. rotary tattoo machines are so perfectly balanced that they feel practically weightless in your hands. They alleviate wrist pain and symptoms of carpel tunnel syndrome, and allow artists to work faster and longer. Each Bishop Rotary machine comes with a Swiss Maxon motor encased in billet aircraft-grade aluminum. This machine utilizes a needle clip instead of the traditional rubber band setup, eliminating unwanted needle motion. Each Bishop Rotary tattoo machine is hand-assembled and guaranteed for life.
Borg Coil Tattoo Machines – These traditional coil tattoo machines are handmade with care in the USA. Borg tattoo machines are known for their lightweight, single-piece aluminum frames, which make these machines light overall and incredibly well-balanced. Each component of every machine is hand-crafted in Borg's workshops, from their 8 wrap coils to their silver contact screws. Both Borg liners and shaders weigh in at just 5.5 oz. each, making them easy to maneuver while you tattoo.
Cheyenne Hawk Rotary Tattoo Machines – The Cheyenne Hawk Thunder and Spirit are two of the lightest tattoo machines on the market, weighing in at roughly 3.9 oz. (110g) each with their grips attached. Cheyenne Hawk tattoo machines provide all the benefits of rotary machines without sacrificing the feedback response inherent in coil tattoo machines, and their fine craftsmanship gives artists the highest level of control. They're lightweight and flexible, and they have long-life ball-bearing motors. You can use these dynamic rotary machines with nearly any conventional power supply.
CTPS Saveria Coil & Rotary Tattoo Machines – Top South American tattoo machine manufacturer CTPS Saveria has been hand-crafting exquisite coil and rotary tattoo machines in Argentina for more than 37 years. Each machine they produce is carefully hand-assembled over an 8-hour period. Their machines run strong even at low voltages and can be used immediately out of the box. CTPS Saveria offers several rotary tattoo machine options and 5 styles of coil tattoo machines that include a variety of liners, shaders and painters.
CTPS also manufactures Precision coil tattoo machines, which they make excusively for PainfulPleasures. The Precision brand encompasses lines of medical, piercing and tattoo supplies of the highest quality that are sold for some of the best prices you'll find online, and our coil tattoo machines are no exception.
Dead Nuts Ink Coil Tattoo Machines – This California-based company employs a team of machining and engineering veterans to hand craft their fine coil tattoo machines from raw materials. They make all of their own hardware in-house and can customize any of their tattoo machines to meet specific artists' needs. Each Dead Nuts Ink tattoo machine is crafted from a single-piece Cast Ductile Iron frame that's finished in-house, hand-signed, numbered, perfectly tuned for immediate out-of-the-box use, and sent with a lifetime warranty.
Dragonfly Rotary Tattoo Machines by Ink Machines – This Swedish tattoo machine manufacturer uses its top-notch facility and broad industry knowledge to make unique rotary tattoo machines at highly-competitive prices. Their Dragonfly rotary tattoo machine is an ergonomic, state-of-the-art machine made from the highest-quality materials available. It's a lightweight, quiet machine with an adjustable suspension system that allows artists to easily adjust needle hitting force, and it comes with a needle bar retainer. Use the Dragonfly tattoo machine with any standard grips, tubes, needles, and tattoo power supply.
Ego Rotary Tattoo Machines – World-renowned tattoo artist Bez of Triplesix Studios developed the Little Ego and Ego Apex Overkill with a wrist-friendly design that shifts all of the weight forward to give Ego tattoo machines an almost pen-like feel and artists maximum needle control. The Little Ego is made from quality, scratch-free plastics and has a special UV coating that makes it easy to clean. The newer Ego Apex Overkill is crafted from a solid block of aircraft aluminum that weighs under half a pound, and it comes with a Swiss-made Maxon Overkill motor. Use Bez's power triangles with these rotary machines to simulate the spring effect of coil tattoo machines and get the perfect give and throw every time you tattoo.
FK Irons Coil Tattoo Machines – All Fallen King Irons (FK Irons) AL13 coil tattoo machines are carefully-crafted from the hardest aircraft-grade aluminum available, making them extremely lightweight while also indestructible. FK Irons conventional and cutback lining and shading coil tattoo machines all weigh in at just 4.5 oz. (~127.6g) each. The cutback liners and shaders have a shorter front spring, so they run faster even when used at the same voltage as the conventional liners and shaders. The lighter armature bar on FK Irons soft shaders allows them to run faster and more softly than their color packers.
Godoy Machines Coil Tattoo Machines – Godoy Machines specializes in innovation through experimentation. They strive to educate tattoo artists of all skill levels and offer the most up-to-date tattooing information available through their seminars and books like Tattoo Machines and Their Secrets. Godoy believes that you'll be better equipped to apply any tattoo once you fully understand how your tattoo machine functions, which is the basis behind their educational endeavors. Enjoy the solid functionality of a Godoy coil tattoo machine and learn how it works inside and out with Godoy Machines' book, which is available in both English and Spanish and in a variety of formats.
InkJecta Rotary Tattoo Machines – The InkJecta Flite v2.1 is manufactured in Australia for tattoo artists, by tattoo artists. These lightweight, long-lasting rotary tattoo machines have a long-grain "fiber" construction, and they assist artists in creating superior tattoos. Both the InkJecta Flite v2.1 Combo and Vice models come with brushless 5 watt Maxon motors that make these machines unique; they're the only rotary machines on the market that have the ability to run at lower speeds without sacrificing power or the quality of your work. Use the Combo model with adjustable grips and the Vice model with flex and fixed grips.
