One of the most significant landmarks for a newbie tattoo artist is figuring out the best machine that allows an unrestrained expression of their art.
However, the world of tattoo tech can be (albeit unsurprisingly) quite complicated.
Tattoo artists are, by their nature, tinkerers. They are continually innovating, creating new gadgets, modifying existing equipment, or even combining elements across tattoo machine types in the bid to create the perfect instrument for their artform. Consequently, for many elite tattooists, the ideal piece maybe something a bit more obscure.
Nevertheless, if you are just starting, you don’t have to start creating custom tools just yet.
There is an abundance of ready-made options on the market to serve even the most skilled craftsmen.
First, however, you have to choose between the two main tattoo machine groups: pen-style rotary machines and newer coil-based machines.
Coil tattoo machines are the most popular options on the market today. They are also the source of the familiar buzzing sound that characterizes most modern tattoo parlors. These appliances use electromagnetic current via a pair of coils to power the attached tattoo needles’ movement.
On the other hand, rotary tattoo machines use small motors to move the tattoo needles, which makes for a more fluid and significantly quieter operation. Rotary engines are the OG tattooing choice. This appliance was first invented in 1978, making them the first tattooing machine.
Unsurprisingly, rotary machines have primarily taken the backburner in the face of the more customizable coil machine’s popularity.
However, they are experiencing a resurgence in the past few years in the form of pen-style motor-powered devices championed by seasoned tattooists worldwide, including famous artists like Tatu Baby, Bang Bang, and Guy Aitchison.
The Case for Tattoo Pen Machines
While you lose significant customizability and availability of easily interchangeable parts with this option, rotary tattoo pen machines do have a lot going for them.
These appliances are considerably lighter and easier to handle than their counterparts, making them the most comfortable choice for extended tattooing sessions.
These machines, you lose all of the noise and vibration that comes with coil options. Plus, rotary engines are significantly more versatile as you can use a single tool for both shading and lining.
Tattoo pen machines offer the easiest and most seamless way to transition from regular pencils to tattoo machines.
There is also the nostalgia (the first electric tattoo machine invented was a rotary pen) and prestige that comes with working with a core piece of tattooing history.
However, finding the perfect tattooing tool is rarely about figuring out which tattoo machine type or brand is better. It is often rather about getting the best gadget for the job. Usually, the key to choosing the right tool is to find one that is an excellent fit for the intended art and your style and preference.
Here, we present the best tattoo pen machines on the market today to acquaint you with the top offerings and inch you closer to making a perfect choice.
5 Best Tattoo Pen Machine 2021
Like with many other artforms, with tattooing, there are no “best” tools.
The right tool for the job is the one that maximizes the artist’s proficiency while providing the utmost comfort levels possible.
We recognize that the right tool for you will depend on your specific quirks and preferences when on the job. Consequently, we produced a roundup of some of the most recommended tools in the industry, with most of them getting nods of approval from some of the craft’s top artists.
If you are in the market for a new tattoo pen machine, here is a hand-picked shortlist of the highest-caliber options that are as good as any others you will find elsewhere.
1. Our Pick: Cheyenne Sol Terra (Cheyenne Luna Add-on available)
From the popular Cheyenne Hawk’s manufacturer comes another entry into their lineup that is taking the tattoo scene by storm. The Cheyenne Sol Terra is guaranteed to place at or near the top of any ranking list today.
Do You Know:
Cheyenne Professional Tattoo Equipment, a foremost tattoo appliance manufacturer, based in Berlin, is a renowned name in the tattoo industry, famed for their sleek tattoo machines that are always at the cutting edge of what is available to artists worldwide.
With their dual launch of the Sol Luna and Sol Terra machines in 2019, the company set the bar for tattoo pen machines a bit higher.
Here, you get two innovative gadgets from the manufacturer that represent some of the market’s quietest options. Both entries to the Sol series also exhibit that signature high-end Cheyenne craftsmanship and are entirely vibration-free.
