Differences Between Rotary and Coil Tattoo Machines

Differences Between Rotary and Coil Tattoo Machines

If you're new to the Tattoo world, you may not yet be acquainted with the different types of machines available. But don't stress! We are here to help you with a breakdown of the most popular machine types and what makes each one special and unique.

At this moment you might not know the difference between rotary and coil tattoo machines, and if that’s the case then you'll definitely want to read on. These differences matter for tattoo artists and for the clients who rely on them for the best quality tattoos possible.

Tattoo machines have developed from the days of crude, non-mechanical devices that poked the skin using human power to slick, complex pieces of technology that allow tattoo artists to create extraordinarily intricate designs that defy the imagination.

Understanding the qualities of tattoo machines will allow you to get more out of your tattoo artistry.

Types of tattoo machines

Before we dig in, it’s important to note that these aren’t the only types of tattoo machines. There are always new designs and models coming out that serve more specific functions. There are also other methods of tattooing that don’t involve machinery.

Rotary and coil tattoo machines are the most popular and widely used. It’s important to note that these machines don’t live in isolation. You’ll find that tattoo artists are constant innovators, and so there are always pieces being taken from one kind of machine and used on another as tattoo artists look to constantly make their machines better.

The basics are still the basics though, so even as there are tattoo artists who mix and match things up in terms of machines, the basic function of the tattoo machine remain the same.

  • Rotary tattoo machines

Invented in 1978 by German Manfred Kohrs, rotary tattoo machines are the original tattoo machine technology. Using an electric motor to drive the needles, this technology changed the way that tattooing was done, ushering in a new age of detail and control.

  • Lightweight
  • Easy handling
  • Less hand and finger cramping
  • Low noise output
  • Single machine can be used for lining and shading
  • Minimal adjustments needed
  • Very popular among artists

Rotary machines move needles up and down using a small DC motor that’s encased in a hard outer layer. These machines are of course incredibly simple, and they’re still widely used throughout the tattoo industry.

Look for lots of innovations and add-ons to rotary machines that make them more efficient and even better than ever, as tattoo artists in the trenches constantly improving and adding their own spin to these stalwart machines.

  • Coil tattoo machines

What’s that buzzing noise? It’s a coil tattoo machine!

The most common type of tattoo machine is the coil tattoo machine. The buzzing noise that’s so readily associated with tattoo shops is the sound of the coil tattoo machine. It can be loud! That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as it does allow the tattoo artists to focus just on what they’re doing while drowning out all of the ambient noise.

Of course the coil tattoo machine isn’t popular because of its decibel level, it’s popular because it works so well and is so versatile.

There are three common types of coil machines; liners, shaders, and color packers. The name of these three types of coil tattoo machines pretty much sums up their intended use.

The liner runs a lot faster and not as deep as a shader or a color packer. The primary purpose of this type of machine is to create fine and precise line work, including the general outline of the tattoo.

Shaders are used to fill in color and primarily for shading in different gradients. These machines are set up to have a longer armature bar that hits significantly harder and deeper than liner machines. Shaders have a longer throw, allowing the shades to pack a little deeper into the skin.

Finally, the color packer tattoo machine is set up very similar to a shader because it is used to fill in color and blacks. This machine hits even harder and deeper than a shader, and does not work well for grey scale and shading gradients. It’s best used to pack in colors solidly and more deeply than other machines. The purpose here is to “pack” in color and pigments with a single pass, rather than having to go over your work again.

Benefits of coil tattoo machines:

  • Easy to regulate speed and power
  • Easy to customize and interchange parts.
  • Faster completion time
  • Heavier weight allows a little more control
  • Most popular type of tattoo machine


Coil machines generally come in dual coiled form, ranging from eight to ten wraps. The coils create the resistance that allows for that regulation we like with these machines, while an armature bar is pulled up and down quickly to inject ink into the skin.

Many tattoo artists swear by their rotary machines, believing them to be by far superior to anything else available. Coil machines offer immediate feedback to the artist when pressure is too much or too little. They tend to be used by newer tattoo artists who are wanting to have that more tactile and organic connection with the skin.

Choosing a tattoo machine for you

The best way to determine which tattoo machine is right for you is to try them out. If possible, visit shops or find vendors at trade shows that will allow you to test out these machines before you invest in one. You never know when you might suddenly find a tattoo machine that matches your art style perfectly.

Because the tattoo machine is essentially the paintbrush of this art form, getting the right one is an important step in the process of finding your way as an artist.

Whether you decide to go with a coil or rotary tattoo machine, look for high quality inks and accessories from Monster Steel to help you get the most for your clients.

Back to blog

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.