In the world of handmade tattoo machines, there are indeed a lot of names that you might have heard.
From the great liner, shader, and color-packing tattoo setups, in both the rotary and coil configurations to cheap knockoffs and poor attempts, we have seen them all too.
Among these, though, the cream will always rise to the top.
That is where we have the following custom tattoo machine builders who are not just inventors but have spent many hours working various designs into the skin by themselves.
If you go for a custom-made one at all, it better be from one of these guys.
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Dan Kubin is a tattoo artist turned into a custom machine builder with one of the most interesting backgrounds.
Everything in his backstory came together to provide quality rotary machines for beginners and experts alike today.
Landing a career to work in the engineering department at the Air Force did not prepare him for a life of tattooing, but he got in there anyways.
However, that exposed him to the creative aspect before working with ink.
After a while, a mind that had built things like his would surely not be satisfied with the stock build he gets from other manufacturers.
Thus, he broke down his units to make them into stuff he would like much better.
In the process, he invented some of the most incredible rotary tattoo machine line-ups the industry has seen.
Some of his most outstanding designs remain with the DMC V2, a darling for shading and color packing, and the Sidewinder V7, which does a fantastic job of lining, shading, and color packing in the same build).
From the names of these units alone, you will agree that this is a builder that knows his work, iterates fast, and only wants to put out the best versions of his machines.
Not to be confused with Micky Sharpz (more on him later), Micky Bee builds tattoo machines that sting just right.
As an artist and a creative mind, we love the way he plays on his machine names – from the Sting to the Honey and Killer Bee, among others.
He brought all the handmade tattoo machine manufacturing processes in-house, churning out the unique units in his line-up from the Birmingham shop in the UK.
Having all elements in-house ensures that the parts are sourced right and makes it possible for the expert to custom-tune each unit.
He is also a tattoo artist who loves their coil setups, so he heavily invested in those machines.
We have the impressive Insignia Sting Liner and Insignia Honey Bee Shader of the line-up.
The Insignia models are an improvement over the original series that launched his brand to the world, offering design improvements and optimization tweaks to ensure they work even better.
Being in the industry for over two (2) decades – both as a custom tattoo machine builder and artist – is enough testament to how well this man knows what he is doing.
We said that you should not confuse the two of them.
They might have the same first name, but that is not where their similarities end.
Micky Sharpz also builds great coil machines, has more than a decade of experience in the market, has spent a lot of time as a tattoo artist himself, and also makes his units in the UK.
As if that’s not enough, he carries different machine lines that are custom-tuned to handle any operational configuration.
The most significant difference comes in the Brass Hybrid model from Micky Sharpz, which has redefined how the industry sees coil tattoo machines.
For the first time, we have a high-efficiency coil tattoo machine that can do the shading, lining, and color packing in the same setup.
These handmade tattoo machines are so popular and selling fast that his brand must deal with many knockoffs from cheap rivals.
The brand serves the US and UK audiences from its official websites in both countries – and in-house stores in the UK. All of the units come with a certificate of authenticity.
It seems Micky doesn’t do well with specialty-tuned equipment, right? Wrong! For a man that has built the Micro Dial Liner and improved on it with the Nano dial liner, also boasting custom shaders in the catalog, he sure knows his onions.
Aaron is, hands down, one of the biggest names in the industry right now.
His works are rare but beautifully expressed when they do come out.
People who understand and value tattoos would give almost anything to have a masterpiece from this true veteran of the trade etched on their skins.
Aaron redefined back in the 90s a trend in the tattoo industry by introducing what is now known as Biomechanical (or Biomech for short).
Alongside Guy Aitchison, another great artist, they brought a whole new genre of artistic expression that merged the human body dimensions with art to form robotic imagery.
Biomech has been exploited to bring out varying color pallets, designs, and styles down the line.
That kind of man knows when a machine works right or not – and he is just the right person to trust with a custom tattoo machine.
That is why many artists were happy to get units like the Octet and the Roundback.
