Rotary Tattoo Machines Guide

The rotary tattoo machine has gained significant popularity among tattoo artists. Previously, only the traditional tattoo machines were available, which were operated by a coil mechanism.

Based on tattoo artist prefer, frequent questions and community answers, these are the Top Rotary Tattoo Machines for 2019 and possibly for 2020.

In this list, you will have access to their review so that you get the best information, specially if you are a beginner.

This table will be updated from time to time to reflect the machines that could be outstanding in the market.

Top 5 Best Rotary Tattoo Machine Summary Table

Bishop microangelo Review

Bishop MicroAngelo
Cheyenne Tattoo Machine - Hawk Thunder

Cheyenne Hawk Thunder
Spektra Xion

FK Irons Spektra Xion
Dragonhawk Airfoil V4 Special Edition

Dragonhawk Airfoil V4
Shading/LiningLiner / Shader.Liner / Shader.
Great for shading.
2 oz (57 g)2.39 oz (68 g)5.4 oz (152 g).4.3 oz (121 g)
Voltage: 6v–8.5v5-12V. 2.5WMin: 4v, Max: 9.5.
Do not exceed from 10.5v.
Lining: 8-9V.
Shading: 7.5-8.5V.
Stippling: 4-5V
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Rotary Tattoo Machine Guide and FAQ

As we have explained before, we aim to provide you with useful tattoo machine reviews. But, what is the point of it if you, maybe, don’t understand what is mentioned in the reviews? To answer this question, we have also include an interesting guide and answers to most common questions around this industry.

This guide will be updated as we find more interesting details to share with the community.

What is a Rotary Tattoo Machine?

This tattoo machine stands out mainly because it uses an electric motor mechanism to move the needles in and out of the skin. The electric motor allows the machine to work with precision to make fine lines and shading during the tattoo process.

Artists can use the machine for both drawing lines and shading, which speaks of great versatility of the machine. The artist can use the tattoo machine for the entire tattooing process.

A significant advantage of this machine is that it is light in weight, allowing the tattoo artist to work fast and for longer. Besides, the artist works with greater precision because the hands do not cramp as much especially for complex tattoo designs requiring a lot of time.

The electric motor makes this particular tattoo gun significantly quiet. Thus, the tattooing experience becomes more laid back and relaxed as opposed to being intimidating when you have a buzzing machine working on your skin.

How does a Rotary Tattoo Machine Work?

Basically, a rotary machine is powered by an encased motor. Before answering this question, you have to learn what parts made a rotary machine.


Rotary Tattoo Machine Mechanics and Diagram
Source: Smarter Every Day


  • Elements:

Let’s look at the diagram above. Here you will see what are the main parts of the machine, including a DC or RCA connection point, a motor, a cam wheel, a needle bar, the tube (to guide the needle), the grip (to wrap and hold the machine), the tip and last but not least, the needle.

  • Operation

Once you have connected the machine to the DC or RCA power supply, the motor will rotate, moving the cam wheel. This cam wheel will be connected with the needle by the “eye”, which will get secured with a grommet.


The grommet must be placed first into the eye of the needle bar, then you can connect it with the cam wheel end.

After setting up all the other elements, you can power the machine; this will move the motor (moving in clockwise motion) and the bar will move up and down. The up and down movement of the needle bar releases the needles in and out, piercing the skin.

Understanding your Rotary Tattoo Gun Voltage

Rotary tattoo guns can be either regulated or unregulated. Regulated machines have a pre-set voltage while with the unregulated machines, the artist has to choose the voltage they prefer.

There is no recipe to adjust the voltage of your machine. Various machine brands come with different voltage range. As you gain experience as an artist, you will learn how to adjust the voltage in the best way that works for you.


The voltage will depend also on the speed of your hand.

The general rule for unregulated rotary tattoo machines is to turn the voltage up during lining because you need faster speed. Conversely, you need to bring the voltage down during shading because it is a more meticulous process.

Rotary Tattoo Machine Types

Choosing one of these machines comes down to characteristics that include weight, the machine gun and availability of the tattooing accessories including ink.

Essentially, these machines differ by brand and the way in which various models have refined machine characteristics to give artists and clients a better experience.

Tattoo artists who intend to acquire one should look out for reviews and ultimately, make a choice based on personal preferences.

