Rotary Vs. Coil Tattoo Machines

  • Written By Dan Hunter on November 15, 2020
    Last Updated: January 3, 2021

All tattoo artists are familiar with rotary and coil machines. From their invention in the late 1800s, tattoo artists have quarreled about which machine is better. To settle this dispute, you should get familiar with both machines.

Coil machines are the most common in tattoo shops across the globe, but a rotary tattoo machine is still a product to have on hand. They both have excellent qualities, yet the differences are what you need to consider before making a purchase.

Rotary Vs. Coil Tattoo Machines: An Overview

Before we get into specifics, let’s take a moment to discuss some general differences between the two. 

A coil tattoo machine operates using a set of coils. Tattoo artists prefer them for drawing intricate lines and shading. Easier shading and smooth lines allow the tattoo artist to create customizable tattoos. A coil machine’s benefits are great, though tattoo artists don’t recommend it for use by beginning or inexperienced tattoo artists. 

A rotary tattoo machine is quiet and lightweight. Veteran and novice tattoo artists can draw lines and shade easily. It does lack the punch of a coil machine and it’s not as effective with larger needles. If you are doing color work, rotary machines are an excellent choice. Additionally, they produce less damage to the skin. Overall, a rotary provides a more gentle process than a coil tattoo machine.

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

Besides the general differences, here are a few of the nitty-gritty areas where they differ: 

Operational Differences

The primary difference between a rotary and coil machine is the way the needles move in the machine. Coil machines rely on an electromagnetic current that drives the armature bar. The current flows through, and the needles are released and retracted in a choppy movement. Coil machines work like a hammer, giving them more of a punch. 

A rotary machine has a more gentle process to its inner workings. Encased inside a rotary tattoo machine is a small motor that moves the needles in an up and down motion. The rotary machine is extremely quiet and much more gentle for the artist and client. Tattoo artists can use a rotary machine longer during a single sitting and decrease their risk of hand fatigue and cramps.


Coil tattoo machines have two coils and iron rods inside them. This design makes a coil machine heavier than a rotary. For an artist creating larger tattoos or having a full day of clients, the heaviness could lead to tired hands and cramps. 

Rotary machines are much lighter than coil machines because they operate on a motor. As the rotary machine is lightweight, artists can work for longer in a single sitting. This aspect makes it much easier for tattoo artists to create larger tattoos without their hands and fingers getting tired. 

Noise Output

If you have ever walked into a tattoo parlor and heard that familiar buzzing sound, you know they are using coil machines. When a coil machine releases and retracts the needles, it makes a clicking sound. For some clients, hearing the sound of a coil machine can be intimidating. The buzzing sound could make them nervous and create a twitching canvas. 

Rotary machines are very quiet because there is not an electromagnetic current running through them. The decreased level of noise could ease the mind of first-time clients. Sometimes less noise gives the impression that it will hurt less.


Tattoo artists have differing opinions on the topic of versatility. What we know is that a coil machine can either draw lines or shade. It cannot do both. A tattoo artist that is using a coil machine will need a rotary on standby. 

Rotary machines are quite versatile because tattoo artists can use them for both lines and shading. All an artist needs to do is change the needles. The biggest drawback of a rotary tattoo machine is that they are less able to be used for customized tattoos. 

Of course, a veteran tattoo artist could create more versatility with either machine. 

Motion Quality

A tattoo machine’s job is to move the needles up and down, inserting pigment into the dermis layer of skin. If this is the case, it is important to note the quality of that motion. Coil machines run by an electromagnetic current that powers the on-off circuit. The operation of a coil machine is what makes the needles move punchy or in a hammer-like fashion.

Tattoo artists using a rotary machine will notice a better quality of motion. The motor inside the machine is continuously running, which gives a consistent up and down motion of the needles causing less damage to the skin. Using a rotary tattoo machine will give tattoo artists a fluid motion of the needles.  


Your machine is the bread and butter of your tattoo shop. Without a good, well-maintained machine, you may not have happy clients. Coil machines will win over rotary machines in the area of maintenance. 

Coil machines can be taken apart easily and cleaned, while rotary machines will require more finesse in this department. Rotary machines will also need lubricating on a regular schedule for best use. 

Our Final Comparison 

Is one better than the other? 

Rotary machines are lightweight and easy to use, yet a coil machine can create smooth lines and better shading. Coil machines are easier to maintain but lack the fluidity of motion in the needles, whereas the rotary has better motion quality. 

When we consider all the differences between a rotary or coil tattoo machine, we come to one conclusion. It truly is up to the individual tattoo artist to decide which one they prefer.

Before making any final decisions, do your research and try both types. Consider your level of experience and talk to other artists in the tattoo industry. Then, make your own decision.

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