Guide to Pen Style Machines

Pen style machines are rotary machines in a casing that looks like a pen. This can be helpful for tattoo artists - especially new artists - because they’re easy to use and don’t require tuning.

However, because they are so popular, there are a lot of options for new artists. Knowing how to pick the right one can be really hard if you don’t understand the settings each pen machine comes with.

That’s why, in this article, we’ll break down:

  • Different brands of pen machines
  • Price ranges for pen machines
  • Which one is best if you’re first starting out

Types of Tattoo Machines

There are three different styles of tattoo machines: coil machines, rotary machines, and pen style machines. (Pen style machines use the same type of motor as rotary machines.) 

Pen machines are the “newest” option out there, and they’re a great option for beginners because they are easy to get up and running.

Power Options for Pen Machines

Some pen machines run on batteries, some use an RCA cord (like most rotary machines), and a few come with their own individual jack. 

Batteries can be great because they let you work without dealing with a cord over your arm or under your chair. 

However, if you only have one battery, it limits how long you can work. With an RCA cord, you do not have this problem. (Many companies will send you two batteries so one can always be charging while you’re working.)

Stroke Options for Pen Machines

What tattoo style you want to get into will determine the type of machine you buy. For example, if you want to specialize in black and gray, you’d want a machine with a shorter stroke (and a softer hit) so you can build up layers in the skin without causing too much damage. 

If you don't know what style you want to do, it might be best to go for a machine that has the ability to change strokes. If your machine can move from a 3mm stroke to a 4mm stroke, you’ll be able to tattoo any style that you want to while using the appropriate stroke.

Cheyenne SOL Nova Unlimited

The Cheyenne SOL Nova Unlimited comes in a 4mm stroke or a 3.5mm stroke. 3.5mm is the best all-rounder option if you cannot adjust the stroke. If you are new to tattooing, we recommend getting the 3.5mm stroke option.

Pros:

A Machine with “Give”

The Cheyenne SOL Nova Unlimited is a direct drive machine, which means the needle will go through the full stroke length, no matter how much resistance the skin puts up against it. (This can make it easier to go too deep in the skin and cause blowouts.) 

However, this machine has a button that lets you add a little bit of “give.” This can be very helpful when you’re using small liners or doing shading.

Battery Operated

This machine uses a battery that runs for 6-8 hours, depending on which voltage you use. You only need to take the charge with you, and you’re good to go.

Disposable Option

If you don’t have an autoclave, you can buy disposable grips for the Cheyenne SOL Nova Unlimited. This makes it much easier to make sure your setup is safe and sterile.

Note:

Very few pen machines offer this option, making it a huge plus for Cheyenne.

Con:

No Voltage Readout

There is no voltage readout on the machine. To change the voltage, you have to hold the machine and rotate it up or down. Until you know what a certain voltage sounds like, you have to guess whether you are using the right voltage. 

If you’re new to tattooing, you want to make sure you know the exact voltage your machine is running on.

CNC is known for making high-quality machines and materials at a lower price. However, we recommend using most CNC machines for practice on fake skins only, since most of their machines do not come with a disposable grip option.

Pros:

RCA Jack

While battery-operated machines can be easier to work with, having a machine that requires an RCA cord means you’re hooked up to a power supply where you can clearly see your voltage

Adjustable Stroke

The ring around the machine allows you to move from a 3mm stroke up to a 4mm stroke. This is the simplest way to change your stroke (especially compared to tuning a coil machine or changing out a cam wheel on a rotary machine).  

Low Price Point

The CNC P6 is around $200 (as opposed to the Cheyenne Sol Nova at $1000). You can still get great practice with the CNC P6 and build your skills without having to invest so heavily in a machine.

Cons:

Odd Shape

While the CNC P6 looks thinner than other pen machines, it does have a ring around it that makes it too thick for regular pen machine bags. You’ll need to use the 2-inch machine bags to wrap the CNC P6 correctly.  

No Disposable Grip Option

Unless you have an autoclave, you cannot use this machine on human skin. Without disposable grips available, many new artists are limited to fake skins until they upgrade to a new machine.

Additional Pen Machines

While we’ve spent less time with these machines, here are a few other options if you’re looking at getting a pen style machine:

1

Bishop Wand Pen Machine

Bishop is a good brand with a great reputation among tattoo artists. The Bishop Pen comes in a 3.5mm, 4.2mm, and 5mm stroke.

The Axys Valhalla is comparable to our favorite rotary machine, the Inkjecta Flite Nano, and it has an adjustable stroke. However, it does not have a disposable grip option.

While this is considered a “budget” machine at around $200, it has a lot of power for lining, and it is rechargeable.  

Prepare for a Tattooing Career with the Artist Accelerator Program

Picking out your tattoo machine is an exciting step in your journey, but it can also be pretty eye-opening to how difficult tattooing can be. Without the right knowledge, it’s impossible to level up your skills and become a professional tattoo artist. 

However, finding the straight-forward information you need to progress is difficult. And with so much out there online, it’s hard to avoid picking up bad habits from incorrect and outdated resources.

This is one of the biggest struggles new tattooers face, and too many talented artists have given up their goal of getting into tattooing because of the years it would take to unlearn their bad habits. 

That’s why aspiring artists are learning to tattoo with the Artist Accelerator Program’s structured course. As a student, you learn every step of the tattooing process from professional artists with the experience and advice you need to build your skills and create incredible tattoos. 

With the Artist Accelerator, you can stop wasting time searching through incorrect information. You just get the clear, easy-to-understand lessons you need to start improving fast… along with support and personalized feedback from professional artists in our online Mastermind group.

Over 2500 students have already gone through the course, with many of them opening up their own studios. If you want to join them and learn the skills you need to start tattooing full time faster…

Click here to learn more about the Artist Accelerator Program.

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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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