Switching from Coil to Rotary Tattoo Machines
Does your wrist and hand hurt from tattooing all day for many years?
Have you noticed that a lot of tattooers are now using rotary tattoo machines?
Do you ask yourself why? Maybe we have some answers for you!
I have been tattooing since 1992 and Needlejig started making innovative tools for tattooing in the mid 90s. We actually love to see advancements in our craft by other tattooers, artists, and manufacturers because it forces us to take our game to the next level. Now rotary tattoo machines have been around for decades but only recently have builders found ways to get new features and innovations that will appeal to more traditional tattooers.
I tattooed with coils for probably 20 years, and still do occasionally. But I can tell you rotary machines allow me to tattoo a lot longer hours and with a lot less discomfort. Let me give you my opinions on rotary machines and let's also hear from some of our trusted tattoo friends out there that use them every single day.
Now let's talk tattoo!
For the most part rotary machines are a lot lighter and better balanced. Most old timers are going to tell you that sooner or later their hands hurt, their wrists hurt, and then as time goes on it all hurts a lot more. Seeing how we have no pensions or retirement funds, we are going to work as long as we can to continue to pay those bills. Later in their careers a lot of tattooers develop carpal tunnel which is when increased muscle mass and/or bone growth deposits end up pinching nerves and putting pressure on nerves that result in pain and numbing of the hands and the fingers. I get that in my thumb and index finger. I generally have very very little feeling at the tops of them anymore.
Rotary tattoo machines do not require the large metal frames to support the large and relatively heavy coils that are in electromagnetic coil machines. Now the reduced weight is going to lead to a lot longer careers, so you really should consider giving rotaries a look. One of the big things that I like about rotary machines is they're more consistent from day to day. There are basically a lot less things to go wrong with less mechanical components and less
variables help increase the efficiency. The modern electric motors that are in rotary tattoo machines operate at 90 plus percent efficiency. To be honest with you I don't believe there's ever been a coil machine that can even come close to those types of numbers and in my honest opinion a direct drive rotary tattoo machine is probably the most efficient device for tattooing. Is it the best device? Maybe, maybe not. But as far as efficiency goes it's unbeatable.
These days with builders trying to add everything you can think of to a machine
you have to consider that each feature that they are adding is adding components and moving parts. Each one of these things is going to decrease the efficiency of the machine to some degree. Now, that's not always going to be a bad thing because some of the features are
fantastic. But every time you're gaining a feature you're losing efficiency. You just need to understand that.
Now the one downside to a rotary tattoo machine is when it stops working, it stops working. You're not going to be able to tinker with it like you would your coil and get it back up and running. But the truth is every tattooer that I know has dozens and dozens of machines for
backups so that's really not an issue.
Another advantage to rotary machines is you now have the options to use needle cartridges as well as traditional needles on bars. Now I know some of you are going to tell me you run cartridges on coil machines and it is possible but it requires a machine to be set up so specific that most builders don't even know how to do that, and your average artist doesn't have a shot, usually. If you're using needle cartridges you no longer have to have two, four, six, or more machines to set up for a large piece with a lot of details in it. You can literally have one machine and change between your tight liner to your large mag color packer and back to your round shader for details all in a few seconds. Life gets easier. Your setup is smaller, faster. Your cleanup is smaller, faster... they just make life more convenient.
And if you want to use some of the best cartridges on the market...
Dynasty - we got you baby!
But don't take my word for it, let's hear it from some other great tattooers!
“I was really skeptical but once i got the hang of it it worked well. Rotaries are just so much more consistent than old coil machines. They run at the same consistency all the time. And then you introduced me to your needles and that just kind of changed the game for me.
Coils set me into the black and gray that I started doing. But rotary kind of changed the game a little bit. And then when the cartridges came out that really changed the game. Rotaries, like man, I can't say enough good things about rotaries. Compared to coil - It's very smooth. It's very smooth but you can get the pepper if you want. You can get the pepper if you want to but then it looks like it kind of gets skippy. You know, it doesn't look smooth anymore at that point. I also love them for color. Way better for color than coils.
When I went from coil to rotary, it was needle on bar. And then the only issue with rotary and needle on bar was that rotary was hitting harder. You know it hit really hard. You could damage the skin really quick and easy. But when the cartridge came out it kind of gave a little bit. You know like when when you're running a coil machine and you'd hit the skin the coil always backed off a little bit. And now with the cartridge it kind of does the same thing.
