types of tattoo machines

All You Need to Know About Different Types of Tattoo Machines

Quality tattoo work starts with a quality machine.

Since it greatly affects the process and outcome, it’s imperative to look for the right types of tattoo machines that suit your preferences.

Of all tattoo supplies, the machine is likely the one that costs the most money.

While affordable choices exist, investing in a high-end model is the right decision to ensure customer satisfaction.

Happy clients will love to contact you again if they feel content with their first project.

Broadly speaking, tattoo machines are grouped into 3 major categories by how they work, namely liners, shaders, and color packers.

Recognizing the difference is critical because they’re designed to apply a specific technique.

You do yourself a massive disservice if you don’t take time studying all these variants.

This is very basic information that every professional should know before starting their practice.

Furthermore, these handhelds are crafted using a range of materials.

Some are heavier as they use metal as the primary component, such as brass, iron, and copper.

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History of Tattoo Machines

The engraving symbols on the skin were done using tools derived from nature, such as soot and ash.

Tattoo guns weren’t a thing back then, so something with a pointy tip was needed, like a bone to puncture the skin.

This made the tattooing process unsanitary and painful since no numbing cream was involved.

That gradually changed with the invention of the first rotary machine by Thomas Edison in 1876. And in 1891, an electronic version of that was introduced by Samuel O’Reilly.

It took the world by storm, but unfortunately, the bulky design hindered its full potential.

Following years of consistent improvements, Percy Waters, hailed by many as the forefather of modern tattooing, came up with a brilliant idea, a machine comprised of electromagnetic coils or simply known as coil machines.

He created 14 different styles of that invention and managed to secure a patent for the work.

Well, major props to him because it has laid the groundwork for subsequent innovations.

Types of Tattoo Machines According to The Operation of Its Components and How They Work

A. Rotary Tattoo Machine

Rotary machines are highly regarded by tattoo artists because they possess remarkable qualities.

They feature an electric motor that moves cyclically to push the needle in and out of the skin.

These machines are also admired for their low noise output.

Even if it doesn’t bug you at all, it could make a difference to clients.

The loud noise might revive old memories one had with their previous tattoos.

This could be bad, especially when they didn’t have a good experience, to begin with.

And in the worst scenario, it may take their anxiety through the roof and turn the session into a complete nightmare as they constantly cringe due to the heightened perception of pain.

A responsible artist will try to guide their client into a good mental state before tattooing starts.

And if a quieter machine helps, why not prepare one in your workstation?

Besides, a rotary machine is lightweight and good at maintaining consistency.

Versatility is anotheradded value, which means it can alternate between lining and shading smoothly.

B. Coil Tattoo Machine

If a buzzing sound pops up in your head anytime you hear the word ‘tattoo machine’, you can almost guarantee that the high decibel is produced by this machine.

They’re the epitome of traditional tattooing.

Before all these modern tattoo guns (and kits) came onto the scene, they had existed to assist parlors with their tattoo work.

Coil machines rely on electromagnetic current to cause the tapping movement of the armature bar.

As the name suggests, coils play a big role in the operation of a coil machine.

Soon after they’re charged, a magnetic field will be formed, which leads to the bar moving downwards and allows the needle to pierce the skin.

As it comes in contact with the front spring, it will break the circuit, which then return the bar to its original position.

All the steps are then repeated in a cyclical manner.

If you want to use this, you’d need a few at once given that each type serves a different purpose. Here’s the breakdown:


The function of a liner is self-explanatory. It’s used to create an outline of a tattoo.

The biggest differentiating factor lies in the contact circuit where it’s designed shorter (approximately 1.5 to 2mm).

This structure promotes a faster movement, which is paramount for outlining.


Apart from the physical traits, shaders are also characterized by their slower movement.

They penetrate the skin at lower speeds.

To figure out if a machine is a shader, take a look at the front spring. If it’s longer, you can rest assured that it’s a shader.

It feels more powerful despite the slower cycle, which isn’t surprising as it has more wrap coils to handle larger needle groupings.

