Choosing the Right Adjustable Stroke Tattoo Machine | Painful Pleasures Community

Choosing the Right Adjustable Stroke Tattoo Machine

Ready to fine-tune your skills with different stroke lengths? Discover the best adjustable stroke tattoo machines for you.
by Danny Tress Last Updated: June 5, 2023

You’ve mastered the standard 3.5mm stroke length, and now you’re ready to fine-tune your style with different stroke lengths. Or maybe you already use multiple stroke lengths, but you’re tired of swapping cams or switching between machines. Either way, an adjustable stroke tattoo machine is the answer. 

A Closer Look at Stroke Length

Stroke length refers to the distance your needle travels up and down. It varies from machine to machine but 3.5mm is known as the standard stroke length. Artists of all experience levels use this reliable stroke length. Moreover, if a tattoo machine doesn’t offer multiple, adjustable stroke options, it’ll commonly have a default 3.5mm stroke. 

A longer stroke length can drive your needles deeper into the skin, which can be useful for bold lining and color packing. Conversely, a shorter stroke length has a more shallow penetration, which is great for finer details and lighter shading. 

Without an adjustable stroke machine, you’re left with two options:

  1.  Deal with the hassle of changing stroke wheels or machines mid-session
  2. Stick to the standard 3.5mm stroke even when you know a different stroke length could improve your work 

Benefits of Adjustable Stroke Tattoo Machines

Close-up of the stroke knob

Adjustable stroke length machines give you the best of both worlds. They let you choose the best stroke for your unique style without interrupting your flow. They usually work by employing a “stroke adjustment knob,” sometimes referred to as a “click system.” One turn of the “stroke adjustment knob” or dial lets you change your stroke length on the fly while you’re tattooing. Oftentimes, you don’t even have to unbag your machine to do it.,. let alone swapping out an entire cam. See? Your flow is totally uninterrupted. 

But no two adjustable stroke tattoo machines are alike. When shopping for an adjustable stroke machine, you should consider the following:

  1. What stroke lengths does the machine offer? You’ll want to make sure the strokes you typically use (or are itching to try) are available to you.
  2. What’s the brand and quality of the machine? Understand the differences between high-end and low-end tattoo machines in our blog here.

Choosing Your Adjustable Stroke Machine

Ultimately, you should choose your adjustable stroke machine (and your desired stroke length) based on your personal preference and style. Considering your client’s comfort level is also important, since larger stroke lenths with deeper penetration can make it difficult for someone to “sit like a champ.” Moreover, if you’re not super experienced working with larger stroke lengths, you can overwork the skin, which can hamper the recovery process. 

Once you understand which stroke lengths work best for you, you’ll achieve your best work, minimize your client’s discomfort, and promoting faster recovery for the best healed results..

Roundup: Adjustable Stroke Tattoo Machines

To get started finding the best adjustable stroke machines for you, we’ve rounded up some of the best in the game. Check out our roundup below and choose the best one for your style.

Cheyenne Hawk Pen Unio

Adjusting stroke length doesn’t get any easier than with the Cheyenne Hawk Pen Unio. Take this machine from 2.5mm all the way up to 4.0mm with a turn of the stroke knob. Sure, you’ll pay more for this pen than you would for others in the Cheyenne Hawk lineup, but it’s easy to see why. The adjustable stroke gives you the functionality of multiple pens in one, combining the shading power of the Hawk Spirit and the bold lining power of the Hawk Thunder. 

Bottom line: With adjustable stroke length, voltage, needle depth, and the option to go wireless, this is a pen that can truly do it all.

Peak Proteus Pen


Glamour shot of Peak Proteus machine 

The Peak Proteus Pen offers one of the widest stroke ranges available, starting at a soft 2.4mm and going all the way up to a hard-hitting 4.2mm. Usually, for a range that impressive, you’d have to drop some serious cash on an adjustable machine. But the Peak Proteus gives you the added benefit of being accessibly priced at only $299. Plus, that price doesn’t compromise this machine’s top-notch functionality. The seven pre-set stroke length options (2.4mm, 2.7mm, 3.0mm, 3.3mm, 3.6mm, 3.9mm, 4.2mm) take the guesswork out of adjustments. You’ll always know exactly what you’re getting and won’t have to stress over adjusting the machine down to the millimeter. Just be sure NOT to adjust the stroke length when the machine is running because it can break the cam.

Bottom line: The Peak Proteus is one of the most affordable adjustable stroke machines available that still meet artists’ high standards for performance. If you want a budget-friendly intro into working with different stroke lengths, the Peak Proteus is a high-quality machine with easily adjustable pre-set stroke length options.

Axys Valhalla Rotary Pen


Glamor shot of Axys Valhalla

With the Axys Valhalla Pen, you’ll get five preset stroke length options (2.5mm, 2.9mm, 3.4mm, 3.8mm, and 4.2mm) and an easy click system that allows you to switch between stroke lengths while leaving the machine bagged. That means your sessions stay seamless and sanitary. Moreover, with its high-quality 10w Swiss motor, the Valhalla is just as powerful as it is versatile.

Bottom line: Designed for comfort, control, and convenience, the Valhalla Pen is top-of-the-line when it comes to pen-style machines with adjustable stroke.

Stigma-Rotary Stylist


Glamour shot of the Stigma Rotary Stylist machine

Another budget-friendly pen, the Stigma Stylist, offers a stroke length range of 3mm up to 3.7mm. With German manufacturing and a Swiss-engineered motor, this pen has gained a reputation for being reliable and nearly indestructible, despite its cost-friendliness. With a high-quality motor seen in the highest end machines and a price tag that doesn’t break the bank, what more could you ask for?

Bottom line: Although the Stigma-Rotary Stylist offers a slightly narrower stroke range than some other adjustable machines, it still has the versatility to handle most tattooing styles. With quality engineering and manufacturing, it’s a great bang-for-your-buck option.

HM Direct Drive Classic


Close-up of HM Direct Drive tattoo machine

The HM Direct Drive offers one the highest stroke lengths on the market. *Drumroll please*… with this machine, you’ll get : a hard-hitting 5.5mm to help you make quick work of bold lining and packing. But this machine is good for more than just lining. With a stroke range of 2.5 to 5.5mm and adjustable voltage, it’s ready for everything from shading to dot work as well. You’ll need an allen wrench to adjust stroke lengths, but HM makes configuring your machine’s settings easy with voltage and stroke length recommendations for all kinds of work.

Bottom line: The HM Direct Drive is a powerful adjustable stroke machine with one of the highest stroke lengths available on the market. Because you need an allen wrench to adjust the stroke, adjustments aren’t quite as convenient as they are with some machines. However, it more than makes up for the minor inconvenience with its high-quality manufacturing and affordable price point.

Is an adjustable stroke tattoo machine right for you?

If you’re serious about maximizing your potential as a tattoo artist, you’ll need to master using different stroke lengths.. Doing so lets you work with greater precision and finesse across all styles of tattooing. While you can always use different machines for different stroke lengths, the convenience of an adjustable stroke tattoo machine can’t be denied. Whenever you’re ready to invest in a machine that streamlines your sessions and gives you unmatched style versatility, refer back to this blog as your handy guide. Ready now? We offer the highest quality adjustable stroke rotary machines on the market like those listed above. Shop these adjustable stroke machines and more and take your tattooing to the next level.

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