Everything You Need to Know about Coil Tattoo Machines | Painful Pleasures Community

Everything You Need to Know about Coil Tattoo Machines

The coil tattoo machine is a timeless classic that can boost your tattooing career. Learn more about the coil machine in this blog.
by Danny Tress Last Updated: June 1, 2022

Nowadays, it seems to be all about rotaries. Pen, slider, and direct drive rotary machines can conquer any tattooing style, and many apprentices are training with them from the jump. But what about the coil tattoo machine?

The coil machine remains an industry staple. You can still hear the buzz of a coil machine in shops around the globe. Traditionalists and modern artists alike still count on coils for line work or color packing. And lately, artists who have only ever tried rotary machines are getting curious about the coil and what it can do.  

Getting curious about coil tattoo machines is healthy… and in fact, it can even improve your career as an artist! Coils can lead you to bolder lines, better color packing, and new techniques you wouldn’t have explored otherwise. But it all comes down to preference. So, let’s find out if the coil machine is right for you.

The Tattooing Benefits of a Coil Tattoo Machine

Row of coil tattoo machines for artists who are curious

Even if you know almost nothing about the coil machine, you’ve probably heard it’s a hard hitter. In fact, there’s a reason coil machines are so commonly used for American Traditional work (bold will hold after all!) Generally speaking, coil machines have a punchier hit than rotaries, often making for bolder lines and heavier color packing. This is largely because of the momentum created when a coil machine’s heavy armature bar taps needles into your client’s skin. For this reason, tattoo artist and TikTok star Jake Karamol favors coils for lining:

“I’m just very picky about how I like it to look. And with the way that the coil machine punches a little bit harder, it seems like I just get a better consistency.”

One of the best aspects of a coil machine? Its natural give. Give refers to the amount of resistance created when needles hit your client’s skin. You can largely thank a coil machine’s spring tension for creating this natural give or resistance. The front and back springs work You can tune your coil machine to have more or less give depending on your needs.  

With less give, there’s almost no resistance or bounce-back, so it’s great for pulling fast, heavy lines. With more give, you get more resistance, and that extra softness is great for smooth shading. Adjusting spring tension by tightening or loosening your back screw can easily change your coil machine’s give and how hard it hits.

Consequently, with so many parts to adjust, coils are also 100% customizable according to your taste. Choosing different wrap coils, coil sizes, and capacitors all affect the way your coil machine performs. In fact, artists who love coils typically have multiple machines in their setup, each customized and fine-tuned for different styles. Learn more about how your coil machine functions here.

Rotary versus Coil Tattoo Machines

With so many adjustable rotary machines on the market, it may seem like you can get all the benefits of a coil without the hassle. However, the two machines are fundamentally different in the way they operate. So, no matter how advanced your rotary machine is, there are certain elements of a coil machine you won’t be able to replicate. Overall, there are advantages to both rotary and coil machines. Choosing one, the other, or both is all based on your style, preference, and comfort level. Learn more about the differences between coil and rotary tattoo machines here.

Other Technical Considerations

Close-up of an artist using a coil tattoo machine to do line work on a client's thigh. The coil machine is set up with rubber bands, an orange grip, and a metal tube.

If you haven’t tattooed with a coil machine before, there are a few other things you should bear in mind. With the right knowledge, you can pick up a coil machine for the first time feeling confident AF (or at least… not terrified).

A Couple Extra Ounces

For one thing, coil machines are generally much heavier than your standard pen-style rotary. This can be a huge advantage of using a coil — when you hold it at the right angle, the counterbalance of the additional weight can give you more accuracy, control, and punchiness.  

However, the heaviness is still an adjustment to consider when making the switch to coil tattooing. Practice tattooing with your coil and holding it properly to counter potential headaches like hand or wrist fatigue during longer sessions. Take it from Jake Karamol — you can get used to the weight:

“So, I started out mainly only using coil when I first started tattooing and I got very comfortable with the counterbalance of the weight at the end of the machine.”

A Longer Setup

Coil tattoo machine setup takes a little more time than setting up a rotary. Instead of simply snapping cartridges into place, you’ll need to:

  1. Fit a pre-sterilized needle into a tube 
  2. Fit your tube into your coil machine’s tube chuck 
  3. Attach your armature bar nipple 
  4. Make any essential fine-tune adjustments like changing the width between your contact screw and front spring 
  5. Press down on the armature bar to push your needle tip out through the tube 
  6. Attach rubber bands and adjust for optimal needle performance; tightening your rubber bands reduces wobbling

Then bag your coil machine, attach your preferred grip, and wrap it with cohesive wrap for comfort. 

After you finish your coil tattoo machine setup, you’re set to start tattooing. The best part of this setup process is the fact that you have total control over your machine’s performance. All your adjustments affect how your machine will perform. So, make sure to practice first — like on tattooable practice skins by A Pound of Flesh for a close-to-real-life experience.

Pro-tip: Use stainless steel tubes, which keep your needles more rigid and also help to prevent wobbling. 

Oh, and another pro-tip: Tattoo tubes often come as tube-and-grip sets. Use a knurled grip when tattooing with a coil for a firmer hold on your machine.

The Tell-Tale Buzz of A Coil Tattoo Machine

Ahh, the classic sound we all know and love… nothing beats the sweet buzz of a coil machine. That being said, heavy buzzing means heavy vibration. If you’re used to vibration-muting rotary machines, the vibration might be a shocking adjustment. 

But after plenty of practice, you can adjust to the buzzing with things like cohesive wrap and silicone grip covers. These products absorb vibration and make tattooing with a coil much more comfortable, so you can enjoy the traditional buzzing sound without the pain (especially during longer sessions). 

A Note on TLC: How to Clean a Coil

A little TLC goes a long way with a coil machine. Because they’re constructed from so many parts, they’re susceptible to wear and tear over time. You can increase the longevity of your machine by keeping it clean and replacing parts as they get older. Springs are the most commonly replaced tattoo parts, since they’re the most susceptible to wearing down. 

On top of replacing parts, be sure to frequently wipe down your machine with an industry-grade disinfectant. This will help prevent it from rusting. You’ll also want to keep an eye out for build-up around your contact screw and other small parts. Overall, keeping your machine squeaky clean on the regular keeps it youthful and durable. A well-loved coil can last years.

Ready to Try a Coil Tattoo Machine for Yourself?

Close-up of an artist using a coil tattoo machine to do line work on a client's back. The coil machine is set up with rubber bands, a textured blue grip, and a metal tube.

Our Web store offers a variety of coil machines by the most trusted coil tattoo machine brands in the industry. Explore our selection of coils from manufacturers like Feldman Mfg.FK Irons, HM Tools & Dye, and Vlad Blad. If you’ve done all your research and are now looking for a reasonable coil tattoo machine price with all the features you need to tattoo in any style, these top-selling coil machine brands are your best bet.

Whether or not you decide a coil machine is right for you, learning about how they work can help you appreciate how far tattooing has come. This always-evolving industry is all about style, choice, and passion. You can conquer with any machine, from the most complex, customized coil to the sleekest rotaries with the simplest setup process. 


Learning never stops when it comes to tattooing. And long live the coil! 

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