With the new membrane, the dynasty cartridge, that one's even better because it hits a little harder and it doesn't wear out either. You know it runs for a very long time and no there's no blowbacks no nothing. It's awesome.”
“You know there are machines out there that engineers have been paid to design... these machines that you don't have to mess with. You know what I mean? Just like - you have your set setups that you need. You got your settings and just go and tattoo and do your thing.
I like that, I really like that. You know, I have that romanticism with my coil machines but, you know, I love em... but I can't deal with those things for seven hours... I can't do seven hours with a machine like that. Unfortunately, I do a lot of mountain biking and I had a lot of accidents on mountain bikes so I definitely need something lighter for my hands.
But yeah, tattooing and where tattoo is going technology-wise, it's pretty cool to see that.
You know, when I was 13 now I'm 37 - to see the big change of tattooing is mind-boggling! It's like crazy!”
Now let's get Travis to show you some of the rotary machines we carry.
If we haven't met, I'm Travis and you'll often find me answering the phones or working the tattoo conventions. So let's dig in and take a look at some of the different types of rotary tattoo machines that we offer.
Direct drive tattoo machines. Simplest. Most mechanically efficient design where the needle bar or drive bar is mounted directly on the cam with no give and offers less wear and tear on the motor.
The Eccentric devices Switch with a cam adjustability between 2.4 and 4.4 and this weighs in at 4 ounces.
Here we have the Axis direct drive. No maintenance and offers the 3.2 the 3.7 and the 4.3 millimeter cams. This weighs in at 4.3 ounces.
This is the fk direct. It has a grommet-less clip-on armature fixture. It has interchangeable cams and great stability. It weighs in 2.3 ounces.
Linear rotary tattoo machines include an internal cam that drives a slide into linear motion similar to a coil machine.
The Neotat Vivace offers interchangeable motor bolts. Great introductory machine for artists that are new to the rotary game. This weighs in at 4 ounces.
The Bishop V6 features a powerful german Faulhaber motor and an impressive needle clip for extra stability on every hit. This weighs in at 3.8 ounces.
The FK Irons Halo 2. Adjustable give up to four millimeters. Also features the needle clip. This weighs in at 3.1 ounces.
Cartridge dedicated machines where the drive bar is attached to the machine but the cartridge tubes are needed sold separately.
This is the FK Irons Edge X. You can change this from 2.8 to 4.2 millimeters with the
adjustable stroke length. It also weighs in at 2.9 ounces, without the grip.
The Axis Fehu. Center balance resembles a pen style machine. Autoclavable vice and only weighs in at 2.5 ounces.
Which leads us to the pens where the only other thing you need is the cartridges.
The Axis Valhalla with five changeable stroke lengths. 2.5, 2.9, 3.4, 3.8, and 4.2. No stopping. Cleanest pen on the market with a high performance seal which can range from 4.7 to 6.7 ounces, depending on the grip size.
And the FK Irons Xion which features a ratchet system to lock the needle depth with a 3.2 to 3.7 stroke length adjustment. A 10 watt motor bolt but it's not recommended for high voltage use past 9.5 volts. This weighs 5.4 ounces.
Now our cartridges work with all of these rotary style machines so make sure you go to the website and check them out. That was a tour of some of the rotary machines that we have to
offer here at Needlejig. If you have any questions, comments, or compliments find us at a tattoo convention or give us a call!
At this time Needlejig sells all the leading rotary tattoo machines by US
builders. Now there are great builders around the world but we've always stuck with US builders because they're people we know and want to support. Not to mention if you have a problem or
an issue, need a repair, you can lose a lot of time and sometimes some money having to deal with delays overseas. We may carry international machines in the future but for right now let's just stick with what we know.
Now I currently wear hearing aids and my left ear is substantially worse than my right. So I have to wonder, did 20 plus years of loud tattoo machines buzzing over here -because I get close to my work- is that just a coincidence? Or does it have something to do with the machine? I don't know but it has to be considered as a possibility and if you're one of those artists that loves to chat with your clients, it's a whole lot easier with the quieter machines these days. To be honest I love walking into a tattoo shop and hearing the buzzing machines and smelling the green soap and it's so nostalgic and it just hits me right here with all the feels...
But that's not how I'm gonna tattoo anymore.
Do you use rotaries? Why did you switch? Let us know in the comments below how it's helped you. If you need any help choosing or learning more about machines just give us a call that's what we're here for!