Rotary Tattoo Machine Setup

Written by: Jason White

Rotary Tattoo Machine 101

What is a rotary tattoo machine?

The rotary tattoo machine was the first electromechanical tattooing device invented in 1891 by Thomas Edison. Its primary use was to create stencils to be used on flyers. This machine was adapted into the first electric tattoo machine, invented in New York City by Samuel F. O’Reilly and patented on December 8, 1891, revolutionizing the tattooing trade. But the coil mechanisms that came after them proved to be more effective, so they became the primary tool for tattoo artists for many decades.

In the mid-1990s, complex and compact eccentrics were offered. Smaller yet powerful electric motors were used along with instantly replaceable needle cartridges. These design changes have made rotors the most versatile tool for tattooing. Any artist, especially beginners, uses them now.


It is driven by a small electric motor. Through the shaft, it transmits the rotation to the eccentric, which with the crank mechanism converts the rotational motion to oscillating-axial. This oscillation is transmitted to the needle. Simple and effective.

Rotary tattoo machines are becoming more and more popular, giving a head start to their coil fellows that have been held on a pedestal for almost a century. The secret of their success is very simple: high versatility at an affordable price. If you plan to buy the best rotary tattoo machine, our article will help you make a choice.

Of course, there are no perfect tattoo machines. Any design has its advantages and disadvantages. The choice depends solely on the tattoo artist’s preferences. For other tattoo machine options, check out this guide: Best Tattoo Machines On The Market in 2023


  • Low vibration from the rotor allows you to tattoo fine details more accurately
  • Low noise level reduces the psychological burden on the tattooist, so he can work longer (the rotor emits only a light and pleasant buzzing sound, not a loud crackling sound like a coil)
  • Extremely low weight and compact size improve the grip of the device and reduce hand fatigue. This is important for long and monotonous work, beginners, and women tattooists with small palms and hands
  • The hardness of the needle is adjustable. This makes the puncture less traumatic for the skin
  • The most efficient for working with multi-color drawings


  • High cost
  • The needle is held under the skin for a short time, which does not allow the coloring pigment to properly anchor in the puncture point.
  • Therefore, it is necessary to pass through the contour several times
  • The need to tattoo over the contour several times makes the tattooing more traumatic for the skin
  • It is ineffective when working with problem areas like scars, stretch marks, cellulite, or fat deposits
  • It is not good for painting large areas, as the needle can leave dots of ink

Choosing A Rotary Tattoo Machine

It is not necessary to thoroughly study the intricacies of the device of each type of rotor to make the choice. Suffice it to know that any rotary tattoo machine, which has the principle of motion transfer, is more stable because it converts rotational motion into translational motion, unlike the simplest direct, rotational motion that provides transverse vibrations of the tattoo needle.

However, those turners that work with modules will also be stable because the modular system “dampens” transverse runout. So before you buy a rotary tattoo machine, you should be guided by your skills and experience, the weight and shape requirements of the machine, as well as the budget.

How To Set Up A Rotary Tattoo Machine

  1. Start by taking care of sterility – clean your hands and wear disposable gloves.
    Start by taking care of sterility – clean your hands and wear disposable gloves.
  2. Fasten together the holder, the tube, and the tip. They are connected in place with a hexagon. Then place the needle in them.
    Fasten together the holder, the tube, and the tip.
  3. Insert the assembled needle holder into the special hole and tighten it with the screw, adjusting the needle ledge at the same time. It should not protrude beyond the tip when not in use, but for contouring machines the protrusion up to one mm is acceptable.
    Insert the assembled needle holder into the desired hole and tighten it with the screw.
  4. Fix the needle rod with a rubber band. Put it on the body of the machine to stabilize the vibrations during the process.
    Fix the needle rod with a rubber band.
  5. Install the tattoo power supply at the workplace, connect the wire, and plug it in. Connect the tattoo machine through the clip cord to the power supply, taking into account the polarity of the capacitor. Set the desired voltage. It is the clip cord that will supply current to the tattoo machine.
    Install the power supply at the workplace, connect the wire and plug it in.
  6. Place a disposable film on the clip cord. You don’t have to take the plug out of the film completely, just pierce the protection with the pins. Secure the connector with a rubber band or adhesive tape. Connect the clip-cord to the tattoo machine. Press the pedal and check that everything was done correctly. If yes, the machine should work.
    Put a disposable bag on the clip cord.

How To Maintain Your Rotary Tattoo Machine

Knowing how to properly service the machine is as important as knowing how to set it up. The rules are simple:

  1. Every 20 hours of operation, inject a little gun oil into the bearings and rubbing parts. At the same time, avoid getting oil inside the electric motor.
  2. Periodically change the banding and sealing rubbers. They rapidly lose their properties, causing increased vibration and accelerated wear of moving parts. Also, they become dirty, reducing the hygiene of the taping procedure.
  3. Sterilize the machine with chemicals and put a disposable film on the clip cord before each new procedure. You should wear gloves when assembling a sterilized machine and preferably use a disinfected set of tools.
  4. Please note that you should lubricate only the moving parts that you have access to. If the motor is covered with a casing, you should not allow the oil to get on it. The more complex the machine is, the more care and attention it requires.

Do not tamper with the rotor and eccentric if you are not sure of the design and operation of the machine. If there are operation problems that cannot be solved by setting up, take the machine to a service shop.

Now you know everything you need to about the rotary tattoo machine. Remember this though; nobody but you can decide what tattoo machine will work best for you and what approach you should take. 

Your choice should be based on your personal preference. Only knowledge and experience will help you decide what works for you and will help you create the best masterpieces with maximum comfort.

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