Tattoo Machines – A Complete Guide | Tattoo Machine Cost & Other Costs

It is always interesting to learn about the machines that are used to create tattoos. After all, if you have decided to get a tattoo, you should at least know how and what types of equipment tattoo artists are using on you to appreciate the tattoo more.

Most people don’t bother learning about tattoo machines. They feel that the work would be complicated to understand since they do not have the experience like the tattoo artists. But however difficult it may seem, it is essential to know how the machines work to know your tattoo better. 

The tattoo machine is the most essential thing in the making of your tattoo. Whatever device you’re using, the correct material with the right artist will give you the best tattoo. So, it would be best if you understood what forms the basis of making your tattoo. 

In the simplest terms, a tattoo machine is a portable machine that permanently creates a mark on the skin with permanent ink. Tattoo machines of today have electromagnetic coils in them that make an armature bar oscillate up and down.

To the armature bar, a grouped needle is connected that pushes the ink into your skin. Tattoo artists, in their everyday jargons, use the word “machine,” “pen,” or “iron” to indicate their tattoo devices.

Types of Tattoo Machines

1. Rotary tattoo machines

Working on the Rotary technology, these are the oldest tattoo machines developed by various tattoo artists worldwide. Rotary tattoo devices use the electric motor for the working of the needles.

Recent innovations in the devices have enabled them to improve their efficiency by using the armature bar, a feature of modern-day coil machines.

Although Rotary tattoo machines require an electric motor to push the ink, many recent innovations have helped them work without an electric motor, making them run in a pneumatic way.

2. Coil tattoo machines

If there is any tattoo machine that is frequently found and used, it is the coil tattoo machines. These types of devices use the electromagnetic circuit set up to make the needles run.

Be it single coiled devices or triple coiled ones; these machines have a lot of variations. These devices can be created and transformed from various components and in multiple shapes and sizes.

The standard among these machines is the dual-coiled devices. The coils are usually between 8 and 10 wraps. The coils control the device’s speed and strength by creating the required impedance and resistance; this ensures that there is the least stress on the skin.

3. Liner tattoo machine

A liner tattoo machine ensures that the ink is pushed in one particular way to make an easy line. Unlike other devices, it operates on a small-sized circuit, enabling it to work faster with more efficiency.

4. Shader tattoo machine

Shader tattoo machine is generally used to create shadings in black or its variant or any color besides black. This machine uses a very low range of saturation.

It has a more significant gap between the skin and needle contact to make the machine work a little more easily. Like the liner tattoo machines, the tattoo artists also use them for creating bold lines.

Some tattoo artists also use this machine to sculpt all kinds of lines since it lets them trace back with a negligible amount of stress on the skin surface. 

5. Pneumatic tattoo machine

The pneumatic tattoo machine was invented in 2000. What makes the pneumatic devices stand out from the rest is that they use air compressors to gain power and are very lightweight.

They use air pressure to make the needles oscillate in and out. These tattoo machines can be stored in a sterilizer and are incredibly convenient since they can be sterilized without any complicated process of dismantling the whole machine.

How Do Tattoo Machines Work?

How do coil tattoo machines work?

Coil tattoo machines gain power from the armature bar to push the tattoo needle into the coil. It then propels the ink further into the skin.

Due to the push and pull of the needle, the circuit breaks, and the needle is brought back into the machine. This process repeats in a cycle and forms the fundamental principle of a coil tattoo machine.

To better understand the working of coil machines better, coils are like a hammer that uses the armature bar to push the needle into the skin.

These machines consume a lot of power, which is required to move the large clusters of needles. Large groupings of needles are needed when the tattoo artist draws on a large surface area, especially while shading.

It requires the hands of an experienced tattoo artist to master the art of working these machines. Although they are used for lines and minute details, these machines still need a lot of precision. 

To ensure that there is minimum discomfort on your skin, the tattoo artist must have a thorough knowledge of the machine’s strategy since they can be really forceful on your skin and require moving with more agility.

The artist needs to know his game to ensure the ink remains consistent in all places. The pressure these machines create on your skin can damage your skin and can take a longer time to heal.

