Rotary vs. Coils
The first thing you might hear upon entering a tattoo studio is the sound of buzzing machines. Before I knew more about the tattooing industry, I assumed that all tattoo machines make this stereotypical noise but in fact there’s only one type of machine that does this, and that’s a coil machine.
Coils are the most popular type of tattooing machine but the rotary comes in at a close second. In this article we’ll compare the two machines and see which one is better for certain types of tattooing, how they differ structurally, and how each one feels when receiving a tattoo. You might be surprised at the different methods and ways of design; I know I was!
Coils are the more popular type of tattooing machine but are the most complicated. They’re the ones that make the buzzing sound and how they do this involves moving parts and an electromagnetic field to move the needles up and down.
Made up from an assembly of parts, coils need to be well understood before used as a slight miscalculation can lead to tattoos that are done inappropriately.
To put it simply, coil machines are made up of a metal frame, the coils themselves, an armature bar, and of course, the needles. They are highly customizable and can be crafted to suit the artist’s needs.
They usually hold one to two metal coils that have copper wire wrapped around an inner iron core. This is how electricity flows through the machine and provides power to move the needles. This also makes them heavier and more strenuous to hold for long periods of time.
The electricity creates a magnetic field that briefly connects an armature bar with the tops of the coils. This process is repeated over and over in very quick succession which moves the needles up and down and creates the classic buzzing noise that we’re all familiar with.
Coils also tend to use less voltage than rotaries, depending on each individual machine.
In short, coils are:
Easy to regulate speed and power
More complicated (learning curve)
Rotaries have a far simpler design and are more like a mechanized pen. With a simple DC motor that moves the needle set up and down, there’s no need for any additional parts which makes them less complicated and easier to use than their coil counterparts.
This lack of additional parts makes them much lighter than coils which makes them easier to handle for longer projects that go on for hours at a time.
This obviously makes rotaries far less customizable as you can’t interchange parts, but you can use rotary machines for both lining and shading which makes them more efficient. More voltage is used in rotary machines compared to coils as well.
In short, rotary machines are:
Easier learning curve
Low noise output
One machine can be used for lining/shading
Minimal adjustments needed
While the end result is the same, a beautiful tattoo, the method of producing that design in your skin will differ depending on which machine your artist chooses to use. There are significant advantages and disadvantages to both, and each require a certain level of skill to be handled appropriately and effectively. For your next tattoo, ask your artist which they prefer and why; you might discover something new and expand your knowledge of tattoo equipment!
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