In 1875, Thomas Edison invented an electric pen to assist businesses who performed a “great deal of reduplication”, like lawyers and insurance companies. Operated by battery, it did not see a quick public acceptance, and by 1880 competitors had developed mechanical pens that required no batteries that was openly welcomed into those businesses. Taking Edison’s electric pen model, Samuel O’Reilly patented a new tool that would change the tattoo process forever by converting it into the first electric rotary tattoo needle in 1891.
O’Reilly’s concept has been improved upon and evolved into more efficient and gentle models that are used today. While there are two different types of tattoo machines - coil and rotary, we are going to focus on the rotary tattoo machines. Both operate to achieve the same effect - depositing ink into the second layer of tissue beneath the epidermis (the dermis) by moving a needle in and out of the skin.
The difference between coil and rotary is what drives that needle. The rotary tattoo machine is made of a needle attached to a rotating cylinder. A small motor inside the machine quietly and smoothly moves the needle up and down in a fluid rotation. This linear motion of the needle pushes in and pulls out of the skin applying ink. While most rotary tattoo machines are electric, there have been some newer models produced that operate pneumatically.
Pros and Cons of Rotary Tattoo Machines
- Simple to operate
- Good for filling and color work
- Consistent needle movement
- Less damaging to skin Low maintenance
- Shading and line depth are more difficult
- Not as effective with larger needle grouping
- Full stroke needed to complete rotary motion
- Less responsive to skin tension
Features to Consider in the Best Rotary Tattoo Machine
What machine is best for you will be a personal preference based on your tattooing style. A few of the most universal and most important features you will want to consider are the weight of the machine, how solid the construction is, and how reliable the motor inside will be. If you create elaborate and detailed art, you really want to pay attention to the weight of your machine. No one needs his tattoo artist cramping up from working with a gun that is exhausting his hand and arm from the mere weight of it.
Another feature that will become important to you is the grip of the tattoo machine. Oftentimes the rotary machine does not include a grip. Grips are made of any number of different materials, like stainless steel, plastic and nylon. There are also gel grip covers to add to the comfort of your grip.
The repetitions per minute (RPM) of your rotary tattoo machine is going to help minimize pain for the tattoo receiver. Consistent, deep penetration is the mark of a quality machine. You’ll want to look for a system with higher RPMs.
Rotary tattoo machines get their power from an external source. Power is usually supplied by either a clip cord or RCA. Clip cords swing and articulate while you’re working, but RCA is generally a more stable connection and doesn’t swing against contacts.
- Reliable motor
- High repetitions per minute
- Power cord
In the end, when comparing different models, it all boils down to your taste and style.
Best Rotary Tattoo Machines
|Thunderbolt Force||100g||0-6,000||RCA & Clip Cord options||$$|
|Solong Tattoo Hybrid||0-8,000||DC 5.5 Jack plug cable||$|
|Dragonhawk Extreme||120g.||0-9,000||Clip cord||$|
- 6.17oz. Weight
- Carbon steel
- 3.5mm Stroke
- 7-10 Operating voltage
- 8-9 Lining voltage
- 7-8 Shading voltage
The Dragonhawk Extreme tops the list as the best rotary tattoo machines as it is a lightweight, high performing tattoo machine. Powerful and quiet, you can use this machine like painting on the body. The Swiss imported motor gives you extra stability. Dragonhawk is one of the better companies with respect to their customer service on their products.
- Nearly silent
- Runs smoothly
- Great for shading and lining
- Could use more tubes for each size needle
- Aircraft aluminum alloy
- 7-12 Operating voltage
- 0-8,000/min RPM range stitches, 8-800 sec
- 3mm Stroke
- 3.5mm Needle protrusion
- DC 5.5 jack plug cable with adapter
The Solong Hybrid Tattoo Pen is designed to give you the feel of an actual pen for drawing fine lines. The motor is 4.5w which makes it powerful and stable while not getting too hot during long tattoo sessions. With you tattoo pen, you get a connection line, jack plug adapter and needle cartridge. The plug adapter is compatible with most tattoo power supplies.
- Runs smoothly
- Not as light as others
- Not adjustable
- Swiss motor
- Aircraft aluminum
- 4-7.5 Working voltage
- RCA & clip cord power connection
- 0-6,000/min RPM range stitches in 0-100 sec
- 08mm Maximum tube diameter
- 50 Magnum maximum needle size
- 100g Weight
- Available in black and silver
EZ Tattoo’s Thunderbolt Force is designed to give the artist a coil machine’s tension and throw control with the rotary machine’s consistency. Unlike adjustable tension machines this machine does not bind up. With endless options for adjustability, you can use this machine for big color fill or tribal designs. Just play with the adjustments to find your perfect voltage.
- Quality motor
- Works well with traditional needles
- Requires a lot of voltage adjustment
- No instruction manual
- Springs not good over 9v
Since Thomas Edison’s electric pen and Samuel O’Reilly’s first tattoo pen, the tattoo machine has evolved into a lighter weight, highly efficient instrument to art the human body. With hundreds of different models on the market, you want to be sure you’re getting not only the most effective tattoo machine, but the one that fits your habits and methods. Armed with the basic features and how they affect your work, you’ll find a machine to fit any budget and any artistic approach.