Both machines feature identical setups and technologies, with the significant difference being their stroke length. The Luna packs a 2.5mm stroke length that makes it an excellent pick for grey shading and blackwork, while the Terra features a 4mm stroke length, making it the color packer of the set.
Whether used standalone or as part of the set, the Sol Terra offers a great all-round performer and one of the best liners you will find anywhere.
The standout feature with this set is a unique SensiDrive technology that offers two separate modes that allow for two different working styles.
You get a regular HardDrive mode that powers the machine at a consistent speed throughout the operation, offering a consistent firm hit and no give. Alternatively, you can switch to the innovative SensiDrive mode that automatically adjusts the machine’s speed per the resistance of the patch of skin you are currently tattooing.
Consequently, with SensiDrive, you get a relatively constant hit whether you are tattooing softer regions like the palm or tougher areas like the elbows and knees. Hence, this unique feature gives you a rotary machine that can also mimic the type of tactile feedback you often only get with a coil machine.
The Cheyenne Sol Terra also packs a brushless DC motor that can run at speeds as low as 25 hertz, allowing for greater precision with styles like color realism and dot work. However, the engine also runs significantly higher for when you want those thicker, more intense lines.
With the Cheyenne Sol series, you get reliable top-performers that you can trust. With each machine weighing only 3 ounces, you can rest assured of some of the best handlings during your tattooing jobs.
Plus, you get a warranty coverage of one year, which we doubt you will need, considering Cheyenne’s history of superior build quality. However, a warranty is always an excellent bonus.
- With SensiDrive technology for simulated give
- Low-frequency-capable brushless DC motor (as low as 25 hertz)
- 4mm stroke length
- weighs only 3 ounce
- One year warranty coverage
2. Sunskin Stilo
Ask a few professional tattooists for machine recommendations, and you are sure to hear the name Sunskin pop up in no time.
The Sunskin brand is something of a best-kept secret in the tattoo world as you rarely hear them listed among the top manufacturers, yet you are guaranteed to find at least one of their equipment in the gear of most top-level practitioners.
With their 20+ years of experience in the tattoo machine manufacturing business, Sunskin has made a name for themselves as one of the few makers that emphasize the quality of their products over the state of their bottom line.
The Sunskin Stilo is another testament to this ethos that enables them to capture the hearts of some of the world’s best tattoo artists.
Like other Sunskin products, the Stillo is made in Italy and packs a high-grade construction that is sure to impress.
The outer shell of the Stillo features a solid aluminum alloy, finished with contemporary anodizing techniques that enhance the shape, color, and durability of the casing, creating an eye-catching exterior that puts most competitors to shame.
Furthermore, another element that alerts you to the premium offering you are getting with the Stillo is an inclusion of a host of exterior add-ons in the box.
Straight out of the box, you get three interchangeable and autoclavable grips—one steel grip and two aluminum grips in a variety of shapes and sizes—to ensure you get the perfect handle for your tattooing style. The package also includes an OEM 1,90mt cord, so you don’t have to deal with the hassle of finding matching off-brand options.
The Sunskin Stillo also packs superior interior pieces to match the elegant presentation you get on the outside. The machine’s core is an OEM patented titanium mechanism paired with a high-end German-made 6.3-watt motor.
With a 6.3 motor, you rest assured that this machine packs more power and torque than you will ever need, even during your most adventurous sessions. However, the innovative titanium movement balances this brute force out, giving the machine a soft and accurate hit that will impress even the most nit-picky style-benders.
Consequently, the Sunskin Stillo offers you a high-powered machine that brings a soft, accurate hit and a silent, vibration-free operation. What is not to like?
Suppose you want an OP all-around performer that lends itself perfectly to both shading, color packing, and lining, is super comfortable to work with, and is compatible with all cartridges from major brands. In that case, the Sunskin Stillo is one of the few offerings that will make the cut every time.
