Despite the emergence of cordless devices that are both lighter and quieter, coil tattoo machines keep buzzing along.
Most professional body ink shops remain "loyal to the coil" because these tattoo machines, which trace their origins all the way back to Thomas Edison's invention of the electric pen, are more readily available and less expensive than the emerging rotary products today.
Differences Between Rotary and Coil
The main difference between rotary and coil is in the achievement of the end result: moving the needle into the dermis.
Coil machines use a copper wire to create an electromagnetic field that pushes the armature bar down, breaking the direct current, which causes the electromagnetic field to collapse.
The main criticism of the coil machine come from this "break" which some feel cause the needle to move at an uneven flow making it noticeably choppier.
Rotary machines, however, are moved by a circular spinning motor. Since this does not depend on a "break" in power, the needle moves in a much more constant, fluid fashion. This produces an evenly distributed needle stroke.
Rotary machines are considerably lighter than the bulkier coil machines, which helps prevent cramping of the hand. The absence of the coil field producer also makes the rotary less noisy, thus reducing the possible anxiety of the client, and one can see why this would be favorable among artists.
Each tattoo machine has its backers. Some, like Jared Breault, an artist at 7 Deadly Sins, in Lynn, Mass., claim rotary machines speed up tattoo procedures, scar less, heal faster and, as a result, are not as painful as coil devices.
Other artists say the electromagnetically powered coil tattoo machines are akin to classic cars: durable and, with a little fine tuning and proper care, capable of lasting a lifetime.
Now compare that durability of the coil machines with their newer brethren, which, powered by regulated electric motors, may require new parts every few years. That said, rotary machines are still emerging as a popular option to those devices attached to a coil, largely due to the light-weight components that enable tattoo artists to puncture needles into the skin of their clients in evenly measured strokes and with less physical exertion. That means less fidgeting and cramping that artists are likely to find favorable.
Clients, in turn, may realize the reduced time in a chair coupled with the absence of noise that a rotary machine delivers makes for a less painful and traumatic experience than what they hear emanating from the older "iron" devices.
On the other hand, traditionalists say the hammer-like sounds create the aura of a tattoo artist at work in a world where there is no room for mistakes, and that only adds to the experience.
Companies including Sabre, Diablo and Welker manufacture many of the rotary machines found in tattoo parlors today. Suppliers, such as Monster Steel, a national tattoo company based in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., offers both coil and rotary machines.
Most tattoo shops use dual coil machines because they are inexpensive, said Chris Madeira, chief operating officer at Monster Steel. He said Production, Ringmaster, and Painful Irons are just a few manufacturers of coil machines.
"Coil height determines needle velocity," he said. "Shorter coils mean the needles are puncturing at faster speeds.
Copper-wound wire layers will also figure in speed.
Fewer wraps make for faster needle movement, but with less force.
The trick is to find a happy medium between coil height and copper layers that will work efficiently and effectively for the artist and with as little disturbance to the client as possible."
Rotary tattoo machines work well as either liners or for shading, which means an artist can complete an entire design -- no matter how complex -- using only one machine, said Erick Alayon, author of "Secrets of Tattooing." By contrast, coil machines can be used as either a liner or for shading, but not both.
Austin Krauss, owner of InkJunki, in New Richmond, Minn., prefers coil machines for outlines and the rotary for shading and color.
Ultimately, choosing between a rotary or coil tattoo machine will depend on the preference of the artist.
Moog ‘Mushroom’ Muller, who owns Otherworld Tattoo and Piercing, is also an ink artist who builds tattoo machines. He understand the link between artists and machines and customizes coil tattoo machines to meet their unique needs.
"Artists should choose whatever tattoo machine -- coil or rotary -- that they are most comfortable using,".
"A good machine will not make a good tattoo artist. But, a poorly operating or poorly equipped tattoo machine will certainly help make a poor tattoo artist."