Rotary vs Coil Tattoo Machine: Which One Right For You? is reader-supported. When you buy via the links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission at no cost to you.

So, you’re thinking about taking up tattooing but you’re not sure if you should get a rotary tattoo machine or opt for the more traditional coil gun. Well, you’re in the right place. In this article, we break down everything you need to know about rotary and coil tattoo machines. 

Things can quickly get confusing when it comes to choosing the best tattoo machine for you. Yes, the outcome may be the same, but the way the needles drive through the skin is worlds apart when you compare rotary and coil tattoo machines. 

Let’s have a closer look at the main differences between these types of tattoo machines. 

The Mechanics 

The traditional coil tattoo machine is made up of two electromagnets, a contact screw, springs, and an armature bar where the needle attaches. 

The mechanism works in the following way:

  1. A direct electromagnetic current passes through the coils, creating a magnetic field. 
  2. The magnetic field pushes the armature bar down, which causes it to lose contact with the screw. The result is that the circuit collapses. 
  3. The spring pulls the armature bar up and contact with the armature bar is restored, and the process starts over again. You can see how steps 2 and 3 create an up and down motion that drives the needle in and out of the skin. 

Rotary tattoo machines, on the other hand, are much simpler in design and works like this:

  1. Electricity powers a motor, which then rotates a cam wheel in a circular motion. Now you know why it’s called a rotary machine! 
  2. The cam wheel converts the circular motion into linear motion, which is a good thing since the needle bar is attached to said cam wheel. It would be pretty hard to tattoo with needles going in circles! 

You can see that rotary tattoo machines are much more straightforward in their operation than coil guns. But the difference in mechanics isn’t the only thing that stands out when you look at rotary vs coil tattoo machines. 

Noise Output

You know the loud buzzing sound that is associated with tattoo shops? It is caused by the armature bar being released on coil tattoo machines. These machines are loud! You can imagine why hearing this loud noise in your ears for eight to ten hours a day may drive you (and your client) insane. On top of that, the buzzing sounds pretty aggressive and may scare away prospective clients!

Rotary tattoo machines, on the other hand, are whisper quiet. This is good news for all involved. You and the client you’re tattooing can chat up a storm without struggling to hear each other, and potential clients wandering through your doors may perceive the process to be less painful since the tool used sounds so gentle. 

The rotary comes up on top in the noise category of the coil tattoo machine vs rotary battle. 


The rotary tattoo machine gets another win here. One machine can both line and shade, while you need two coil machines for the same tasks. Coil machines with thick barrels and heavy coils are used to shade, and those with thin barrels and light coils are the liners.

The versatility of rotary tattoo machines is unmatched. There’s no need to stop and change machines while you’re doing a tattoo. This makes for a smooth and uninterrupted tattooing experience. 


Coil machines are heavy thanks to the dual electromagnets weighing them down. Your hand will get tired much sooner using coil tattoo machines vs rotary. A lighter weight means you can work for longer hours at a time with reduced hand cramping. That’s good news since tired hands tend to lead to choppy lines and mistakes. 

Ease of use 

Rotary tattoo machines have a simple design as we established earlier. This makes these machines simple to use. Add to that the fact that rotary guns are less damaging to the skin and it may be the best beginner tattoo machine to choose. But don’t discard coil tattoo machines entirely. Larger tattoo needles work better with coil tattoo machines, which makes shading faster and easier. Coil guns are also known for their knack for creating super intricate lines. That being said, using a coil is more difficult and requires a higher skill level. 

So, in this category, it’s pretty much a tie when it comes to rotary vs coil tattoo machines.


Tattooing needs a steady hand if you want to create precision artworks. Coil machines vibrate a lot, and this may compromise accuracy. Rotary-style tattoo machines vibrate next to nothing, which helps keep your hand steady. 


The fact that you need only one machine to line and shade means choosing the rotary tattoo machine option is more cost-effective. Rotary guns are also made of fewer components which also cuts the cost. Coil tattoo machines will not only leave you out of pocket when you buy them, they’re also more expensive to maintain.

Some may think since rotary tattoo machines are so cost-efficient, they’re the best option; however, it’s not as straightforward as that. You have to consider all the other pros and cons and weigh them up against each other before making your choice. 

Here’s a quick recap in an easy comparison chart. 

FeaturesRotary Tattoo MachineCoil Tattoo Machine
VersatilityActs as both liner and shaderNeed two machines for lining and shading
WeightLightweightBulkier and heavier
Ease of useEasy to useNeeds practice
VibrationLow vibrationVibrates a lot
PriceMore affordable to buy and maintainPricey since you need to buy two machines and maintenance is expensive

Now it’s time to look at the top two rotary and coil tattoo machines. 

Rotary Tattoo Machine: Dragonhawk Mast Pen Rotary Tattoo Machine

This brand is praised for making some of the best tattoo machines at an affordable price. The Mast is no-doubt one of the best rotary tattoo machines on the market. You get a versatile and reliable rotary without breaking the bank! 

With its ergonomic design, the machine feels almost weightless. If you’re worried that this lightweight feel means cheap plastic parts were used, we want to put your mind at ease. The Mast is made from high-quality materials, despite its lower price tag.

It comes with Swiss MAXON technology that gives it a flexible stroke length, which makes it perfect for lining and shading. Add to that speed settings or Sensidrive function that ensures precision no matter the speed you tattoo at, and you can expect to hold a powerful rotary tattoo machine in your hand. 

This rotary is highly recommended for beginner tatto artists, especially.

Coil Tattoo Machine: Dragonhawk 2pcs Brass Coils Tattoo Machine Straight Shader Circle Liner

Our top coil tattoo machine pick is also made by Dragonhawk. In this set, you get two tattoo machines; one for lining and the other for shading you. Just as the Dragonhawk rotary machine, you can expect top quality when you choose these machines. What’s more, as far as coil tattoo machines go, this set is great for beginners. We know coil tattooing is a little more intricate, but these machines will make everything go smoothly.

The shader comes with 10-wrap coils and the liner with 8-wrap coils.

These machines work with almost any needle and tube size. So, if you’re looking for great coil tattoo machines at a fraction of the price, then don’t give buying this Dragonhawk set a second thought. 

We also appreciate the fact that the brand is so confident in their products, they offer a money-back guarantee if you’re unhappy with your purchase. 


Rotary vs coil tattoo machines have their own cons and pros. Although they both have the same end result, how they get there is significantly different.

None of the cons these machines have are horrible, so there isn’t a clear choice. It all boils down to what you want from a tattoo machine, your budget, and your skill level. 

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