Types of Tattoo Machines

Written by: Jason White

Behind the endless variety of tattoos are the skill of tattoo artists and the quality of their tools. Experienced tattoo artists with experience keep different types of tattoo machines that perform different purposes for their work. So let’s get into the classification of modern tattoo machines.


Coil Tattoo Machines

This is the first device that mechanized the work of tattoo artists. It was developed from Thomas Edison’s self-writing pen and patented in 1891 by Samuel O’Reilly.

Coil Tattoo Machine design.

The mechanism consists of several elements:

  • Frame. This is the skeleton that holds the working elements. It is made of steel or non-ferrous alloys in different designs. Manufacturers try to make it strong, lightweight, and elegant at the same time. For example, FK Irons uses heavy-duty aluminum, so its machines weigh about 130g.
  • Coils. This is a pair of electromagnets with a steel core. They drive the mechanism. Depending on the number of wraps – layers of wound copper wire – there are 8-, 10-, 12-, 14-, and 16-wraps coils. The number of turns increases the power of the electromagnet, but it also increases the weight of the machine. The 10- and 12-wraps machines are used for most tattoo sessions.
  • Capacitor. This is an electronic element that eliminates sparks when an electrical circuit is closed or opened.
  • Armature Bar. It is a magnetic element mounted on a spring. It performs the oscillating movements that make the machine work. It is ejected under the action of the electromagnetic field from the coils and is returned back by the force of the spring.
  • Springs. There are 2 metal plates. One holds the armature bar inside the frame. The other, attached to the armature bar, is the contact.
  • Contact Screw. This is a copper or silver screw. Together with a second spring, it creates a contact pair, whose clamping and unclamping movement gives the striker motion. The screw is used to regulate the needle depth and the frequency of piercing.

How the machine works and the quality of the tattoo it delivers are determined by the quality of each construction element.

Check out our top-rated and reviewed coil tattoo machines and learn how to set up a tattoo coil machine

Types of coil tattoo machines

There are the following types of coil tattoo guns:

  • Liner. The liner’s task is to inject the ink quickly so that it does not have time to flow out. Its frequency is 120-150 Hz. High speed gives clear fine lines and color separation. The liner weighs less, it has a rigid contact spring, the distance between spring and an armature bar is 4-5 mm. It cannot be used for coloring.
Liner tattoo machine.
  • Shader. It is used to fill large areas and to create shadows. Shader coils have more wraps, the contact spring is softer, and the speed is lower. The frequency is 60-100 Hz. The needle stays in the skin longer, the tattoo ink has time to spread in the skin tissue. The gap between the armature bar and spring is 9-10 mm. It is not possible to make an outline using this type of tattoo machine.
Shader tattoo machine type.

Features of coils


  • Getting the task done faster
  • Make the procedure less painful
  • Practically versatile
  • Less traumatic


  • Heavy
  • Vibrating
  • Noise
  • Difficult to set up
  • Sensitive to voltage fluctuations

Rotary Tattoo Machines

The first rotary machines appeared in 2010 when technologies made it possible to create powerful tiny electric motors. The device is similar to the crank mechanism of a sewing machine. An eccentric is attached to the motor shaft. It converts the rotation of the rotor into the reciprocating motion of the needle.

What is a rotary tattoo machine?

Working parts of rotary tattoo machines:

  • Frame. This is a supporting structure. It is made of aluminum alloys or durable hard polymers.
  • Electric motor which is a power mechanism.
  • The eccentric. It is a bearing with an offset armature bar.
  • A design element that eliminates transverse needle movement. The eccentric makes longitudinal and transverse movements simultaneously. Manufacturers eliminate this in a variety of ways: strings, rubber bands, slide rails, spring-loaded lever, and a longitudinal element with a transverse groove. InkMachines installs an extra connecting rod in their Dragonfly, making the machines lighter.

Check out our top-rated picks for the best tattoo rotary machine

Features of rotaries


  • Higher efficiency
  • Works quietly
  • Works smoothly
  • Adjustable speed


  • The quality of the outlines may be lower because of the smooth movement of the needle; sometimes it is better to use a liner coil tattoo machine
  • The lack of inertia of the needle stroke causes it to inject less tattoo ink under the skin
  • If the machine is low-powered, it can be difficult to work with problem areas on the client’s body (fat rolls, cellulite, flabbiness)

Rotary tattoo machines were considered the best exclusively for colorful tattoos and for permanent makeup until recent years. Truly tattoo artists still long preferred the old-school coil devices. Nevertheless, today’s powerful and hard rotary guns are hugely popular and conquering the market.

Types of Rotary Tattoo Machines

Manufacturers produce different types of rotary tattoo machines, which differ in the way the reciprocating motion is transmitted:

  • Direct-drive. The force is transmitted directly to the needle or cartridge. The rotation of the motor keeps the needle in constant oscillation. To damp the horizontal oscillations, the needle rod is secured with rubber bands. They are highly dependent on the quality of the power supply: it takes time to accelerate and decelerate.
Types of Rotary Tattoo Machines Direct-drive.
  • Slider. The rotary motion is transmitted through a transferring longitudinal element. Many Bishop tattoo machines and their armature bar have a clamping mechanism. It is less sensitive to the power level of the power supply.
  • Pen. It is an ergonomic pen machine. Pen tattoo machines are the latest modification of the rotary tattoo machine from Cheyenne. The German manufacturer was the first to introduce this format of the device. The design is created for disposable needles-modules, which are disposed of after use. Cheyenne has also developed needle cartridges that can be used in induction and rotary machines. The motor is mounted along the body. A more complex mechanism is used to transmit the longitudinal translational motion. It works only with cartridges. Pen-styled tattoo machines are expensive to maintain and repair. But the main features of it are the ease to use and lightweight. For example, the Vlad Blad lightweight short pen with grip weighs only 104g, and the wireless CNC pen – 175g.
Types of Rotary Tattoo Machines pen.
  • With a commutatorless motor. It uses a magnetic drive. The lightest InkJecta with a commutatorless motor machine weighs less than 50 g. Speed is from ultra-low rpm up to 15000 rpm. It is costly.

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