What is the Best Rotary Tattoo Machine? | Rotary Tattoo Machines Directory

Known for their smooth operation, reduced noise, and light weight, rotary machines have become a favorite for many tattoo artists.

When choosing a rotary tattoo machine, it's important to consider three critical factors:

  • Reliability
  • Adjustability (control over the stroke and speed to suit different tattooing techniques)
  • User comfort

When choosing a rotary tattoo machine, it's important to consider three critical factors:

Note:
While some artists prefer to learn on coil tattoo machines, we consider a wireless rotary tattoo machine to be the best tattoo machines for new artists. They are lightweight and are compatible with most needle cartridges, making it easy to start tattooing without dealing with lots of adjustments or tuning.

Pro Tip:
Using a wireless machine can make your work feel less restricted. There won’t be a cord over your arm, and you won’t have to worry about rolling over the cord in your chair while you move around your client.

Understanding Rotary Tattoo Machine Operation

A rotary tattoo machine operates using a direct drive motor, which moves the needle up and down in a smooth, cyclical motion via a cam wheel. This consistent movement allows for precision and control, making rotary machines a great choice for both lining and shading.

A key component of a rotary machine is its motor. The power and speed of this motor determine the machine's performance. Some rotary machines come with standard motors, while others use high-end, custom-made motors for enhanced performance and durability.

It's important to note that while rotary machines are known for their simplicity and ease of use, they offer less adjustability compared to coil machines. However, their smooth operation, reduced vibration, and quieter performance have made them a popular choice, especially for tattoo artists specializing in styles such as realism and portraiture.

They also are compatible with cartridge tattoo needles, which are easier to set up than traditional tattoo needle bars like you would on a coil machine.

How to Choose the Best Rotary Machine

Choosing the right rotary machine requires an understanding of what matters most in your tattooing process. Here are some key factors to consider:

Motor Performance and Reliability

The motor's quality directly impacts the machine's performance. Choose a machine that offers consistent speed and can reliably handle the hours of work without overheating or slowing down. A machine with a stronger motor will be able to operate at a wider range of voltages (meaning you can use bigger needle groupings without having trouble piercing the skin).

Comfort and Ergonomics for the Tattoo Artist

A comfortable grip and a balanced machine can make a huge difference in long tattooing sessions. One of the reasons many tattoo artists prefer rotary tattoo machines is due to the weight and bulk of traditional coil machines.

Look for machines that feel good in your hand, aren't too heavy, and don't cause unnecessary strain on your wrist or hand.

Adjustability

While rotary machines offer less adjustability compared to coil machines, some models do offer adjustable stroke and give. This allows you to alter the machine's behavior according to your specific tattooing style.

Change Cam Wheels to Adjust the Stroke

Some machines allow you to change out the cam wheel to change your machine’s stroke. (If your machine does not allow this, it is called a “set stroke machine,” which is commonly seen among pen machines.)

Change Needle Bars for More “Give”

Because rotary machines use a direct drive motor, there isn’t much “give,” meaning the machine won’t back off due to resistance from the skin’s surface tension. Without any give, there is no margin for error when it comes to needle depth. However, some rotary tattoo machines allow you to add give to your machine through other means, for example, a slightly bendy needle bar. 

Because the needle bar will absorb some of the shock from the needle hitting the skin, you’ll recreate the “give” that coil machines have.

Construction Quality

Look for machines built with high-quality materials and solid craftsmanship. The quality of the machine will affect not only its performance but also its lifespan.

Price

Rotary machines can range significantly in price. Consider your budget, but also remember that a higher upfront cost might translate into a longer-lasting, better-performing machine in the long run.

Our Rotary Tattoo Machine Reviews

Our professional tattoo artists are putting popular rotary tattoo machines to the ultimate test: actual tattooing.

They don't just look at the specs, they complete a full tattoo with the machine, assessing their performance across a range of techniques and skin types. From lining and shading to color packing, we cover it all.

In our reviews, we focus on the key aspects that matter most: reliability, adjustability, comfort, construction quality, and price. We also look at additional features, such as the machine's weight, balance, and noise levels, which can greatly impact the user experience.

Below, you'll find our in-depth reviews, where you can find our ratings on each machine, as well as key takeaways and whether or not we recommend the machine for new tattoo artists.