So, if the artist uses this machine, they need to make sure their work is error-free, and they must possess good skills.

The noise you hear in tattoo shops is from the coil type of machines that create the piercing sound, so the next time you hear one, you already know what is causing it!

How do coil tattoo machines work?

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How rotary tattoo machines work?

Rotary machines work with a rotating electric motor connected with an armature that makes the needle oscillate in and out, making the ink push into your skin more smoothly.

Therefore, tattoo artists prefer the Rotary machines more since they take less time to heal after the tattoo is created. 

Rotary tattoo machines are more popular among tattoo artists since they are much more convenient and easy to use, along with being low maintenance.

These devices work perfectly for making lines and colorful tattoos, but not so much for shading and accuracy because, unlike a coil, they cannot suit themselves to large needle groups.

But on the plus side, Rotary machines do not require to be tuned again and again. Rotary machines are also quieter, which makes them perfect for tattoo artists.

How rotary tattoo machines work?

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How do cartridge tattoo machines work?

Any machine attached to a tube forms the standard cartridge tattoo machine setup that we are familiar with. This means you don’t need any extra material besides the cartridge to get a tattoo.

Cartridge grips have a standard tube with a big opening that accommodates a pushing rod at their base. The pushing rod is just a small single needle instead of a cluster of needles.

Disposables are provided to ensure a customer that the machine is only in contact with your hands and skin. Disposables also relieve you of the burden of cross-contamination.

The needle in cartridge tattoo machines is very short and simply designed. That is why the pushing rod in the base is required.

It stands up against the cartridge base containing the needle cluster in a small hole when you push the needle in the tube and locks it in its position by twisting it. 

The needle isn’t attached to the push rod, but the needle cartridge contains a small layer inside to pull the needle up from the tip.

These actions work simultaneously, repeating the movement of pushing and pulling the needle from the cartridge to the skin and back.

The tiny layer inside enhances the needle in providing a consistent response and better precision than other devices.

How many needles are in a tattoo machine?

Whether it is magnum or bug pin, every kind of tattoo needle has various purposes as per the requirements. The needle dimensions are proportional to the quantity of needles in the tattoo machine.


The magnum has three types of sizes-large, medium, and small. The average amount of needles in each style are: 

  • Large: 11-17
  • Medium: 7-9
  • Small: 5

Round Shaders

These come in either large or small. The average quantity of needles used for these are:

  • Large: 7-21
  • Small: 1-5

Round shaders are used for longer sessions and intricate tattoos as they make bold lines. For shading, the tattoo artist can use 7-9 needles.


Tights with seven to nine needles are clustered in a group. They are used to make dominant and dramatic figures. 


We can use flats for plenty of tattoo styles beginning from shading to creating a whipping effect. From its name, you can make out that these are organized in an even row. Flats, with seven to eleven needles, work the best.

What tattoo machines do professionals use?

Below are the key factors tattoo professionals consider to select the best tattoo machine for professional use.

1. The material of the tattoo machine

No tattoo artist wants the device to stop working midway and create the possibility of damaging their client’s skin.

To ensure that the machine doesn’t break down, the artist needs to have a machine that keeps its promise of working consistently with good performance.

To get the most satisfactory results, tattoo machines made of bronze, iron, steel, brass, or aluminum are the best options. Tattoo machines made of these metals are durable and robust.

They will ensure a perfect tattoo with less time consumed on the setup. Aluminum devices feel light, whereas brass ones feel too bulky, but they are the most reliable and sturdy.

2. The Weight and Shape of Tattoo Machines

When you’re a tattoo artist, you have to spend hours after hours creating masterpiece designs on your customer’s body.

Suppose you use a device that is bulky in weight in that case, it will wear you down soon and also hinder your capability of making fine details from desired angles at your own comfort.

Moreover, if you use a heavy machine for an extended period; in that case, you can end up having carpal tunnel syndrome that most tattoo artists suffer from these days. 

Hence it is necessary for tattoo artists to find a tattoo machine which is light in weight and is not very bulky.

