Rotary vs Coil Tattoo Machine – What’s Difference?

As a tattoo artist, choosing the right tattoo machine is one of the biggest decisions. Every single proficient tattoo master has a certain pattern while choosing the type of tattoo machine that will fit him or her best.  The battle between the types of tattoo machines isn’t a new affair.

Both rotary and coil tattoo machines have been head to head for as long as current artists can remember, but is it a war that can be won by either one? Both of these reputable and popular types of tattoo machines have their own set of benefits to flaunt that have attracted tattoo artists to make them their most critical part of their everyday toolkit.

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.

The Differences Between the Rotary and the Coil

Both the rotary tattoo machine and the coil tattoo machine can be used to create great tattoos but they offer two different methods. A coil tattoo machine relies on an electromagnetic current to drive the armature bar while the rotary uses a more gentle process. The coil is perhaps the most common of the two and can be found in most tattoo shops.

Coil Tattoo Machine Details

Rotary Tattoo Machine Details

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.


The rotary machine is more versatile as it can be used for both lines and shading. The coil tattoo machine can only be used for one or the other.


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.

Needle Range

Another thing that must be taken into account when choosing a tattoo machine is needle range. A rotary tattoo machine has a more fluid needle movement however the coil uses a choppier movement.

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.

Handling and Use

Only the old warhorse of the tattoo-making industry can handle and juggle the coil machines more precisely as they are heavy and a bit cumbersome. The rotary machines can be used by any artist, keeping the first step into the industry.


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.

Things we like and don’t like in Rotary and Coil Tattoo Machines

The rotary machine is quite simple to use and is less damaging to the skin but it lacks the punch and recoil that you get with a coil machine and as a result, it isn’t as effective with larger needles. The rotary is loved for being low maintenance and its fast needle movement but shading tends to be easier with a coil machine.

The coil is often preferred for its intricate line work but it requires a high skill level to use it. While it isn’t as low maintenance as the rotary, the coil provides a number of benefits such as its ability to create smooth fine lines with ease. When it comes to choosing between the two different types of machines, there is no right answer, it is simply about choosing the tattoo machine that complements your personal style of tattooing.

Once you have made a decision between the coil and the rotary, it’s time to navigate your way through the many brands and models. Amongst the most popular are the Cheyenne tattoo machines, the Bishop rotary machine, and the Eikon tattoo machines.

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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