Pirat Coil Tattoo Machines – Pirat tattoo machines are handmade in the Czech Republic from durable iron and aluminum. These are precise, lightweight, smooth-running coil tattoo machines that are available in both liner and shader varieties. Pirat offers their coil tattoo machines in 16 standardized models and a special series of "one-piece only" machines. They also plan to release a new rotary tattoo machine later this year.
Skin 2 Rotary Tattoo Machines – The Skin 2 rotary tattoo machine has a unique adjustable give that allows you to set the machine "harder" for lining and "softer" for filling, shading and coloring using the adjustment notches on the cap. These lightweight, silent machines from Italy also produce minimal vibrations. Each Skin 2 tattoo machine comes with a Swiss-made motor and a needle clip instead of rubber bands, weighs in at just 3.2 oz. (90g), and will support up to 55 magnum needles. This is a fast, high-quality rotary tattoo machine that will help you ink a superior tattoo every time you use it.
Spektra Rotary Tattoo Machines by FK Irons – In addition to their coil machines, FK Irons also offers a line of rotary tattoo machines. Choose from the Spektra Halo and Spektra Direkt rotary tattoo machines, which each offer unique advantages. The Spektra Halo tattoo machine delivers ultimate performance with its autoclavable body and innovative MotorBolt System. Having a few different MotorBolts gives you the flexibility to change stroke on the fly simply by changing motors via the Halo's easy 1/4-turn mechanism. The Spektra Direkt tattoo machine has body-mounted strokes that stay inside the machine body, and the casing is precision-machined from solid aircraft-grade aluminum that's anodized in your choice of 7 different colors. This 2.8 oz. machine is easy to maneuver and comes with an adjustable stroke module that has 3 setting options. It's a virtually maintenance-free tattoo machine with a Hex Drive motor system that reduces the axial load on the motor shaft to extend the motor's life and reduce vibrations.
Stigma-Rotary Tattoo Machines – Stigma-Rotary tattoo machines are durable, ergonomic, and easy to maneuver rotary machines made by a world-leading tattoo machine manufacturer. These sleek-looking machines come with the most powerful Swiss-made Maxon motors on the market, and they're finished with a lasting sheen that keeps them looking pristine even after years of use. Stigma-Rotary tattoo machines are reliable, powerful and stylish rotary machines that come with an unbeatable warranty. Choose from 4 styles, including the Amen, the Beast, the Hyper V3, and the Prodigy, as well as a large selection of Stigma rotary machine parts that you can use to keep your machine running smoothly.
Tatmatic Mfg. Coil Tattoo Machines – Tatmatic Manufacturing offers a line of coil tattoo machines developed by Dave Ritchie, who builds high-quality machines exclusively for professional tattoo artists. The quality of his work shows in every single one of Tatmatic's hard-hitting, precise and stylish coil tattoo machines. Both our Tatmatic liners and shaders come with 6 wrap coils. Choose from a variety of styles, like the Mini Jenny Liner and the Tatmatic Square Shader.
Valor Direct Rotary Tattoo Machines by TatSoul – After more than two years in development, the Valor by TatSoul is finally here! These rotary tattoo machines were designed by some of the finest tattoo artists in the industry with impeccable craftsmanship and the goal of creating a rotary machine that outperforms other tattoo machines in every way possible. The Valor Direct rotary tattoo machine has a sleek yet practical body that conveys its power and durability. Each Valor Direct machine is hand-assembled and tested by TatSoul's in-house team to ensure perfection in fit and function. These are strong, lightweight, perfectly-balanced machines that perform brilliantly.
Vital Machines Coil Tattoo Machines – Vital Machines strives for the highest build quality in the industry, they're continuously improving their machines, they don't cut corners, and their staff is comprised of machinists, designers, engineers, and tattoo artists with many years of industry experience. With these standards in place, Vital Machines has created a line of versatile coil tattoo machines that are lightweight, agile, adjustable, powerful, durable, and able to work with you all day, every day. Vital Machines are made in the US from aircraft-grade aluminum, and their easy-to-clean, professionally-anodized exteriors won't chip or fade. Inside they contain the highest grade of magnetic steel, insulators made from durable aircraft composite that doesn't crack or distort, highly-conductive brass and copper electrical components, and mechanical parts made from tempered tool steel that won't dent, bend or break. Use your Vital tattoo machine with any needle size/grouping and any tattoo tubes on the market.
Welker Coil & Rotary Tattoo Machines – Each precision Welker tattoo machine is CNC machined from a single piece of 1018 Cold-Rolled Steel in Welker's state-of-the-art machine shop. Welker coil tattoo machines are available with your choice of a blue "antique" or black oxide frame finish, both of which come with finished brass binding posts and contact screws. You can use nearly any size and style of tubes with these hand-tuned machines, which come with unique Welker grips and are guaranteed for life. In addition to their coil machines, Welker also now offers both a standard rotary and an adjustable rotary tattoo machine. The adjustable machine features a spring tension that you can screw to adjust the hit to your preference, whereas the standard rotary machine comes with a medium throw and the ability to adjust the hit off of the power supply.
How to Save on Tattoo Machines & Supplies
PainfulPleasures offers one of the largest selections of tattoo supplies available online. We carry everything from tattoo machines to practice skin, tattoo ink to disposable tubes, needles to grips, and beyond.
PainfulPleasures Article, Coil vs. Rotary Tattoo Machines
PainfulPleasures Tattoo Machines Section
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Wikipedia Article, Tattoo Machines
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