Focusing on the success of his coils, Aaron custom-tuned each of these pieces of machinery to address and execute one type of task exceptionally well.
After what you know about the man, need we say more about the efficacy of his machines?
There is some evidence that tattoo ink runs in the blood, but for Seth Ciferri, tattooing runs in the blood.
If you were wondering, he is the little brother to Adam Ciferri, a great handmade tattoo machine builder with some success in that niche.
Seth stands out in his ability to absorb knowledge from many of the greats to have ever done it.
He learned from his brother and other artists such as Aaron Cain, Clay Decker, and Mike Malone (RIP).
Besides being great at their work, some of these guys are also fantastic tattoo machine builders. It is not surprising that Seth came out with some of the market’s hottest-selling designs and configurations.
Speaking of configurations, his Mini Flatside Liner has seen much success with, obviously, lining operations in the tattoo studios.
From the machine’s lightweight to the needle compatibility, intuitive design, and impressive functionality, the liner has nothing to take away from it.
For shading and color packing, most artists who trust Seth Ciferri’s custom builds would opt for the Weiner Dog Shader 2.1.
Having seen several iterations already, this is not a builder who wants to make money off the least effort; he has invested in improving the line-up.
These are not the only lining, shading, and color packing choices that Seth has in his lineup. He has a larger category of coil tattoo machines custom-tuned that fit different operations, and there is always something for every artist in his shop.
Danny Robinson has one of the most exciting stories ever, and we love hearing them. If you keep up with the UK TV show – Just Tattoo of Us – you might instantly recognize this name and face.
It is nice to see that the new blood can also make headway for veterans and long-standing tattoo artists to dominate.
As he opened his first tattoo shop in 2016, Danny has seen a lot of success in the market.
Danny claims to have gotten his first tattoo at age 14. That got him grounded, as it should, but we doubt his parents could have prevented him from getting one.
After all, he did grow up around his heavily tattooed grandpa.
He has been drawing from a young age and had his first tattoo at age 19. Starting at an early age, this shows that Danny had paid his dues and given his time to the art, enough to pay off big time like it does today.
After getting much success in the public eye, a manufacturing company from China approached Danny to design machines under their name.
He spent a lot of time testing and tweaking different materials and configurations until getting the line of machines that were good enough to put his name on today.
Not having much while growing up made buying a tattoo machine difficult. He created affordable units that allowed beginners and pros to scale the barrier of entry and get tattooing in no time.
You may know him as Soba. The rest of the world might also fondly call him Soba.
Being the name that gets tattooed on his products, it is no wonder that this is what everyone has come to associate with BJ ‘Sobaone’ Johnson.
This guy is one of the fastest to get into the custom tattoo machine-building game, and he has not stopped since.
Starting his tattoo career in 1997, and it took just two years to put out his first unit.
He made great designs and built them on the side, sharing his tuning and tattooing knowledge in online forums with global participants.
By 2003, he had crossed the radar of other impressive names like Adam Ciferri, Seth Ciferri, and Aaron Cain.
He teamed up with these three names to found the company now known as Workhorse Irons.
Soba grew from being just a partner of the company to being the administrative head of the firm, helping to drive sales and boost awareness between 2007 – 2012.
He has recused himself from the company to allow time to build from his workshop – and still sell them on the site.
Soba is one artist known for his flair, and he demonstrates this with his designs on limited-edition tattoo machines.
He also brought some excellent models to the market, featuring Race Horse, Mini Rusto, Custom SOBA, and others,
He is currently on a machine-building sabbatical since 2020, but many artists cannot wait to get him back in the market.
Heavy lines and iconography that will make you swoon!
Tattooing out of the world-famous Smith Street Tattoo Parlour in New York City, the above statement rings true anytime you think of Bert Krak.
Bert embodies the true definition of an artist, not only working on the human skin but also doing excellent paintwork with acrylics and watercolors.
This must’ve informed his knowledge of colors so much that he employed unique pallets of his own.
