Rotary Tattoo Machines: The Silent Thriller

The buzz of a tattoo machine is a very distinct sound, one that anyone wearing ink knows all too well. Traditionally, a coil machine bouncing the needle back and forth caused this loud, buzzing sound. If you walk into many tattoo shops today, including The Mad Tatter, you will notice that distinct buzz is much quieter. The reason for this is the use of rotary tattoo machines, which have phased out the coil machines of years past.

Old vs. New

So whats the difference? Well, coil machines use a magnetic field and a spring metal to move the back end of the needle assembly in and out.

Imagine two people playing tennis. One person is the spring, which moves back to its default position when the magnet is shut off, retracting the needle. The other player is the magnetic field. This field pushes on the piece of spring metal when activated, allowing the needle to extend. The ball in our metaphor is the needle assembly, which is moved by the forces at play.

Coil Tattoo Machine
Coil Tattoo Machine

This happens rapidly, creating the movement of the needle and that tell-tale buzzing sound.

Rotary machines work differently, however. An electric motor rotates and moves the needle assembly in a rotary machine. Also, rotaries typically use disposable, one-time use cartridges.

Types of Rotary Tattoo Machines

Pen Style Rotary Tattoo Machine
Pen Style Rotary Tattoo Machine

Direct drive rotary machines have a bar attached directly to the motor that acts similarly to the crankshaft in a car engine. The motor spins and its rotation moves the needle bar back and forth.

Pen style rotary machines have a different setup. Direct drive rotary machines’ motor sits at a 90 degree angle to the needle. Alternatively, pen style machines’ motors sit on top of the drive and rotate a cam that pushes the needle assembly out. Think of it as a carousel; the animals move up and down in circles. So every time the cam is struck, it extends the needle out.

Why Use a Rotary?

Rotary machines have many advantages over coil-machines. It sure is nice to be able to hold a conversation with a client without shouting.

The benefits of rotary tattoo machines extend beyond their quietness. They require less power to run, which enables them to be powered by battery packs. Most coil machines require an outlet and cords to run.

Rotary tattoo machines are easier to clean and maintain. They have sealed housings and minimal need for maintenance. Rotary machines vibrate less, improving ergonomics. The wireless nature of rotary machines allows for easier operation.

Early rotary machines were weaker than coil machines, but that trend has long expired. Today’s top brands such as FK Irons and Bishop produce powerful, battery operated rotary tattoo machines. These top of the line devices are giving coil machines a run for their money.

Wrapping Up

Rotary tattoo machines are emerging as the top dog in the industry. Additionally, new advancements in machine and battery tech will surely show us an even greater rise in the success of rotary machines. We can expect more powerful machines, longer lasting batteries, and less vibrations in the years to come.

Ready to see what all the buzz is about? Swing by the shop and check out all of the rotary machines that we use here at The Mad Tatter. You can also head over our post about wireless tattoo machines to learn more!


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