The most popular machine brands include Bishop, Dragonhawk (good for beginners and low budgets), Neotat Vivace, FK Irons and Ink machines-Dragonfly. If you are inclined on handmade tattoo machines, I recommend checking our Tattoo Machine Builder section.

The setup of a rotary machine is one of the fundamental steps to getting your machine to work properly.

It can be a bit challenging to set up, tune and troubleshoot your rotary tattoo machine but with time, you learn how to do it easily.

Rotary Tattoo Machine Setup (needles, tubes, rubber bands, operating voltages)

As per usual, before setting up your tattoo gun, you will have to ensure that your hands are clean. Once you have ensured that your hands and working station is disinfected, follow these steps:

Step 1. Get a rubber nipple and attach it to the needle bar pin.

Step 2. Adjust the tattoo gun retainer screw to open it. This will create room for the needle bar and tube.

Step 3. Carefully insert the needles into the tube and input the tube tightly into its clamp.

Step 4. Fit the needle-bar loop to the nipple and ensure they come together tightly.

Step 5. Hold the needle-bar pin and press it downwards with the attached needle-bar.

Step 6. Tune the retainer screw to adjust the needle-bar retainer in order to bring the needle-bar into contact with the needle-bar retainer rings.

Step 7. Tighten enough to hold the needles in place to avoid wobbling.

Once your tattoo gun is setup, connect it to a power source and operate it at your desired voltage. Lining requires a higher voltage because you work faster while shading requires a lower voltage.

Tuning your Rotary Tattoo Gun

Tuning your rotary machine is part of the gun set up. It is the process of ensuring that the needles are of the right depth for tattooing and the voltage is adjusted accordingly.

Rotary machine desmantled

Tuning will thus, involve adjusting the needle grip and tube to move the needle up or down to the required depth. Once satisfied with the depth, you need to tighten the tube to hold the needle firmly in place.

On the other hand, you will need to reduce or increase the voltage of you tat gun based on the work you are working on (lining or shading). Lower voltage works great for lining and higher to shading.

Final aspect to consider is checking the stroke of the machine. Short stroke (3.0 to 3.5 mm) is used for lining, contrary for shading that uses long strokes.

As you tattoo, you will see whether you have adjusted to the right depth. Thicker skin might require more depth while too much bleeding is an indication that the needle is going too deep into the skin. Check this article to learn more about Tattoo Needles.

Rotary Tattoo Gun Troubleshooting & Faultfinding

In the course of tattooing, you may run into some problems with the rotary tattoo machine setup. Your rotary tattoo machine may fail to start after connecting it to the power source. In this case, you can consider several issues that could include:

1. Voltage:

Low voltage (or lack of voltage altogether), poor power supply or a defective tattoo gun motor.

2. Speed Reduction:

Another major issue you may encounter is when the machine starts just fine but appears to lose power or experience speed reduction. The main faults to consider in this case may be that the needle-bar pin has come into contact with the housing. The needle-bar retainer may be too tight against the needle-bar or even worn out. You should also check to see that the motor is not faulty.

3. Pistons:

A struggling motor could signify among other things, a clogged piston or a loose connection pin. The motor problem could also be as a result of the adjustment screw being too close to the cap, which means you need to adjust it downwards.

4. Needles:

The needle suspension of your tattoo gun may get jammed, which might be as a result of a loose needle-bar pin or a clogged inner piston. Besides, when the pistons are new, they tend to get jammed due to lack of lubrication.

As any rotary part, it is important to ensure they are lubricated properly.

5. Springs:

When the needle-bar pin of your tattoo gun may be wobbly, it is an indication that it might be loose or that the inner pistol spring is defective.

At the same time, the movement of the needle bar pin and piston may be out of sync, to indicate that your tattoo gun needs lubrication.

The best way to troubleshoot and fault-find your rotary tattoo gun is by using the manual that comes with it. Majority of the time, you will find indications of the causes of the issues you face and how to deal with them.

Final Thoughts

Rest assure that the first time setting up you machine could be a little bit challenging. However, using your manual, you will be able to get through the initial stages of confusion.

Rotary tattoo machine setup - motor

Nevertheless of the experience that you may have with tattoo machines, it is important you understand and study the functionality of the gun so that you could be able to find out potential problems in no time.

It would also important to seek the assistance of experienced tattoo artists whenever you find trouble with your rotary tattoo machine setup.


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