Coil vs. Rotary Tattoo Machines – Differences, Similarities, Pros & Cons

There are three basic tattoo application methods. The stick and poke that involves no mechanical aid, the rotary machine, and the coil machine. If you have not been in the tattoo business for very long you may be wondering which machine type is best, and what the differences in the machines are.

Rotary VS Coil At-A-Glance


This diagram gives you a quick rundown of the differences between the rotary and the coil machine.

FeaturesRotary MachineCoil Tattoo Machine
Noise LevelFairly QuietLoud Buzzing
Needle MovementFluid and pretty smoothSlightly choppy
Ease of UseEasyRequires more skill
MaintenanceLowMore involved
SpeedOften SlowerPretty fast
PurposeLining and shadingSingle-purpose
CostMost expensive of the twoLeast expensive of the two

Rotary Vs Coil Tattoo Machine Details


At-a-glance the rotary machine seems to be the best tattoo machine. The trouble is that both of these machine types have strengths that make them excellent for specific tattooing techniques and designs. Most of your artists have a combination of machines and when they start a design, they choose the equipment that is going to be best for that work.

Does Noise Matter for Tattoo Machine

The noise level of the machine does not change the performance of the machine. The noise level of the machine may however cause the person getting the tattoo to become nervous, or to flinch while you are working. If this happens then the tattoo may be ruined.

Some people assume that the quiet operation of the rotary machine means the process will be less painful. The noise created by the device does not affect the pain of the needle stick.

Purpose of Tattoo Guns

Purpose of Tattoo Guns

The main consideration when choosing a tattoo machine is the technique the machine can support. If you choose to have coil machines then you will have one dedicated to lining and one dedicated to shading. That means that before you begin to work you can set up each machine with the right needle so you do not have to stop during the process and make adjustments or changes to your equipment.

The rotary machine can do both the lining and the shading so when you compare the cost of a rotary and a coil machine you have to take into consideration that the rotary device is the equivalent of two tattoo machines.

Skills Needed to Operate Tattoo Machine

The skill that you possess will be challenged by the machine that you are using. If you are just beginning the rotary-style machines are easier to use and more forgiving of lack of experience. A coil machine requires you to have developed some skills and a technique for using them, so you have to practice more before you can start doing body art on living people.

Weight Differences

Weight Differences tattoo gun

The weight of these pieces of equipment is drastically different. The coil machines have two coils and iron rods in them that cause them to be much heavier than the rotary devices. Weight matters in several ways.

  • The heavier coil machine can cause more fatigue when you are using it. You might not be able to work as long when you are using the heavier device.
  • The heavier machine may allow you to keep a better line definition because it will not be prone to moving around as much. It may allow you to be more stable.
  • When using the lighter devices, you will experience fewer hand cramps and discomfort while you are working. Hand cramps can cause you to make mistakes so the lighter equipment may mean tattoos that are better.

Tattoo Gun Power

The coil machines have a greater amount of power than the lighter rotary devices. This extra power can make them more effective at tattooing.


If you plan on doing all of your tattoo work at one location then coil machines are a great choice. If you plan to transport the equipment to different locations to work then the rotary machine is going to serve you better.

Coil machines are heavier, more difficult to set up, and basically not designed to be portable. The rotary devices are lighter, they do both types of tattoo work that will be needed, and they are more portable.


how to use coil tattoo machine

When you use a coil machine you are going to have more adjustments to get the depth, speed, and width of the line perfect. The rotary machine requires very few adjustments. Some artists prefer the high adjustment coil machines because their adjustments allow the design to be more unique. The adjustments and the vibration created by a coil machine are the main reasons why a coil device requires you to have greater skill and experience.

Artist Considerations

The tattoo artist all have definite opinions about the machines and which type of machine they think is best. Most of these opinions are based on personal preferences and experiences they have had over the years.

Artists that love coil machines say

  • The coil devices let them know if they are exerting too much or too little pressure very quickly. They feel that they do less damage to people‚Äôs skin, and that they cause less pain because the devices they are using keep them working evenly without going too deep and creating extra bleeding or blow out possibilities.
  • The buzz of the machines is something the artist grows accustomed to, and most customers expect the buzzing sound because coil machines are used in the majority of shops, and have been around longer than the rotary units.
  • Having your lining machine, shading machine, and packing machine ready to use before you begin the tattoo allows the procedure to go faster, and it saves you from having to set up equipment while the customer is sitting in a chair waiting for you.

Artists that love rotary machines say

  • These devices are a must have for detailed tattoos that cover large areas of the body. With the detailed tattoo work the artist can often be creating the ink design for hours and the lighter rotary devices prevent cramping in the hands and fingers that are often caused by the weight of the tattoo equipment.
  • The quieter machine keeps customers calmer and that keeps customers sitting still for longer periods of time.
  • The machine requires very few adjustments so the artist has few things to change before they start working.

How to Find the Right Machine for You


The knowledge of how the machines work and what their differences are is helpful, but to really learn which tattoo machine is going to work best for your experience is the only answer.

You really need to try both styles of machines and see what benefits they give you for the different designs and creations you are making.

You do not have to buy the machines to find out how they feel in your hand. Go to trade shows and use the hands-on demonstrations to see how the machines feel in your hands and what they can do.

You can also visit different tattoo shops and talk to the artist. Many of the artists will mentor new people and let you try out a machine, or give you pointers on how to get the best service from a machine.

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