How to Setup a Rotary Tattoo Machine

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So you’ve got a rotary tattoo machine and want to know how to set it up properly? A quick search online gives lots of results but not much practical advice.

In this article we’ll explain how to setup a rotary tattoo machine as easily as possible, as well as how to avoid damaging the machine from improper setup.

Understanding Rotary Tattoo Machines

Rotary tattoo machines are driven by a small electric motor. Through the shaft, it transmits the rotation to the eccentric, which the crank mechanism converts into rotational motion to oscillating-axial. This oscillation then  transmits to the needle. Simple but effective.

Because of this simple design, rotary tattoo machines are becoming more and more popular, giving coil machines, which have been on the pedestal for almost a century a run for their money. The secret to their success is very simple: high versatility at an affordable price.

With this being said, of course, there are no perfect tattoo machines. All designs have their advantages and disadvantages. The choice and acceptance depend solely on the tattoo artist’s preferences.

How to Setup a Rotary Tattoo Machine Fast

  1. First put on a pair of rubber gloves. If you are going to be setting up a tattoo machine for a client, it is very important to keep the gun sterile, so wear rubber gloves the whole time.
  2. Remove the needle from the blister pack and hold the circular end in one hand. Bend the needle to form a slight arc so that it can be easily inserted into the needle tube. The type of needle you’re using depends on what part of the tattoo you are coloring. Liner needles are used for creating the outline of the tattoo and shading needles are used for coloring in and shade the various parts of the tattoo. Both needles are inserted the same way into the machine.
  3. Hold the tube in your non dominant hand and insert the needle through the tube.
  4. Push the circular end through the loop in your tattoo coil and attach the needle tube and coil together. Tighten the bolt on the side to make sure the two pieces are together.
  5. Thread the circular end of the needle over top of the round nub on top of the tattoo coil. It should fit snugly into place.
  6. Attach a plastic band around the entire coil assembly. The band should rest on top of the needle, just before the circular end. It should stretch around to the spool on the bottom of your assembly.
  7. You’re now ready for tattooing!

What to Do In Between Colors and Changing Needles

Add all the colors you will need for the tattoo into separate color cups. When it’s time to use a color, simply dip the tip of the needle into the color of choice. You should also fill a small cup of clean water so you can rinse your tattoo needle between colors.

Wipe off any excess ink and blood from the needle every time you dip it in the ink. This is also important for when you want to switch colors. You want to make sure you keep the tip of the needle as clean as possible so you don’t mix  your colors with other colors and blood.

Tuning a Rotary Tattoo Gun

Thankfully, rotary guns are easy to tune. They are commonly referred to as plug and play machines because they seem that easy to start using. The main adjustments you have to make are to the position of the tube grip to determine needle depth.

It’s recommended to start off with the same standard needle depth for coil machines. Needle depth that is roughly the thickness of a dime for lining and a nickel for shading. These depths are a good starting point. Other factors that can change your required needle depth are: thickness of clients skin, output voltage of power supply, and size of the cam wheel.

How to Maintain a Rotary Tattoo Machine

Knowing how to properly maintain the machine is important for making it last. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Every 20 hours of operation, dispense a little gun oil on the bearings and rubbing parts but avoid getting oil inside the electric motor.
  2. Periodically change the banding and sealing rubbers. They lose their durability quickly which causes increased vibration and causes faster wear of moving parts. Not only that but they become dirty, which reduces the hygiene of the taping procedure.
  3. Sterilize the machine with proper sanitizing equipment and put a disposable film on the clip cord before each new procedure. You should wear gloves when setting up a sterilized machine and preferably use a disinfected set of tools.
  4. Keep in mind that you should lubricate only the moving parts that you can access. If the motor is covered with a casing, there’s a reason for this and you should not allow the oil to get on it. The more complex the machine is, the more time and attention it requires.

IMPORTANT: Do not tamper with the rotor and eccentric if you are not familiar with the design and operation of the machine. If there are operation issues, which cannot be solved by setting up, take the machine to a professional shop.

Rotary Tattoo Machine FAQ

Is a Rotary Tattoo Machine Suitable for Permanent Makeup?

Permanent makeup is a very tedious procedure, so it requires a separate tattoo machine that is designed to work on the face. These devices have thin needles and are equipped with needle exit limiters, so the client experiences a much less discomfort during the procedure.

Which is Ideal for a Beginner: Rotary Tattoo Machine or Coil?

In our opinion, rotary tattoo machines are superior to coil tattoo machines in many ways. They are lighter, quieter, and more versatile.

Coil machines do have a cost and availability advantage. However, different artists have different preferences. Therefore, the final decision about which one to get should be decided by the artist themselves. The best way is to try, test or at least hold the device in your hands.

Why Did The Rotary Tattoo Machine Stop Working?

A motor does not last forever. Over time, it will break down. In this case, we recommend you contact the manufacturer for a replacement.


We hope that you enjoyed our article about rotary tattoo machine setup. If we missed anything then don’t hesitate to let us know in the comments below.