Tattoo Coil Tattoo Machines

Coil tattoo machines are vital tools for tattoo artists at all levels. In order to select the right coil machine, it is helpful to know how they work and what types of machines are available.

What is a coil tattoo machine?

Coil tattoo machines are handheld electric devices that allow an artist to deliver ink below the surface of a clients skin. If you are receiving a design, the surface of your skin may be pierced anywhere from fifty to 3000 times per second. Sometimes called an "iron," this machine is a commonly used tool identifiable by its distinctive buzzing sound during operation.

How do coil tattoo machines work?

Originally developed from Thomas Edisons electric pen design, this machine is a complex tool in which a group of stainless steel needles is connected to an armature bar. The armature bar moves up and down to push the inked needles into the skin. Electromagnetic coils in the machine power the armature bar. When the artist powers up the iron, its charged coils create an electromagnetic field. This field pulls the armature bar down. When the armature bar is pulled down, the electric circuit is broken. However, a spring inside the machine pushes the bar up again to re-establish the circuit. From there, the whole process begins again. Machines run through these push-pull cycles extremely rapidly.

What are the types of coil tattoo machines?

These tattoo machines come in three primary types depending on their intended use in the hands of the artist.

  • Liners: In almost any tattoo design, precise lines are an important feature for the artist and the client. A liner allows the artist to create precise, thin lines, useful for executing multiple aspects of a tattoo design including fine detail or lettering. Generally, coil tattoo machines set up for lining will use fewer needles than ones set up for shading or color packing and may include anywhere from one to seven stainless steel needles. Liners usually require a less powerful capacitor.
  • Shaders: Artists use shaders to create depth of color in a design and to shade color in a range of gradients. The armature bar in a shader is typically longer than the bar in a liner, and the iron delivers the ink more deeply into the skin. Tattoo machines set up for shading usually use more needles than for lining and require more power.
  • Color packers: A color packer is an iron set up similar to a shader. When used for color packing, coil tattoo machines penetrate deeper than for shading because the iron "packs" solid colors deeply into the skin, ideally with one pass.