A Note on Tattoo Pen Machines

Pen-style tattoo machines are technically rotary tattoo machines inside a pen casing. That is why you’ll see a variety of rotary tattoo pen machine reviews in our list below. They operate on the same direct-drive motor.

Our Pick for Best Rotary Tattoo Machine

Out of the machines below, our top recommendation is the Inkjecta Flite Nano. It’s a professional rotary tattoo machine, and most versions of it work with a corded or cordless power supply and is compatible with most cartridge needles.

Note:
None of the tattoo machines or tattoo pens shown below belong to a tattoo kit. Very often, the tattoo machines that come inside kits are not high-quality, and you’ll need different tattoo machines to create your best work.

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CNC CW2 Machine Review

June 23, 2022

A comfortable and lightweight rotary tattoo machine, the CNC CW2 operates like a pro machine…for half the price.

...
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Axys Valhalla Machine Review

June 10, 2022

A pen style tattoo machine with adjustable stroke lengths, the Axys Valhalla is a great choice for new and experienced tattoo artists.

...
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Practicing is an essential aspect of mastering any art, and tattooing is no different. As a tattoo artist, your skills can be honed and perfected over time, but to get there, you need dedicated practice. In the past, budding tattoo artists were stuck with pig skin or their own body. Luckily, today we have practice skins,

Tattoo Practice Skin: A Complete Guide and Review Directory

CNC P6 Tattoo Machine Review

April 21, 2022

The CNC P6 is a tiny tattoo pen that packs a lot of power. It can use both corded and cordless power supplies and features and ergonomic design for smaller hands.

...
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Dragonhawk Mast Tour Review

March 31, 2022

A great first tattoo machine, this pen style machine has a set stroke and easy operation – so there are very few adjustments you need to make.

...
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Inkjecta Tattoo Machine Review

March 24, 2022

Our top pick, The Inkjecta is one of the best rotary tattoo machines out there. It can use a power supply or operate as a wireless tattoo machine via battery pack.

...
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CNC X WE Tattoo Machine Review

March 1, 2022

The CNC X WE doesn’t use a direct drive motor, so it has more “give,” like a coil tattoo machine. While you can change the stroke, the actual pen itself makes it hard to do so.

...
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Mast Archer Tattoo Machine Review

February 18, 2022

A great budget-friendly choice, the Mast Archer tattoo machine is powerful for the price. However, you’ll need an upgrade before working in the tattoo industry full time.

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Rotary Tattoo Machine FAQs

What is the difference between a rotary and coil tattoo machine?

Rotary machines use an electric motor to move the needle in a smooth, consistent motion. They are quieter, have minimal vibration, and considered lighter than coil machines. However, they offer less adjustability, making them less versatile in some respects.

Are rotary machines suitable for beginners?

Rotary machines are generally considered easier to use and maintain than coil machines, making them a good choice for beginners. Their consistent needle movement can be easier to control, and they require less adjustment and maintenance.

Can you do shading and lining with a rotary machine? 

This depends on the machine. Some machines allow for an adjustable stroke, so you can use a 4mm cam wheel for lining and a 3mm cam wheel for shading. 

Some tattoo machines have a “set stroke” and you can’t change it. If this is the case, we recommend going with a 3.5mm set stroke, which will allow you to do a little bit of everything.

Some tattoo artists prefer to have a machine for lining and a different machine for shading. This cuts out the time of changing out the cam wheel for every tattoo or they can get two set stroke machines - one for each job.

Are rotary machines quieter than coil machines?

Yes, rotary machines are generally quieter than coil machines. The electric motor in a rotary machine produces less noise and vibration compared to the electromagnetic coils in a coil machine.

How do I maintain my rotary machine?

Maintaining a rotary machine involves regular cleaning and occasionally lubricating the moving parts. They generally require less maintenance than coil machines, but you should always follow the manufacturer's instructions to ensure your machine performs well and lasts a long time.

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AUTHOR
Nathan Molenaar

Nathan is a licensed professional tattoo artist with over 8 years’ experience working at studios across the globe, including Celebrity Ink, the world's largest tattoo studio chain.

When he's not tattooing, he spends his free time sharing his experience and knowledge with aspiring artists who dream of pursuing a career in the tattooing industry.

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