Differences Between Coil & Rotary Tattoo Machines

Differences Between Coil & Rotary Tattoo Machines

Whether you’re new to tattooing or just curious about how the whole thing works, the main question you come across is what’s the difference between a coil tattoo machine and a rotary tattoo machine. In this post will tell you about the main differences between these two types of tattoo machines that are most commonly used in tattoo industry.

First things first, the machines themselves. Rotary and coil machines operate in completely two different ways yet they help you achieve the same outcome – moving tattoo needles and driving the ink into the clients’ skin with each insertion. But the way of driving the needles is the main thing that sets them apart.

Basically, a typical coil machine is constructed with two electromagnets (coils), an armature bar (where the needle is attached to), a contact screw, and springs. And the whole mechanism works as follows:

1. When a direct electromagnetic current passes through the two coils, a magnetic field appears.

2. The created field pushes the armature bar down, breaking contact with the contact screw, thus, collapsing the circuit. In other words, the release of the springs causes the armature bar to tap the tattoo needles into the skin.

3. Then, the spring pulls the armature bar back up again, where the contact is restored and the whole process starts all over again. That is to say, this up and down motion pushes the needle in and out of the skin.

During operation, this type of machine produces a pretty loud buzzing sound you typically hear when passing a tattoo shop. Actually, this signature noise has become synonymous with tattoo art.

Rotary tattoo machines, on the contrary, are whisper quiet. They are much simpler than coil machines when it comes to design. To be more precise, they consist of a small motor, a cam wheel, a needle bar, and some additional bits. A rotary machine works like this:

1. When the power gets into the motor, it rotates the cam wheel in a circular motion (hence, the name).

2. The needle bar attached to the said cam wheel converts the rotary motion into linear. And, as a result, the needle moves in a continuous backward and forward fashion.

Owing to this straightforward design and principle of operation, rotary tattoo machines are much quieter as opposed to coils. To put it simply, there are fewer parts to deal with. Just attach the needle cartridge, plug the unit in, and here you are.

Rotary tattoo machines move needles in and out faster and more evenly than coil tattoo machines do. Yet, both types are widely used in tattoo salons. They both create amazing tattoos, even though they work using different methods. The coil machines are perhaps a bit more popular, so let’s compare their main characteristics and see why.

Noise Output Level

The noise output is the next main difference after the method of operation. As mentioned, rotary models are nearly silent if compared to the coil ones that emit a loud buzzing sound. Owing to the armature bar being released, coil machines produce a constant clicking sound that some clients may find annoying and even nervous.

Rotary style machines emit less noise, which gives clients the psychological perception that the process will be less painful.


The rotary machine gets one more point here. They are considered to be more versatile as they can serve for both creating lines and shading. On the other hand, the coil tattoo machine can be used only for one task or the other.

To recap, a rotary tattoo unit can be used either as a liner or as a shader, allowing a tattoo artist to complete an entire tattoo painting with one machine. By contrast, coil machines can be only shaders with thick barrels and heavy coils to drive the ink easily into the skin. Or only liners with thin barrels and light coils for extra comfort during operation.
Needle Range

The needle range is fairly good in both types. A rotary machine has a very fluid needle movement, while the coil boasts a choppier movement.


Rotary tattoo machines are much lighter than dual-coil machines. This is achieved due to the design with no electromagnetic copper-wound coils to weigh down the machine. Naturally, the lighter weight means you can work longer with less hand cramping. Hence, artists that use rotary tattoo machines make fewer mistakes.

Ease of use

No wonder, rotary machines are extremely simple to use. Plus, they are less damaging to the skin; however, they don’t offer the punch and recoil that you may get with coil machines. For this reason, rotary models aren’t as effective with larger needles, so shading is a bit easier to perform with a coil machine. The coil-type units are also preferred for their ability to create super intricate lines, but they require high skills.

In sum, while coil machines require trickier maintenance than rotary units, they provide a number of benefits. And the possibility to create smooth fine lines with ease is one of them.

Advantages of Coil Tattoo Machines

Although coil tattoo machines might not seem that convenient if compared to rotary models, they represent the crème de la crème of tattoo machines for many aficionados. It is all about heritage, refinement, and high accuracy of tattooing. However, that’s not the only reason to like coil tattoo machines. So, let’s plunge deeper into some other aspects of coil machines that many masters find quite interesting.

To begin with, many tattoo professionals claim that the rotary tattoo machines ought to withstand the full path lengthwise to let tattooist complete the motion, and that might be really time-consuming. In addition to that, the majority of rotary-style tattoo machines don’t respond well to the pressure of the skin, especially when compared to coil-type instruments. In its turn, this may lead to serious problems for the clients. Yet, the main advantage over the rotary machines is the fact that the coil tattoo machines make the process of scratching lines much easier than rotary machines. Also, they make them deeper.

So, we can say that coil machines have many advantages to favor them over the rotary type. The major one is that they are the best fit when it comes to refining lines, smoothing them, shading, and other intricate tasks. The other strong advantage is that coil machines have an incredibly powerful and durable motor that is crucial when you need to do needle grouping. One more perk is the ability to give professional tattoo artists more control over the process. Finally, we would like to emphasize that the coil tattoo machines are much easier to customize or build on your own.

Advantages of Rotary Tattoo Machines

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that coil tattoo machines may trail behind the competition in some aspects when it comes to rotary-type tattoo machines. So, let’s check the key benefits of using rotary tattoo machines over the coil-style units.

Less Weight

Compared to coil tattoo machines, rotary machines are much lighter and, accordingly, more suitable for prolonged use. This is largely achieved due to the fact that they are constructed with fewer parts to assemble. To put it differently, since the rotary guns don’t contain coils at all, they are lighter on the hands. And it’s easier to use and set up tattoo gun of this type.

Virtually Silent

The coil tattoo units are overly loud with their buzzing noise. For this reason, many masters (especially beginners) find them annoying to work with on a daily basis. Alternatively, rotary tattoo devices of the present day are virtually silent. An interesting fact – since they are so quiet, it’s the top choice of prisoners. They can tattoo their friends without fear of getting caught and their gear confiscated.


It goes without saying that every artist is different, but modern rotary tattoo machines offer great versatility to each of them. That’s because of the fact they can be used either as a liner or as a shader. A perfect 2-in-1 machine.


As mentioned, one neat rotary machine can substitute two separate devices. In addition to that, it’s made of fewer elements and is cheaper than coil machines in most cases. And not only they require less money to manufacture. They also cost less to acquire and maintain.

Less Vibration

The final point to note here is less vibration. This aspect is especially crucial for novice artists that require a steady hand and maximum precision to ink their clients. And whereas a coil machine can vibrate too much (thus, comprising the precision), that will never happen to the rotary-styled tattoo machine. It provides far less vibration and keeps your hand steady, allowing you to create fantastic artwork.

To sum up, coil tattoo machines usually require a lot of experience, which makes them an inaccessible option for entry-level tattoo artists. They also have more parts and require more maintenance when compared to rotary tattoo machines.

Rotary and coil units are completely two different types of machines. And there is no right answer what are the best tattoo machines for you. It’s all about your personal style of tattooing, preferable brands, and models.