Speaking of global appeal, the July 12, 1997-born artist has seen his craft take him to many countries where he has a waiting list of A-list celebrities and notable names to tattoo.
For such a man who reinvented heavy lines and brought some unique colors to the mix, tweaking machines will easily be second nature to him. Thus, it is not surprising that he has some fantastic line-ups to look at.
For Bert Krak, it is all about keeping and maintaining a simple line of custom coil tattoo machines that get the job done.
He only launched a Bert Krak Liner and Shader – and he was done with it.
Custom-built in the USA to handle lining, shading & color packing, these machines do the job.
Tim spent a lot of time in three places: his tattoo shop, traveling, and his workshop.
Getting taught from a young age by his father (Don Hendricks) helped him achieve his full potential.
Working in the neighborhood where he was raised, he started tattooing in the mid-90s, which helped him build trust and gain clients faster.
He was first employed as a professional tattoo artist at Inflictions, a Southern California shop where he had to share the space with other pros.
Every day, they would critique and praise each other’s work, offering actionable advice and helping one another grow.
Such an environment would have naturally made anyone want to do better – and that surely did help him grow fast enough.
This growth paid off for him, who would later learn a traditional style of tattooing under Bucky Crispin at Electric Tattoo in Balboa.
Such experiences defined Tim’s early life, helping him hone his craft and infusing different elements into his art as he traveled and learned from other mentors.
Speaking of travels, his career as a tattoo artist has taken him to different parts of the world. Tim would have travel stories for days, from featuring on shows like Miami Ink and getting into New York Ink when he was in those cities.
In 2019, he decided he had learned enough on the road and decided it was time to return home.
He marked that in nostalgic style by opting to buy a shop called Classic Tattoo – the same place he got his first tattoo experience. Now, he works with the same Bucky Crispin in the same shop to spice things up.
Tim Hendricks makes different machines in the liner category (such as the Cheetah Liner, Gold Tooth Liner, H7 Liner, etc.) and shading operations (H7 Shader, Hood Rat Shader, Jade Lady shader, etc.).
When Micky Bee designed his bestselling machines, he added the line based on the original Paul Rogers design.
If that is true, which it is, then Paul Rogers deserves mention. But who is Paul?
Paul’s story is courageous and artistic brilliance, which landed his name among the greats in the niche.
Paul reportedly got his first tattoo from Chet Cain, who was working as a carnival tattoo artist at the time.
Once he had exhausted the clientele in the western part of North Carolina, he got on the road to take trade wherever he could find a clean patch of willing skin waiting to be worked on.
Paul could not travel much in the winter months, so he had to revert to working the cotton mills to make ends meet.
Career rump up
He got his most significant break when a sailor landed in Norfolk, Virginia, with a beautiful tattoo on his arm.
Lucky for Paul, Cap Coleman, the most prominent tattoo name at the time, saw the tattoo on the sailor’s arm.
The sailor had to convince Coleman that the work was of a simple, talented tattoo artist out of Couches Creek – Paul Rogers.
This would spur Coleman to invite Paul to work with him, spawning what became one of the most revered partnerships in all tattooing history.
One of the many lessons he learned from Coleman was tuning tattoo machines. He was so good at this that, at some point, every artist in Norfolk had had their setups touched by Paul to give it the right kick.
While he made and tweaked some tattoo guns of his own, they did not go into the same production scale as we have today.
However, some custom tattoo machine builders have leveraged his design, combined with modern elements, to birth a lien of exciting equipment.
Who Else is Out There?
Not every day, you have big names in the industry like this in the same place.
If anything is awe-inspiring about this list (not limited), it is how diverse the time-frames these tattoo artists exist in.
This bears testament to the impressive history of the tattoo industry and shows that there is more to come in the future.
The newbies, so to speak, are no slouches either, and they will strive to make their marks here before going.
From bringing in new styles to advancing with custom-made machines, the world of these handmade tattoo machines will only get better.