Rotary vs. Coil Tattoo Machines: How Are They Different?


Did you know that nearly 36% of Americans have at least one tattoo? That’s over 145 million people. The latest tattoo statistics reveal another (maybe) surprising fact – 92% of people don’t regret getting some ink. However, the 8% who wish they didn’t get a tattoo typically want to remove it because of poor design.

As a tattoo artist, your job is to provide perfect tattoos so your clients can wear them proudly. Even if they experience some regret, the culprit should be a personal reason (e.g., having their ex’s name permanently inked), not your design and expertise.

That’s why you need a top-notch tattoo machine. Rotary and coil devices are standard and provide excellent results, but you must consider their differences before purchasing.

Check out how rotary and coil tattoo machines differ to make an informed buying decision.

Different designs



Coil tattoo machines are classic devices that have been around since 1891. They looked differently then, resembling modern rotary machines, but numerous upgrades over the years have made them a bit bulky.

Besides the grip and the connecting tube, they feature a frame with a spring-loaded armature bar, two coils, iron rods, a contact post, a capacitor, and a binding post, among other smaller parts like lock screws and O-rings. Accommodating all those elements requires a bulkier design.

Their rotary counterparts are smaller because they don’t use coils that require various parts. They only have a spinning motor in a compact housing connected to the grip with a tube and a tiny cam wheel. Their ergonomic design makes them ideal for novice and experienced tattoo artists alike.

Operational differences

You probably understand how a tattoo machine works, but did you know that not all models operate identically?

Coil tattoo machines use an electromagnetic current to operate. The energy charges the coils, turning them magnetic to drive the armature bar up and send the needle into the skin. Once the circuit breaks after the spring in the front moves away from the contact screw, the armature bar goes back down.

This process repeats approximately 100 times per second to deposit ink into the skin.

Rotary tattoo machines use a gentler process since the electric motor automatically moves the needle up and down.

Noise level

That buzzing sound all tattoo artists and their clients know pretty well is an electromagnetic current passing through the coils and the armature bar moving up and down. You won’t hear it when using a rotary tattoo machine.

That makes rotary devices better for first-time clients who may find the sound intimidating, making them feel nervous. Of course, many think that light buzz is peaceful, helping them relax.

Weight difference


Coil tattoo machines are much heavier than their rotary cousins. That’s not surprising, considering all their parts.

Some rotary machines have bulkier motors but are still lighter than coil devices. That makes them ideal for longer sessions. They also don’t vibrate as much as coil machines, helping tattoo artists reduce the strain and pain in their hands, wrists, and fingers.

Range of the needle

Rotary tattoo machines provide a more fluid needle motion because the electric motor runs continuously. The smooth movement ensures consistency and causes less skin irritation.

Their coil counterparts are choppy because the electromagnetic circuit constantly turns on and off. It’s like a tiny hammer punching the needle. That doesn’t mean the result is less than impeccable; it only requires more skill.

Different uses


If you’ve ever used a coil tattoo machine, you know you can’t use one for drawing lines and shading – you need two.

This lack of versatility makes many tattoo artists opt for a rotary device. There’s no need to switch between a liner and a shader because a rotary machine supports both lining and shading. You only need to change the needles to create shadow effects or cover particular areas with ink.

Rotary machines are also ideal for color tattoos. Still, we recommend using both because coil machines are better for intricate lines and working with larger needles.

Maintenance needs

Cleaning a coil tattoo machine is time-consuming. You can’t spray it with a disinfectant and call it a day – you would damage the parts and cause the coils to corrode.

You must disassemble all the parts and clean each thoroughly with a disinfectant, paper tissue, and cotton swabs. We recommend an autoclave to sterilize the equipment.

Rotary tattoo machines are low maintenance but require more careful handling because of the electric motor. You still must detach all the parts for cleaning, but it takes less time. These devices also require regular lubrication to stay in top condition.

Ease of use

You control a coil and a rotary tattoo machine with a foot pedal, but the latter might be easier to use. It’s lightweight, features an ergonomic design, and has a better motion quality, making it ideal for beginners and longer sessions.

That doesn’t mean a coil device isn’t easy to use – you only need time to master it. Its weight and motion quality may make it more challenging to handle, but it works faster than its rotary counterpart.

Customization options

Customizing a coil tattoo machine is a breeze. You can replace the parts to adjust power and speed and take your tattoo experience to the next level.

That customization level isn’t possible with rotary machines, which are typically more expensive. Replacing coil tattoo machine parts won’t break the bank since they’re affordable.


We can’t say which of these two devices wins the battle; it’s up to you to pick one that is best suitable to your needs.

Coil tattoo machines are heavier but perfect for intricate lines and customized tattoos. Rotary machines provide better motion fluidity and are ideal for color tattoos and reducing strain on your hands and fingers.

Weigh their benefits and drawbacks to choose the best tattoo machine for your needs and client comfort. You can also ask your fellow tattoo artists for advice to make an informed decision.

Remember that many other devices exist, such as innovative tattoo pens and wireless tattoo machines. Professionals are increasingly adopting them to enjoy the perfect blend of convenience, technology, and performance.