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Coil Machine Tattoo Essentials: Choosing the Best Equipment for Your Art

by LiuSophia 02 Jan 2024

Coil tattoo machines have been a staple in the tattoo industry for decades, known for their reliability and traditional feel. They operate on an electromagnetic circuit that causes the machine's armature bar to move up and down, driving the needles into the skin. These machines are prized for their precision and ability to create both bold lines and smooth shading. Tattoo artists often celebrate the distinctive buzzing sound of coil machines, which many consider part of the quintessential tattooing experience.

Selecting the right coil tattoo machine is crucial, as it affects the artist’s comfort, the speed of the work, and the quality of the tattoo. A variety of factors come into play, including the machine’s weight, adjustment flexibility, and the type of work it's best suited for. Understanding the nuances of these machines helps artists deliver exceptional artwork, as they must balance their personal technique with the mechanical characteristics of the coil tattoo machine.

Key Takeaways

  • Coil tattoo machines are valued for their precision and versatility in the tattooing process.
  • The selection of a coil machine significantly impacts an artist's work quality and efficiency.
  • Proper understanding and usage of coil machines are critical for tattoo artistry.

Understanding Coil Tattoo Machines



Coil tattoo machines are a staple in the tattoo industry, known for their precision and ability to create detailed artwork. They work through an electromagnetic circuit that moves the needle. This section details their types, functions, mechanics, and compares them to other machine types.

Types and Functions

Coil tattoo machines come primarily in two forms: liners and shaders. Liners are designed for fine lines and precise work, operating at a higher voltage for greater needle speed and depth. Shaders, on the other hand, have a larger surface area on the coil, offering a more dispersed ink deposit and softer lines for shading work. These types differ in terms of needle movement and speed, necessary for their specific tasks.

Components and Mechanics

Key components of a coil tattoo machine include the armature bar, solenoid valves, and the coils themselves, typically wrapped around an iron core. When activated by a power supply, electricity flows through the coils, creating a magnetic field that moves the armature bar and needle in a precise up-and-down motion. Voltage adjustment is crucial in controlling the machine's speed and needle depth, which directly impacts the tattoo's precision and accuracy.

Comparing Machine Types

Coil tattoo machines are often compared to rotary machines, pen machines, and pneumatic machines. The traditional coil machines are known for their durability and ability to deliver a wide range of artistic styles with accuracy. In contrast, rotary tattoo machines are quieter and cause less skin trauma but may offer less control for intricate work. Pen machines are shaped to feel more like a traditional pen, offering a comfortable grip and easier maneuverability. Lastly, pneumatic machines are less common and utilize air pressure to move the needle; however, they are not as widely adopted due to complexity and maintenance.

Selection and Usage



When selecting the ideal coil tattoo machine, a tattoo artist must consider various factors such as machine type, brand, and specific use cases. Operation and maintenance are also critical for performance and longevity, while tattooing techniques greatly depend on the machine’s characteristics.

Choosing the Right Machine

Selecting the best coil tattoo machine requires considering the tattoo styles the artist typically does. A coil liner is designed for creating crisp outlines, while a shader handles shading and gradients. Reviews recommend checking out brands like Dragonhawk Brass Coils Tattoo Machine for their durability and Vlad Blad or Right Stuff for high-quality craftsmanship.

  • Liner machines should have a tight armature bar for precision line work.
  • Shader machines need a longer front spring for more give during shading.

For those looking at specific features, machines like the Peak Hatchback Irons offer an ergonomic design that helps reduce hand fatigue during long tattoo sessions. Voltage requirements should also be considered; most machines operate within 6 to 12 volts, although some may need up to 18 volts for optimal performance.

Operation and Maintenance

Regular maintenance is crucial for any tattoo equipment to work correctly. Coil tattoo machines should be cleaned and sanitized after each use to maintain hygiene and performance. Tattoo artists should:

  • Inspect the standard tube and needle setup before each tattoo.
  • Ensure that all screws and bolts are tight to prevent any unwanted movement or noise.

Lightweight designs contribute to an artist's ability to maneuver the machine easily, but they should not come at the expense of build quality. Regular tuning of the machine ensures consistent operation, which can be confirmed by a consistent, low humming sound during use. Some artists may prefer a quieter, somewhat noiseless machine for client comfort.

Tattooing Techniques

Coil tattoo machine techniques vary, with methods such as straight shading and circle lining being integral to quality tattoo work. The machine’s voltage has to be adjusted according to the technique applied:

  • For fine lines, a higher voltage may enable the artist to create crisp lines quickly.
  • For shading, a lower voltage allows for smooth and even shading without causing trauma to the skin.

Artists must match their speed to the machine's rhythm to achieve the desired effect, whether that is for bold lines or soft shades. The tattoo pro knows that a shader machine allows for a variety of textures and depths in their work, making it versatile for different styles and techniques.

Frequently Asked Questions

The following questions address common inquiries regarding coil tattoo machines, their use in the industry, and technical details, providing a concise overview for both tattoo professionals and enthusiasts.

Are coil tattoo machines better?

Coil tattoo machines have been a traditional choice for many tattoo artists due to their precision and control. However, "better" is subjective and depends on the artist's preference and tattoo style.

Do tattoo artists still use coil machines?

Yes, many tattoo artists still use coil machines because they are valued for their versatility and the distinct feel they provide during tattooing.

What do the coils do in a tattoo machine?

The coils in a tattoo machine generate an electromagnetic circuit that moves the needle. This process is crucial for the machine's ability to create tattoos by driving the needles in and out of the skin.

What is the difference between a coil tattoo machine and a pen?

A coil tattoo machine operates through electromagnetic coils and has a hammer-like motion, while a tattoo pen mimics the feel of an actual pen and employs a rotary mechanism for a more gentle and quieter experience.

How do I maintain and care for a coil tattoo machine to ensure its longevity and performance?

Maintaining a coil tattoo machine involves regular cleaning, proper lubrication, and replacing worn parts. Ensuring the proper alignment and tension of the springs is also key to optimal performance.

Can you explain the difference between a coil tattoo machine and a tattoo pen in terms of technique and results?

A coil tattoo machine provides artists with the ability to create dynamic lines and shading through its adjustable give and throw. Tattoo pens, on the other hand, offer a more consistent output, which can be preferable for detailed work and smoother shading.

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