The rotary tattoo machine configuration is by far the most appealing for artists in the industry.
There are several factors that influence their position at the top, including but not limited to:
– They are lightweight.
– Versatile power input.
– More models are becoming affordable, which allows easier access to beginners.
Last but not least, tattoo manufacturers have evolved with technology and can now operate wirelessly.
How did we decide on which rotary machine is the best?
It is almost impossible to review them all considering the number of options available in the market. Nevertheless, the best source of information is the reviews from real artists.
This list of five (5) best rotary tattoo machines is based on many tattoo artists’ comments and experiences.
Table of Contents
Kwadron Proton Pen
This brand has come up with improved technology in their machines, in the design of the frames, and also in the quality of the components.
The Proton pen is, from my perspective, one of the best in their series of rotary models.
– A frame made of aluminum, adding comfort to the user.
– Generous voltage range.
– Cartridge and standard needles.
Not so impressive
– Some artists had mentioned it feels bulky in the hand.
– Full sanitizing could be challenging considering the pen style type.
Bishop Tattoo Machine
Bishop is a well-known brand in the industry.
Their mainstream is the rotary line with different alternatives such as the Magi and Microangelo models.
Their machines are generally lightweight and versatile, which is excellent for shading and lining jobs.
The only downside is the cost. We are talking about prices over $500.
You pay for what you get.
For a beginner looking to buy one, you will need to save some money beforehand.
Needless to say, the special editions are out of most artists’ reach.
Should you buy one of their models? If you have the budget, I recommend including any of them in your kit.
Cheyenne Tattoo Machine – Hawk and Sol Series
This brand is another reliable and well-known manufacturer in the industry.
I believe that what makes them great is that they focus only on the rotary configurations.
They have two (2) distinctive lines of work: the Hawk and the Sol.
In the Hawk series, you will find the Spirit, Thunder, and Pen tattoo machine models. From these three (3), artists tend to go for the Thunder model.
The reasoning is that the Cheyenne Hawk Thunder has a better stroke and is very lightweight.
– Lightweight at only 3.35oz (68 g).
– It feels comfortable in big or small hands.
– Components are reliable and hard to damage.
– It’s not so great for shading and filling.
On the other hand, the new Sol line includes the Nova, Terra, and Luna models.
Basically, these three (3) models are the improved version of the Hawk line.
Don’t get me wrong, any of the Hawk models are still an excellent option to go with, but as technology evolves, so do the other versions.
If I could choose from the three (3) Sol versions, I would go for the Nova as it is the most versatile, despite its overall weight.
FK Irons is the last one making our list of the best rotary tattoo machines in 2022.
This manufacturer offers not only rotary models but also coil alternatives.
What is interesting about their rotary line is the accessibility to machines with different characteristics.
This allows the tattoo artist to acquire the right tool based on what they need.
This, at the same time, might be an issue.
For instance, the Xion, the Flux (their new rotary wireless model – finally), and FK Irons Spektra Edge X only accept cartridge needles.
Nevertheless, if you want more versatility, the Spektra Halo2 and Direkt2 are standard and cartridge compatible as well.
It is tough to decide which machine is the best from these guys, but I would be inclined to go for the FK Irons Xion model.
– It works great for any outlining and shading type of work.
– Adjusting the stroke is easy by using the ratchet system.
– I love their style. There are so many designs to choose from.
Not so good
– It is heavy and vibrates enough to complicate long tattooing sessions.
– The stroke range is short.
– Like any other Pen tattoo machine, sanitizing is also challenging.
2023 Buying Guide for Beginners
It’s our aim here to provide you with helpful tattoo machine reviews.
But, what is the point of that if perhaps you don’t understand what is mentioned in the reviews?
We have also included a helpful guide and answers to the most common questions within this industry.
This guide will be updated as we find more exciting details to share with the community.
What is a rotary tattoo machine?
These machines stand out mainly because they use an electric motor mechanism to move the needles in and out of the skin.
The small motor allows the machine to work with precision to make fine lines and shading during the tattoo process.
Artists can use the machine to draw outlines and shading, which speaks of their versatility.
One of their significant advantages is that they are lightweight, allowing the tattoo artist to work fast and for longer.
Besides, they allow the artist to work more precisely because their hands won’t cramp as much, especially for complex designs requiring long sessions.
Returning to the motor topic, a particular characteristic is how quiet they are. Thus, the tattooing experience becomes more laid back and relaxed as opposed to being intimidating when you have a buzzing machine inking your skin.
How does a rotary tattoo machine work?
As you may know already, they are powered by either a battery or by connecting it directly to a RCA power point.
Wireless technology is becoming quite attractive to many artists and therefore to many brands as well!
Before answering this question, you must learn what parts make up a rotary machine.
Rotary tattoo machine parts
Let’s look at the diagram above.
Here you will see what the main parts of the machine are:
– A DC / RCA connection point (also for a wireless battery).
– The motor.
– A cam wheel.
– The needle bar, the tube (to guide the needle), and the actual needle (standard or cartridge).
– The grip (to wrap and hold the machine) and the tip.
