Difference Between Coil and Rotary Tattoo Machines

When it comes to the art of tattooing, the tools of the trade play a crucial role in achieving the desired results. Two primary types of tattoo machines dominate the industry: coil machines and rotary machines. Each of these machines has its own unique features, benefits, and drawbacks. In this article, we will delve into the difference between coil and rotary tattoo machines, exploring their mechanisms, performance, and suitability for different tattooing styles. Whether you’re a tattoo artist or simply curious about the art form, understanding these distinctions will deepen your knowledge and appreciation of tattooing.

What Are Tattoo Machines?

Before we delve into the intricacies of coil and rotary tattoo machines, it’s essential to have a basic understanding of the tattoo machines themselves. Tattoo machines are handheld devices used by tattoo artists to deliver ink into the skin, creating permanent designs and artwork. These machines consist of various components, including a power source, a motor, a needle bar, and grips. The power source drives the motor, which in turn moves the needle bar up and down, puncturing the skin and depositing ink. Both coil and rotary machines follow this general principle but differ in their specific mechanisms.

The Coil Tattoo Machine: Traditional and Versatile

The coil tattoo machine is the traditional choice for many tattoo artists. It is named after the electromagnetic coils that power its mechanism. When the machine is turned on, the coils create a magnetic field that drives the tattoo needle in a rapid up-and-down motion. This movement allows for precise control and the ability to create intricate designs.

The Coil Tattoo Machine

How Does a Coil Tattoo Machine Work?

To understand the inner workings of a coil tattoo machine, we need to look at its components and their functions:

  1. Coils: The heart of the coil machine lies in its coils. These coils are typically made of copper wire wound tightly around an iron core. When an electric current is passed through the coils, it creates a magnetic field that pulls and releases a metal armature bar.
  2. Armature Bar: The armature bar is connected to the front spring and the tattoo needle. As the magnetic field created by the coils attracts the armature bar, it pulls the front spring down, causing the needle to puncture the skin. When the coils lose their magnetic charge, the front spring pushes the armature bar back up, ready for the next cycle.
  3. Springs: Springs play a crucial role in regulating the movement of the armature bar. The front spring is connected to the armature bar and controls its downward movement, while the back spring provides resistance, pushing the armature bar back up after each cycle.
  4. Contact Screw: The contact screw determines the length of the needle stroke. By adjusting the position of the contact screw, tattoo artists can customize the machine to suit their preferred tattooing style.
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Pros and Cons of Coil Tattoo Machines

Now that we understand how a coil tattoo machine operates, let’s explore its advantages and disadvantages:


  • Power and Precision: Coil machines offer excellent power and precision, making them ideal for intricate and detailed designs. The rapid up-and-down motion of the needle allows artists to create fine lines, shading, and intricate patterns.
  • Versatility: Coil machines are versatile and can be used for a wide range of tattooing styles. Whether you’re working on bold traditional tattoos or realistic portraits, a coil machine can provide the control and precision required.
  • Artistic Control: The tactile feedback provided by coil machines enables artists to have precise control over the needle, facilitating fine details and smooth transitions.
  • Traditional Aesthetic: The distinct buzzing sound and the aesthetic appeal of coil machines contribute to the traditional tattooing experience cherished by artists and clients alike.


  • Noise, Weight, and Vibration: One of the drawbacks of coil machines is the noise, weight, and vibration they produce. The constant buzzing sound can be distracting and uncomfortable for some clients.
  • Learning Curve: Coil machines require more skill and practice to master compared to rotary machines. The complex mechanism and the need for precise adjustments make them better suited for experienced tattoo artists.

The Rotary Tattoo Machine: Quiet and Efficient

While coil machines have long been the industry standard, rotary machines have gained popularity in recent years. Rotary machines operate on a different principle, utilizing a rotating motor to drive the tattoo needle. This mechanism offers several unique advantages and has become the preferred choice for many tattoo artists.

The Rotary Tattoo Machine

How Does a Rotary Tattoo Machine Work?