- Superior construction and aesthetics
- Patented titanium mechanism for a gentle and accurate hit
- High-powered German-made 6.3-watt motor
- includes an OEM 1,90mt cord
- 5 ounces
3. Spektra Xion
When shopping for tattoo equipment, FK Iron, the brand behind the Spektra Xion, is often one of the first points of call for stateside artists.
From their base in Miami, FK Iron has been producing top-notch tattoo machines since 2007, cementing them as one of the foremost manufacturers in the country. The Spectra Xion, which is one of their best-selling offerings, remains the go-to option for many tattoo artists around the country.
The central selling point for FK Iron products has always been their quality construction, and the Xion is no different. Here, you get a sturdy, high-grade pen, developed with input from some of the world’s top tattooists to ensure the creation of a top-notch device that can put up with your most extended sessions while bringing high-end performance every time.
The Spektra Xion features a specially-designed 6-Watt MotorBolt at its core, provides and holds maximum-level torque even on extended tattooing sessions, and keeps your cartridges performing optimally at all times.
On the outside, the unit packs a sturdy shell to match. You get a casing built from aircraft-grade aluminum that maximizes durability and ensures the machine never heats up during use. The use of aluminum makes the device super easy-to-clean and less hefty, coming in at only 5.36 ounces.
At 5.36 ounces, the Spektra Xion is heavier than most other similarly-sized tattoo rotary pen machines, and this could cause fatigue problems during longer tattooing sessions. Hence, ensure that you are comfortable handling a bit more heft than is typical if you are opting for this option.
The Xion also scores maximum points for versatility. Straight out of the body, you get two interchangeable stroke wheels (3.2mm and 3.7mm) that allow you to adjust the stroke length to match your needs and make the machine suitable for a host of tattooing styles.
The machine is also adjustable in other facets, allowing you to modify the give and needle depth to control the device during work fully. Add the fact that the Xion is compatible with most off-brand needles and (matching voltage) power supplies, and you have the ultimate all-purpose tattoo pen machine.
With the Spektra Xion, you also get an extreme level of maneuverability that lets you take complete advantage of all of its excellent features.
The Xion models your regular fat pen to perfection, creating a form factor that sits perfectly in your hand, allowing a balanced feel and maximum leeway for easy hand movements while minimizing fatigue during extended sessions.
Do you want even more grip? The Spektra Xion Gorilla variant adds an even larger 40mm grip to the pen, bringing even better ergonomics to the already comfortable-to-use machine.
The FK Iron Spektra Xion also ships with a 1-year warranty, completing one attractive package that is hard to refuse.
- 6-Watt MotorBolt specially-designed to provide optimal torque for tattooing
- Lightweight and durable aircraft-grade aluminum shell
- two interchangeable stroke wheels (3.2mm and 3.7mm) for enhanced versatility
- Ergonomic grip with 40mm option
- One year warranty coverage
4. Stigma Spear
Like most art forms, the best tools for this artform are often devices designed by artists (themselves) instead of engineers and technicians. This ethos is the key to the fame and the pedigree of the Stigma brand.
A group of German tattooists created Stigma with a backing of 20+ years of active practice. Consequently, what you get with their line of products are tattoo machines engineered for maximum user-friendliness.
An exemplar of this company spirit is the extreme adjustability you get with the Stigma Spear and several other of their flagship products.
The Stigma Spear’s main USP is its use of an easy-to-reach adjustment dial that lets you modify the machine’s give and stroke length on the fly.
While working with the Spear, you can manipulate the give by turning the dial that sits at the pen’s top. Similarly, you can alternative the active stroke length between 4mm and 3mm with a quick twist of the motor. This feature allows you to create various intricate designs and incorporate multiple tattoo styles into a single session without ever having to switch tools or any part of the machine.
Consider disconnecting the machine from the power source before adjusting the stroke length by twisting the motor. Some users have reported cracking the RCA housing after adjusting the stroke while the Spear is plugged into power.
