As a new tattoo artist, it can be hard to tell which type of tattoo machine will work best for you. If you don’t have the right type of machine, it can hold back your learning and make tattooing a frustrating process.
To help, we’re breaking down the different types of tattoo machines - and how to pick the right one for you and your career.
In this article, We’ll look at:
There are three types of machines, and having a better understanding of them will help you decide which one works best for you and how you tattoo.
Coil Tattoo Machines
Coil machines are also called “traditional” style machines because, for a long time, they were the only type of tattoo machine available. A lot of tattoo artists start out with coils.
What to Look for in a Coil Machine
Not all machines are well-crafted. We do not recommend going on eBay or Amazon for your tattoo machine, especially if you're getting a coil machine for $15-20. It's not going to last, and it's not going to work how you want it to.
With tattooing, what you use is super important to the quality of tattoos that you come out with. A cheap machine will make it harder to do a good tattoo.
Rotary Tattoo Machines
Rotary tattoo machines operate with a direct drive motor, and require little maintenance work from you as the artist.
What to Look for in a Rotary Machine
Rotaries had direct drive motors, which means they have no “give” against the skin - and no margin of error when it comes to needle depth. This is why we recommend picking a rotary that allows you to use a semi-rigid bar - like the Inkjecta Flite Nano (our favorite) - which allows you to have some give while working.Changing the stroke is much easier with a rotary because you can get different cam wheels and just switch them out without actually tuning the whole machine. Being able to change the stroke makes you more versatile as an artist because you are prepared for whatever tattoo a customer wants.
We recommend the Inkjecta Flite Nano as our top pick for new tattoo artists.
Pen Tattoo Machines
Pen machines are the newest type of machine on the market. They have a direct drive motor like rotaries, and they are super easy to use (little to no setup or tattooing knowledge required).
What to Look for in a Pen Machine
Some pen machines have a set stroke, which means you won’t be able to change the stroke (and there’s no option to change out a cam wheel like you could with a rotary). Additionally, some pen machines do not have the option to use disposable grips. This means that if you are tattooing people, you must have access to an autoclave to avoid cross-contamination.
How to Pick Your Tattoo Machine
Before you make your decision on what machine you're going to buy, there’s a few things you need to consider.
What Style You Want to Get Into
If you're going into more realism and black and gray, you're going to be looking for a three millimeter stroke, because it hits a lot less, and it'll be way easier to get those smooth shades into the skin without a lot of trauma.
If you're looking more for big line work and color, a four stroke would probably work better for you. It will hit harder and penetrate the skin more easily.
Most of these machines are $500 and up, but they hold up very well over time, as long as you take care of them. The maintenance is super low (you have to oil them once in a while), but there's not much upkeep required.
There are a lot of tattoo machines out there that are very cheap, but they won’t last very long. You don't want something to break down mid-tattoo. It’s stressful, it’ll freak you out, and it’s not something you want to put yourself into whenever you are first starting out.If you're trying to find a cheaper tattoo machine for right now, we recommend Mast machines. However, it’s best to upgrade to something like the Inkjecta Flite Nano or the Cheyenne tattoo machines when you can, because they work better, and they hold up through time.
There is no perfect machine that's going to work for everyone, and you’ll do your best work if you’re using a machine you’re comfortable with. What the grip feels like and where the weight is in the machine will make a big difference in how comfortable it is for you.
The best thing to do is to try out other machines whenever you can. Some will feel uncomfortable or won’t work as well for you. Building that knowledge on different types of machines will help you find one that works perfectly for you and the style of tattooing you do.
Learn to Master Tattooing
Getting the right machine and setup is only the first step on your journey to becoming a tattoo artist. Next, you need to learn how to use these tools correctly to create amazing tattoos.
There’s a ton of information out there that promises to teach you to tattoo, but a lot of it is outdated or incorrect. This is why most tattoo artists trying to learn online pick up bad habits that can take years to unlearn.
If you want to learn how to tattoo the right way, you can still do it online and at your own pace.
We created the Artist Accelerator Program to give aspiring artists all the lessons and techniques they need in an easy-to-follow, 9-step roadmap that can take anyone from complete beginner to professional tattoo artist in as little as 90 days.
Inside the program, you’ll learn the skills tattoo artists use every day, get personalized guidance from professionals, and put together a portfolio that gets you hired.
Skip the years of trial and error and start building a career you love today.