Rotary Vs. Coil Tattoo Machines - Which Is The Best Tattoo Machine For You?

Written by: Pete

The dispute about whether rotary or coil tattoo machines are better has existed in the tattoo industry for ages. There are certainly pros and cons to either machine, and beginners and professionals each have their favorite. There are certain factors that should be considered for each, while discovering which machine you prefer is a matter of trial and error.

Related: Best Tattoo Machines

Rotary Vs. Coil Tattoo Machines: An Overview

Whether you are an apprentice or are a beginner in the tattooing industry, understanding both rotary and coil tattoo machines is essential to industry practices. Coil tattoo machines are the oldest of the two, and they require an electromagnetic circuit that provides motion to the tattoo needle. A rotary machine uses an electric motor that has a rotating shaft that moves the needle.

rotary-tattoo-machine coil-tattoo-machine

Both tattoo machines achieve the same outcome: a linear motion that helps the needles deposit ink into the dermis. The primary difference is what drives the needle; electricity or electromagnetic power.

The buzzing sound that you hear in tattoo shops is actually associated with coil tattoo machines, as rotary machines are a lot quieter. Whatever machine you plan to work with, it is always recommended that tattooist beginners buy an extra coil or rotary gun to take apart and learn about all the components that make up the machine. By better understanding your machine, you become a better tattoo artist.

coil machines

Some tattooists swear by their coil machines, preferring to go the old-school route with their artistry, while others prefer rotary machines for their longevity and ease-of-use. You won’t know which you prefer until you’ve had time to practice with both.

Rotary Vs. Coil Tattoo Machines: A Look At The Particulars

While each machine has its own set of pros and cons for individual users, there are a few factors where rotary and coil machines differ that are worth noting.

Lines and Shading

Rotary Machines - With rotary machines, you just need one machine and you merely have to switch out the needles and adjust the settings to get multiple work done on a tattoo. It is also said that these machines produce much smoother shading work.

Coil Machines - You need more than one coil machine to get different work done on a tattoo. Coil machines are really great for elegant and bold lining. This powerful machine is great for deep color depositing, as well.

Noise Factor

Rotary Machines - These machines are rather quiet as an electric motor has adjustable power levels.

Coil Machines - This is the bee-buzzing experience of tattooing, but you definitely need to be cautious of noise levels when using a coil machine.

tattoo artist using coil tattoo machine

This artist wears earphones while tattooing with a coil machine, to protect his hearing.

Machine Weight

Rotary Machines - The weight of a rotary machine is quite light and comfortable, and you can also use tattoo pens for a more durable grip. This often allows for longer sessions and smoother control.

Coil Machines - Coil machines use dual coils and contain heavy magnetic components, making these heavy machines to work with. This can cause wrist fatigue in some artists.

Motion and Versatility

Rotary Machines - Rotary machines have a continuously running motor with a fluid motion which allows for a smooth tattooing experience with little concern. In addition, all you need to do is change the needles within the same machines and adjust the settings to work with the same gun on different parts of the tattoo.

Coil Machines - Coil machines have a pretty intense current that is usually controlled with a foot pedal. In addition, you need different machines to do different work on the tattoo, so this means you have to switch coil machines in the session to move from lining to shading, etc.. Coil machines are believed to be best for larger needles due to its intensity.


Rotary Machines - You get what you get with rotary machines, and these usually cannot be adjusted from the artist’s level should there be an issue with the gun. They also require lubrication to ensure they are running smoothly.

Coil Machines - Coil machines can be taken apart and put back together again with no issue. In fact, you could upgrade or adjust your machine as you see fit. They are easily cleaned and do not require lubrication to run smoothly.

Tattooing Intensity

Rotary Machines - Rotary machines are smooth and less rough on the skin during tattooing. People say that rotary machines are a less painful tattooing option.

Coil Machines - Because coil machines work with an intense hammer-like punch, they are known to be more rough and may cause more damage to the skin.

What Tattoo Machine is Best For a Beginner?

Though both a rotary and coil machine has its pros and cons, a coil machine is better left to the professionals as it requires a higher skill level to use it successfully.

With one rotary machine and multiple needles, you can get a lot of work done. It’s less damaging to the skin and produces smoother lines, and it’s easier to work with due to a lighter weight. Though it cannot be taken apart and adjusted according to your needs, it has generally lower maintenance than a coil machine.

It may be best to start your tattooing journey with a rotary machine, but you may discover that a coil machine better compliments your art style or working tattooing style. We recommend taking the time to do thorough research into both machines, and to speak to professionals you admire for their own advice and recommendations.

Don't forget to check out our guide on how to set up a tattoo machine!

Our Final Thoughts

The only way you can truly discover which tattoo machine, rotary or coil, is best for you, is through experience and tattooing with both. As a beginner, you may find a rotary machine is easier and smoother to use, but you may transition into a coil machine as you develop your tattooing level. A tattoo machine is an individual preference, and often suits the style chosen by the artist. Which do you prefer?

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