3. Rotary or Coil Machine

Unlike coil machines, Rotary machines are more efficient, make less noise, and cause lesser skin damage. Previously, coil machines were favorites of tattoo artists and considered the most reliable tattoo machines.

This was because of their less complicated electromagnetic setup, readily replaceable components, low maintenance and cost-effectiveness, and the potential of handling any kind of needle for lining as well as shading.

It also enabled artists to manage and sync their machines to their own standards, adjusting any stroke type with more clear materials.

Rotary machines were popular among tattoo artists because they ensured perfect bold lines and the ability to fix their devices in any case of damage quickly.

Rotary tattoo machines can handle minor and, as per recent developments, even larger groups of needles. Pen-style rotary machines are being manufactured to optimize human welfare and overall system performance.

They are lighter and can be used for making dominant lines. Although they do not usually allow tampering, some newer devices let you adjust to different kinds of strokes. They are usually more expensive than coil machines. 

A skilled artist knows which tool is the best for the work; that is why good tattoo artists have so many machines. Tattoo artists know that more than one device is needed to be successful in their artistry. 

4. The Accessories that come with the machine

Before you choose the appropriate tattoo machine, you need to check the compatibility of needles with your machine.

Some devices are compatible with needles and tubes from that very brand only, while some can work well with needles from elsewhere, so make sure you’ve gone through the instructions in the manual guide.

The voltage required by the tattoo machines is proportional to the number of coil wraps, so the more you increase the twists in the coil, the more voltage it will consume.

Ensure that you’re aware of the coil twists and voltage required because if your machine is underpowered, it will fail to operate on the skin, resulting in lousy quality tattoos.

Most Popular Tattoo Machines that Professionals Use

Top Tattoo Machine Companies

The following are some of the brands which are worth giving a shot. A lot of successful tattoo artists suggest and guarantee these brands. 

1. Dragonhawk

Dragonhawk Tattoo Supply was established by two tattoo artists in 2001 in Hong Kong, China, with their main aim to provide affordable tattoo products to people.

This primary goal took them some time to take off their business, but by 2008 Dragonhawk was functioning worldwide because of how cheap their products were for people.

In 2012, Dragonhawk came out with their own handmade coil tattoo machine, The Compass which further solidified the place of Dragonhawk in the tattoo industry.

Dragonhawk not just provides cheap machines, but they also offer quality with affordability. The Compass was such a big hit in the market because of the outstanding performance and the cost-friendly option that a lot of tattoo artists loved the product.

The performance of products manufactured by Dragonhawk, like their coil and rotary tattoo machines, is just like any other high-end machine. Their rotary and coil guns are also very famous among the people in the world.

2. Stigma Machines

Stigma machines were set up in 2005 by a couple of tattoo artists. These machines are also made with German technology, which automatically makes them better than other tattoo machines.

What makes the Stigma machines set apart from other market brands is their revolutionary technology of adjustable hit. This feature helps the artist to choose how they want their needle to hit the skin.

Tattoo artists can adjust it between hard and soft according to the body part they are tattooing on.

The manufacturer of this type of rotary machine, Artemis, wanted to give this adjustable system a great ergonomic design, the best precision, and the best overall performance.

This gave birth to the Stigma Rotary machines that we know today. Stigma machines are built and developed with a passion for precision and excellence, keeping tattoo artists’ needs in focus.

Each of their machines is hand-assembled and tested thoroughly before they leave the production place. Hence artists interested in a device that are best for shading and lining should definitely check out Stigma tattoo supplies.

3. Solong 

Solong is one of the top brands producing tattoo machines since 2008. They are the largest manufacturer of tattoo machine suppliers in China.

Solong specializes in the sale and production of tattoo machines of top quality and other supplies such as tattoo needles, pigments, handles, rotary tattoo machines, tattoo removal machines, etc.

If you are looking for a brand that is straightforward and honest, and affordable, then Solong coil and rotary tattoo machines are an excellent option for you.

Solong tattoo machines are incredibly lightweight and look just like those machines, which are very expensive.