To understand how a rotary tattoo machine operates, let’s take a closer look at its key components:

  1. Motor: The motor is the driving force behind the rotary machine. It rotates a cam or an offset cam, which, in turn, moves the needle bar up and down.
  2. Needle Bar: The needle bar holds the tattoo needle and moves it in a vertical motion. It is driven by the rotating motion of the motor.
  3. Grips: The grips provide a comfortable and ergonomic hold for the tattoo artist. They come in various shapes and sizes to accommodate different hand sizes and preferences.
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Pros and Cons of Rotary Tattoo Machines

Rotary tattoo machines offer a set of advantages and disadvantages that set them apart from coil machines. Let’s take a closer look:


  • Quiet Operation: Unlike coil machines, rotary machines operate quietly, reducing noise and vibration during the tattooing process. This can significantly improve the overall experience for both the artist and the client.
  • Gentler on the Skin: The rotary motion of the needle in a rotary machine is often perceived as gentler on the skin. This can result in less trauma and faster healing times for the tattooed area.
  • Lightweight and Ergonomic: Rotary machines are typically lighter than coil machines, reducing fatigue during extended tattoo sessions. Their ergonomic design ensures a comfortable grip, enhancing the artist’s maneuverability and control.
  • Easy to Use: Beginners often find rotary machines more accessible to handle due to their simplified design. The straightforward setup and intuitive operation allow artists to focus on their artistic expression rather than technicalities.


  • Less Power: Rotary machines are generally less powerful than their coil counterparts. While this may not be an issue for most tattoo styles, it can pose a challenge when working on dense areas or heavily scarred skin.
  • Limited Fine Detail: Achieving intricate fine detail can be more challenging with rotary machines. The continuous rotary motion can make it harder to create extremely fine lines or precise shading.

FAQs About the Difference Between Coil and Rotary Tattoo Machines

1. Which type of tattoo machine is better: coil or rotary?

Both coil and rotary machines have their strengths and weaknesses. The choice ultimately depends on personal preference, the desired tattooing style, and the artist’s experience. It’s recommended to try both types and see which one feels more comfortable and suits your needs.

2. Are coil machines more suitable for traditional tattoos?

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Coil machines have a long-standing history in traditional tattooing. Their power and precision make them well-suited for creating bold, solid lines and vibrant colors commonly found in traditional tattoos.

3. Can rotary machines handle shading and color packing?

Yes, rotary machines are capable of handling shading and color packing. While they may require slightly different techniques compared to coil machines, skilled tattoo artists can achieve excellent results with rotary machines for these tattooing elements.

4. Do coil machines cause more pain than rotary machines?

The level of pain experienced during a tattoo depends on various factors, including the individual’s pain tolerance, the tattooing area, and the artist’s technique. While some people may find the buzzing sound of coil machines more intimidating, the pain experienced during the tattooing process is subjective and can vary from person to person.

5. Can I switch between coil and rotary machines for different tattooing styles?

Absolutely! Many tattoo artists use a combination of coil and rotary machines to diversify their techniques and cater to different client preferences. Having both types of machines in your arsenal allows for more versatility in your tattooing practice.

6. What should I consider when choosing a tattoo machine?

When choosing a tattoo machine, consider factors such as your skill level, the type of tattoos you want to create, the level of precision you require, and your personal comfort. It’s also essential to invest in high-quality machines from reputable manufacturers to ensure durability and performance.


The difference between coil and rotary tattoo machines lies in their mechanisms, performance, and suitability for different tattooing styles. Coil machines offer power, precision, and versatility, making them a go-to choice for many experienced tattoo artists. On the other hand, rotary machines provide a quieter operation and can be gentler on the skin, making them a popular option among artists and clients alike.

Ultimately, the choice between coil and rotary machines comes down to personal preference, tattooing style, and individual comfort. Many artists use a combination of both types to expand their capabilities and achieve a wide range of artistic expressions. By understanding the distinctions between these machines, you can make informed decisions as a tattoo artist or gain a deeper appreciation for the art form as a tattoo enthusiast.


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