Coil And Rotary Tattoo Machines For Micropigmentation

As the technologies advance, tattoo equipment is being modified and improved, and permanent makeup equipment is no exception. Today, as various as the market is, only two types of tattoo machines are commonly used: coil machines and rotary machines. To find out the peculiarities of their employment in the field of permanent makeup we should first inquire in their design and way of operation.


Stencil-Pens patented by Thomas Edison

Both coil and rotary tattoo machine evolved from one device that didn’t initially have the purpose of tattooing. In 1876 Thomas Edison got a patent for his new invention which was an electric pen aimed at making copies of handwritten documents and papers. This appliance operated a motor-driving reciprocating needle, the principle that was 15 years later, in 1891, rethought and developed by Samuel O’Reilly. He used the mechanism invented by Edison for injecting ink into the skin and patented a prototype of a modern rotary tattoo machine. The tattoo machines that followed used electric current in a single-coil mechanism.

The modern coil machines have dual-coil configuration. When the electric current passes through the coils, it triggers the draw and release of the machine’s armature bar which taps the attached needles making them penetrate the skin. The mechanism of operation and the peculiar design distinguish the machine’s particular features. Firstly, coil machines produce a buzzing sound, and secondly, due to electromagnetic copper coils being quite heavy, the weight of the machine itself increases.


Coil machines are commonly used for tattooing as they are quite affordable, although they can be difficult to operate for a long period of time due to their weight. Their use in the area of permanent makeup dates back to 1980s. However, now they are seldom used for micropigmentation due to certain disadvantages compared to rotary machines.

Rotary tattoo machines operate differently. The attached needles are moved up and down with the help of a small built-in motor which allows for a smoother and more consistent approach than that of the coil machines. Thus, pigment application tends to be more even when implemented by a rotary tattoo machine. The design of rotary machines makes them much quieter and more lightweight than coil machines. This makes them easier to operate for an extended period of time and by implication improves the quality of pigment application as the artist doesn’t get tired as much as when using a coil machine.


Another definite advantage of rotary machines over coil machines is their extraordinary versatility.

Normally, there are two subtypes of tattoo machines: liners and shaders. As implied by their name, liners are used to create clean, sharp and solid outline of the tattoo, yet shaders are used for color blending and, obviously, shading. Liner and shader have different designs which define the outcome of their work.

First of all, the most distinctive feature of a liner and a shader coil machines is the length of the front spring and the angle of the contact screw. The shader has a much longer spring than the liner and the angle of the contact screw on this machine is around 45˚. The liner, consequently, has a shorter spring and the contact screw is further back in the machine, which makes the gap between the contact screw and the front spring much smaller. This results in the angle being somewhat 25-30˚.

Obviously, the different designs allow for different effects.

The coil shader has a thicker barrel and heavier coils in order to produce the necessary power needed to inject ink into the skin.

The coil liner has thinner barrel and lighter coils.

Liners are faster and more consistent tattoo machines, while shaders use longer strokes which makes their springs have a longer kick-back which in turn allows for much smoother shading and color blending. The liner produces a sharp and definite line, while the shader injects the ink in the way that it runs under the skin and it can never be used for drawing the outline. Thus, these machines are not interchangeable. The way the needle penetrates the skin when using either a liner or a shader coil machine is subject to consideration for the artist. Thus, an attempt of blending colors with a liner will only result in irreparable damage to client’s skin.

This being said, to start a tattoo or a micropigmentation treatment on lips or areola from scratch and complete it, PMU artist would, in most cases, need two coil machines: a liner and a shader. However, modern rotary tattoo machines can be used as either a liner or a shader since the artist can select the appropriate needle bar; most common type of needles, like 1-point needle, is very popular among users of rotary machines. This presents an indubitable advantage of rotary machines in the area of micropigmentation.

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