Solong tattoo machines’ paramount quality that makes them stand apart from all other devices is their price and weight. These qualities have made them so popular in the market.

4. Dragonfly

Dragonfly tattoo machine is a trendy range of devices from the brand Ink Rotary machines. Ink rotary machines are Swedish tattoo machine manufacturers, which guarantees that the motors in these machines are of the best quality.

The top quality of these machines is that they are thoroughly tested and made with expert tattoo artists’ associations.

Since these machines are made by expert tattooists, their main aim is to give their fellow tattoo artists unique tools to make their job more enjoyable and convenient.

Their devices are not just easy to use but equally powerful. They are lightweight, don’t cause a lot of vibrations, and are ergonomically designed. This makes the devices very comfortable for tattoo artists to work with.

5. Cheyenne

Cheyenne has been established in 2006 and has been working on developing tattoo equipment of the most excellent international standards since then.

They make pieces of equipment that are both top quality and safe for use. Cheyenne produces reliable and robust tattoo machines with tattoo needles in various sizes that are incredibly safe and sturdy and ergonomic tattoo grips along with functional tattoo accessories.

Cheyenne’s machines are produced according to medical technology, which assures that the equipment produced by this brand is flawless in quality and safe to use.

Besides that, Cheyenne is known for its technology and innovation excellence. Their machines are German-made hence they come with German technology.

And as we all know that products manufactured according to German standards outdo American standards of manufacturing.

Their famous Rotary pen-style tattoo machine and the coil machine work faster than any other machine in the market.

Their machines and needle modules come with their own Cheyenne patented safety membranes, which confirms how hygienic and safe their devices are.

How much does a tattoo machine cost?

A tattoo machine costs from $50 to over $1,000. The price depends on the quality of the device and what accessories you get with it. If you only buy a tattoo gun, that will be cheaper.

Still, you will also have to pay for ink and the needles. Whereas you can invest more by buying a tattoo kit that already comes equipped with supplies. If the machine is of good quality, it will last longer, and you can save money over time.

1. Cost of the tattoo kit

Based on the tattoo kit’s quality and material, it costs between an average of $50 – $1,000. If you’re new to the world of tattoos, it is actually a great choice to go for this. A preliminary package with just a tattoo machine and other accessories will cost around $50.

However, if you spend on a larger tattoo kit, you won’t get the additional accessories. A tattoo kit comes with its own cord, power supplies, and a press foot pedal.

It may also include some needles and ink so that you can get going. These more extensive kits are relatively expensive and cost around or within $1,000.

2. Cost of Tattoo Gun 

You might only need a tattoo gun if you already have the other accessories like tattoo ink, needles, and power supplies. On average, a tattoo machine is priced between $400 – $900, excluding the price of other accessories. 

At that cost, you will get a top-notch quality tattoo machine. If you have just started your tattoo career and don’t have a tattoo machine, $400 is a convenient budget for a start.

However, suppose you can increase your budget to $900; in that case, you can undoubtedly get a high-quality tattoo device with excellent functionality and features. 

3. Additional Costs

Getting a tattoo device isn’t the end of your costs. You will need to keep on purchasing extra accessories from time to time.

You will always run out of supplies like reusable tubes, needles, and tattoo ink, so you have to consider those expenses too. If you don’t buy a tattoo gun, you will require a foot pedal so that you can maneuver the tattoo machine.

If you go for reusable tubes, you will run out of them very often, so you will have to buy them very frequently. All artists need to purchase supplies for sanitizing needles and disposable tubes for their daily work. 

Final Words:

Just like painting, the tattoo machine becomes the paintbrush of your art. Therefore, to gain perfection in your art form, investing in a suitable tattoo machine is crucial to get where you want to be.

You can decide between coil or rotary tattoo machines, but whichever one you choose, make sure the ink is of high quality, and the device comes with sufficient accessories to get along with your customers. You cannot know which tattoo machine works best for you until you try them yourself.

For figuring out which tattoo machine is the right choice for you, it is recommended that you go to tattoo shops and test the devices for yourself before you buy one. This is the only way you will be able to find a tattoo machine that is perfectly compatible with your style.