Rotary versus coil designs for tattooists

Jon Lawson

We are living in a golden era for tattoo art. High-quality, experienced artists are abundant, allowing for stunning designs to be inked. As a result, consumers are expecting both high quality artwork and premium quality tools used by artists. Here Stewart Goulding, managing director at precision drive system supplier EMS explains more about the need for advanced tattoo machines.

Sailors were one of the first groups of people to get tattoos, as they were used to identify them in the case of capture or death. Despite some levels of social stigma still attached to tattoo art, over recent years, social popularity for tattoos has soared. In fact, research reports that globally, 38 per cent of people have a tattoo, with 30 per cent of 25 to 39 year olds in the UK having at least one tattoo.

As tattoos become more socially acceptable, customers are no longer content with off-the-shelf flash designs, instead looking for bespoke and intricate artwork to suit their specific style and taste.

Tattoo machine design

Due to this shift, the tattoo artist profession has evolved into a globally inclusive community. To keep up with this golden era, the tattoo machines used have evolved to stay in line with the quality demanded by those in the industry.

Due to the nature of the work, modern tattoo machines must be versatile, low maintenance and lightweight. The machines have developed from the days of non-mechanical devices and now the two most popular types are coil or rotary machines.

Coil tattoo machines are the more traditional and widely used machine, but they can also be louder with more vibration and can require higher levels of maintenance. Rotary machines, on the other hand, are a newer technology and, as such, have more opportunity to be designed with the new quality standards that artists are demanding.

Rotary machine designs are becoming more popular for a large variety of reasons, significantly they can be equipped with modern methods of actuation. Classic coil machines use alternating current which constantly reverses the polarity of a magnetic coil, which moves the needle leading to an effective yet crude method of actuation. This is in comparison to rotary machines, which use self-contained DC motors.

By using an electric motor, the tattoo machine needle is no longer actuated by the coil, meaning that rotary machines are smooth running, have low vibration and are significantly quieter than the coil-based counterparts.

Small electric DC & BLDC motors are well suited to tattoo machines as they are lightweight with high power efficiency. For example, the Faulhaber range of micromotors can weigh as little as 20 to 60 grams, while still boasting an energy efficiency of 86 per cent. This means that the overall design of rotary machines can be more compact, without sacrificing power density, accuracy or performance.

Because of the compact size, rotary tattoo machines can be designed to fit better into the artist's hands, reducing fatigue and giving them greater control over the needle thereby allowing them to put more detail into the designs. This allows artists to create designs in line with their artistic vision and the aesthetic taste of the client.

With the demand for tattoo artwork increasing globally, tattoo artists will be eager to ensure that the quality of their tools match the intricacy of their designs. Rotary machines, with their high power density, accuracy, compact size and overall performance, will help them with just that.


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