Best Rotary Tattoo Machine for Beginners

best rotary tattoo machine for beginners
Credit: David Clifton

Convincing an experienced tattooer to divulge the specific model of rotary machine they would recommend to a beginner artist is a difficult feat, and for good reason: They know that the machine is not what makes an artist skilled. Rather, the only thing that can effectively do that is practice. This is why, when asked what’s the best rotary tattoo machine for beginners, Jessica Valentine, the badass owner of (and resident artist at) Haven Studio in Brooklyn was clear: she wouldn’t suggest anything.

“I wouldn’t recommend any particular brand of rotary for a new artist, let alone what type of machine,” says Valentine. “A new artist should be using whatever their mentor tells them to use during their apprenticeship.”

But what if you’re not an apprentice? What if you don’t have a mentor? In those cases—assuming you’re serious about tattooing as a potential career—it’s important to understand that not all rotary machines are created equal and price often begets quality when it comes to these devices. But regardless of your skill level, a great rotary tattoo machine can a help you progress as an artist and enables you focus solely on the caliber of your work—rather than worrying that the quality of your device might be holding you back—which is why we chatted with a handful of tattooers who use rotaries to ink their designs and had them share their recommendations for the best rotary tattoo machine for beginners.

1. Cheyenne HAWK PEN (from $599)

Ori Vishnia, the Portland-based tattooer currently working out of Daydream Tattoo, had been tattooing as a handpoke artist for two years before she started using a machine. Because she was used to holding something small, light, and quiet, the pen style of this particular Cheyenne rotary stood out—it “felt most similar to what I was already comfortable with,” she says, “it’s a very light machine and easy to maneuver.”

The Cheyenne HAWK PEN works well for delicate or detail based designs, Vishnia explains. Part of the reason she chose this model herself was because she had “heard good things about it from other tattooers, and the size of it is ideal for my smaller hands,” she adds. As a relatively new artist, and someone entirely new to machine tattooing, she recommends this machine specifically because of how easy it is to use. “It doesn’t make learning how to tattoo any easier necessarily, but it does make the entire process of setting up your machine and switching needles mid-procedure pretty painless.”

2. Bishop V6 (from $395)

While Beatriz (Bea) Leuterio, resident artist at Ink & Water Tattoo, uses both coil and rotary machines to ink her designs, she prefers using a rotary when “outlining specific shapes—particularly circles and straight lines—as well as for shading because it gives me more control and better accuracy when blending tones.”

Leuteria opts for the Bishop V6 as her rotary machine of choice, and has found that using it has enabled her to more easily incorporate midtones into her work while diversifying her style and allowing her to build a better portfolio. “I ordered it in December and have seen significant progress in my style range since,” she says. “It’s powerful, like a coil, so I can pack thicker lines and heavy blacks easily, but it runs smoothly for the more delicate pieces as well.” Leuteria also suggests that the upside-down ‘L’ shape and weight of the V6 are ideal for new artists, allowing them to “rest the frame of the machine on their hands while comfortably holding the grip,” plus, she says, “it’s heavy enough to weigh your hand down for steady lines but light enough not to tire the hand and wrist.”

3.  NeoTat Original Linear (from $275)

For anyone hoping to be slightly more budget conscious, Brittany Randell, the self-taught tattoo artist known online as ‘humblebee,’ recommends picking up a NeoTat Original Linear rotary. While she makes use of two different rotary machines (the other one she uses is a Bishop), Randell favors her NeoTat, It’s the best rotary tattoo machine for beginners not because of its affordable price, but for its superior quality.

Randell particularly recommends this machine for self-taught artists like herself or people who started their career as illustrators “because it’s easy to navigate and learn how to use, [especially] compared to a coil machine since there are less parts to learn about and take care of. Everything is internal for rotaries so you don’t have to assemble it really. It’s also lightweight and more manageable {she says using this machine is similar to working with a pencil or marker which makes the learning curve smaller}, especially for beginners.” While her style incorporates a great deal of precise linework, Randell highlights that this rotary is great for pretty much anything, saying most “rotaries can be used for anything from linework to etching, shading and color packing.”

Related: How Do Tattoo Artists Transfer Designs From Drawing to Skin?

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