Depending on the manufacturer, they could have additional items, but all of the above are essentials.
Once you have connected the machine to the power supply, the motor will rotate, moving the cam wheel.
This cam wheel will connect to the needle by the “eye”, which is secured with a grommet.
The grommet must be placed first into the eye of the needle bar, and then you can connect it with the cam wheel end.
After setting up all the other elements, you can power the machine up; this will move the motor (moving it clockwise), and the bar will come up and down.
The up-and-down movement of the needle bar releases the needles in and out, piercing the skin.
Understanding the Voltage
Rotary tattoo guns can be regulated or unregulated.
Regulated ones have a pre-set voltage, whereas, with unregulated machines, the artist has to choose which voltage is ideal for the work they need.
There is no recipe to adjust the voltage of your machine.
Various brands come with different voltage ranges as each motor is different.
As you gain experience as an artist, you will learn how to adjust it in the best way that works for you.
The voltage will also depend on the speed of your hand and the technique used.
The general rule for unregulated voltage is to turn it up during outlining to get the faster speed necessary.
In contrast, you will need to bring it down during shading because it is a more meticulous process.
Rotary Tattoo Machine Types
Choosing one of these machines comes down to characteristics including weight, the machine gun, and availability of the tattooing accessories, including the grips.
Essentially, these machines differ by brand and the way in which various models have refined 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.
If you prefer handmade tattoo machines, I recommend checking out well-known independent artists – they know their stuff.
The setup of a rotary machine is one of the fundamental steps to getting it working correctly.
It can be challenging to set it up, tune it and troubleshoot it. Nevertheless, you will become more skilled as you know the device.
Rotary Tattoo Machine Setup (needles, tubes, rubber bands, operating voltages)
As usual, before setting up your tattoo gun, you must thoroughly wash your hands.
Once you have ensured a working station is adequately sanitized, follow these steps:
1. Get a rubber nipple and attach it to the needle bar pin.
2. Adjust the tattoo gun retainer screw to open it. This will create room for the needle bar and tube.
3. Carefully insert the needle into the tube and tightly input it into its clamp.
4. Fit the needle-bar loop to the nipple and ensure they come together tightly.
5. Hold the needle-bar pin and press it downwards with the attached needle-bar.
6. Tune the retainer screw to adjust the needle-bar, so it comes into contact with the retainer rings.
7. Tighten it enough to hold the needles in place and avoid wobbling.
Once your tattoo gun is set up, connect it to a power source and test it at your desired voltage.
Outlining requires a higher voltage because you work faster, while shading requires a lower voltage.
Tuning your Rotary Tattoo Gun
Proper tuning of a rotary machine is part of the setup as well.
In basic words, it is the process of ensuring that the needles are of the correct depth for tattooing and the voltage is adjusted accordingly.
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.
Keep in mind that you will need to reduce or increase the voltage of your tattoo gun based on your work.
Lower voltage works great for lining and higher for shading.
The final aspect to consider is checking the stroke of the machine. Short stroke (3.0 to 3.5 mm) is used for outlining, while shading uses longer strokes.
As you tattoo, you will see whether it has adjusted to the correct depth. Thicker skin might require more depth, but excessive bleeding is an indication that the needle is going too deep into the skin.
Troubleshooting & Faultfinding
In the course of tattooing, you may run into some problems with the setup; even, it may fail to start after connecting it to the power source for the first time.
In this case, you should consider several issues, including:
Low voltage (or lack of voltage altogether), poor power supply, or a defective motor.
Another major issue you may encounter is when the machine starts just fine but appears to lose power or reduces speed.
The main possible fault to check in this case may be that the needle-bar pin has come into contact with the housing.
Also, the needle-bar retainer may be too tight against the needle-bar or even worn out.
You should also ensure that the motor is not faulty; however, motors tend to lose their quality with time.
Point of contact
A struggling motor could mean, among other things, a poor connection pin.
The motor problem could also result from the adjustment screw being too close to the cap, which means you need to adjust it accordingly.
The needle suspension of your tattoo gun may get jammed, resulting from a loose needle-bar pin.
As with any rotary part, it is essential to ensure they are adequately lubricated.
If the needle-bar pin of your tattoo gun gets 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 may be out of sync, indicating that it needs lubrication.
The best way to troubleshoot and fault-find is by using the manual that comes with the machine.
The manufacturer knows more about their equipment than any other artist. Reading their manual will save you a lot of time and help you get the machine running correctly.
Buying Guide Final Thoughts
Rest assured that setting up your machine for the first time could be a bit challenging.
Lucky for all of us, despite each brand having its own design and configuration, they all do the same, so don’t stress!
There are many ways to find a solution. Also, facing the issues will let you know what to do next time it happens.
As mentioned before, using the manual will save you a lot of time and get it right possibly in one go.
Nonetheless, if you get confused, you can always contact the seller for more information.
Whatever level of experience you may have with tattoo machines, you must understand and study each component’s functionality.
As a last resource, I recommend seeking the assistance of experienced tattoo artists if you run into trouble with your rotary tattoo machine setup.