This ease and speed with which you can modify the Stigma Spear’s action is key behind why many top tattooists worldwide favor this pen machine. Such a versatile tool is a welcome addition to any tattooist’s inventory.
Plus, with a total weight of around 5.7 ounces, the Spear is light enough to allow you to enjoy its full versatility on extended sessions without suffering fatigue. Its slim, indented profile also makes it significantly easier to grip and enhances your precision.
The Stigma Spear is also fully interoperable with non-OEM parts as it works with all standard cartridges from the major makers.
If you seek a lightweight, compact, yet high-powered and fully-maneuverable pen-style tattoo machine that gets the job done every time, you can’t go wrong with the Spear. Other inviting perks include its durable construction with a protected RCA connection and a top-performing 6-watt Swiss-made motor that is sure to impress.
- Quick-access adjustable give and stroke length (3mm – 4mm)
- Protected RCA Connection to prevent electric interruptions
- Interoperable with other cartridge brands
- 6-Watt Swiss motor
5. Equaliser Proton
The Equaliser Proton from Kwadron is aptly named, as it is one versatile yet straightforward piece. Here, you get the ease of using your average pen-style rotary yet get enough functionality to rival even the most decked-out coil machines.
Kwadron, a Polish tattoo machine manufacturer, is a renowned name in the EU, famed for their strict adherence to all relevant quality and safety regulations, the quality build of their products, and their long track record of producing some of the best ink, needles, and cartridges on the market. Their Equaliser Proton, one of their premier tattoo pen machines, is no exception to this policy.
This brand is also one of the top suppliers of tattoo equipment to major tattoo salons across Europe.
With the Equaliser Proton, you get a pen-style rotary built to serve as one of the most versatile pieces on your roster. It’s average 3.5mm stroke length, and it’s fully adjustable needle depth that lets you go all the way from 0 to 4.5mm combines to create an all-purpose tool that lends itself to a variety of work types, including shading, filling, and lining.
Plus, the Proton is interoperable with almost all types of cartridges, making it one of the most flexible options you can get on the market today.
Another highlight of the Proton is its Swiss FAULHABER 5-watt motor that combines with an advanced gear system to bring power, torque, and efficiency maximization while ensuring an ultra-quiet and vibration-free operation.
With the Equaliser Proton, you get a complete feature-packed experience that immediately hooks you and is guaranteed to become your new favorite tool.
- 5mm stroke length for maximum versatility
- Fully adjustable needle depth (0 to 4.5mm)
- 25mm aluminum grip
- Weighs 4 ounces
- One year warranty
What equipment do I need as an amateur tattoo artist?
To get started on your first tattoos, you need a tattoo machine, a power supply, and other supplies like needles, grips, tips, tubes, inks, and stencils.
You can purchase most of these products yourself without a license. However, most reputable dealers will require you to present some certification that confirms that you are a licensed tattooist or amateur tattooist before selling you a tattoo machine.
Should I get a cheap tattoo machine?
For newbies, it can be hard to wrap your head around why tattoo machine prices vary enormously.
However, like with most technical products, the massive price differences often boil down to the use of premium, higher-quality parts on more expensive machines and the application of a higher amount of attention to detail.
While a cheaper machine may be good enough to get started (especially in your amateur days), you will find out that you outgrow these often shabby options quickly. Soon, you will require a better-detailed machine that promises improved precision and an overall enhanced tattooing experience.
Should I get a liner or a shader tattoo machine?
Tattoo artists use liners to create the tattoo outline and do blackwork, while they use shaders to add shade and color to the piece. Consequently, both machine types pack differing technical specifications. Shaders are typically heavier, more powered, and pack more needles than liners.
Nevertheless, the fastest way to tell the difference between a liner or a shader is to look up the manufacturer-provided information.
Which option should you get? The chances are that you will need both.
However, with many tattoo types, the liner is the only machine needed. Hence, liners are often the best choice as a first tool for starting tattooists.