Otherwise, the pigments won’t look as vibrant as intended.

Color Packers


Color packers are reminiscent of shaders in the way they’re set up.

They’re slow hard-hitting, very useful for depositing pigments into the skin.

You can use this machine to get an even appearance of the ink.

C. Pneumatic Tattoo Machine

example of pneumatic tattoo machine

Pneumatic machines also boast a lightweight design, but the working mechanism separates them from the rest.

These machines were brought to the public eye in 2000.

Instead of an electric motor or coils, they utilize pressurized air to control the motion of the needle.

You’ll also benefit from the autoclave support, meaning that the sterilization process can be done without the need for complex disassembly.

Cleaning equipment has become an integral part of professional tattoo service.

A sterile environment is a must during ink transfer. Failure to implement safety measures may expose clients to unnecessary risks.

If this is a big concern to you, rightfully so, then a pneumatic machine would put your mind at ease as decontamination feels more practical.

In terms of noise output, this type tends to be less intimidating.

It’s nothing like that generated by a rotary or a coil machine.

Additionally, setup shouldn’t be a problem knowing the components aren’t too different from those making up other tattoo guns.

How to Choose Your First Tattoo Machine

1. Price

Setting a budget is crucial in choosing the right type of machine, considering these handhelds come in a broad range of prices.

You can grab one for as low as $100 to more than $500.

Prepare it in advance so that you know what to expect while shopping around.

2. Type

Should you buy a rotary, a coil, or a pneumatic machine?

It’s not just about setup, but choosing the right type also affects how much you spend in total.

pneumatic tattoo machine

A rotary machine performs well for all tattoo techniques, so you don’t need to buy several units to create intact tattoos.

Coil machines are different because they’re application-specific.

The liners are meant for lining, while the shaders are for shading. They aren’t swappable in operation.

If this is the type you go for, then you’d need a set consisting of a liner, a shader, and a color picker.

As for the pneumatic gun, albeit not as popular, it still offers benefits.

Delve into the basics of this machine to know if this suits you. If so, you can buy one instead of the other models.

3. Noise

Note that noise levels vary across different models.

Coil machines associated with traditional tattooing have the highest output, which can be good or bad.

While noise is linked to improved focus and alertness, not everyone can tolerate that for extended periods.

Tattooists who prefer a quieter environment would be more inclined to rotary tattoo pens than the coil counterparts.

4. Weight

Weight is another concern because it directly affects your ability to hold the gun before soreness kicks in.

Rotary machines are best suited for beginners because they’re lightweight.

Coil machines could pack a punch with their hammer-like action, but they contain many metal parts, which add up to the weight.

As a tattoo artist, it’s still necessary to get hold of different guns to know the hand-feel experience.

However, in the long term, you can direct your focus to one machine and develop your skills with it.

Custom Tattoo Machines


Custom tattoo machines are made according to the buyer’s personal requirements.

This is most likely why these Tattoo guns are favored by parlors since they are designed to meet their needs.

The manufacturing process may incorporate premium materials to still deliver top-notch quality, just like ready-made varieties.

To find a manufacturer that supplies custom machines, you can just look it up on the internet.

Each supplier offers a different set of customizable elements.

Please scroll through search engine and find the section that allows you to pick the desired parts.

Types of Tattoo Machines / Tattoo Guns Conclusion

A tattoo machine is a driving force behind tattoo creation. It’s the tool that an artist uses to inject ink into the skin.

While other supplies aren’t to be overlooked, the quality of a machine will make or break the outcome.

Expensive choices aren’t always better.

A tattoo gun needs to be tailored to the user’s skills and stamina.

Some are more intricate to set up and use. Others demand endurance with their bulky designs.

By the way, all types of tattoo machines have been stated in this article.

And to sum up, briefly, they come in 3 types, namely coil, rotary, and pneumatic machines.

The first in this group is further divided into shaders, liners, and color packers. They all have identifiable traits.

Please gather information about each model before heading off to the store.

We believe you’d want a machine that matches your needs and artistic style.

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