Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Downside of New Machine Systems

 Originally, I was just going to make a short statement about this on my Facebook Page: Tattoo Nerd Facebook, but it turned into a full-blown post.

Seth Ceferri Workhorse Iron Machine
 I use coil tattoo machines, a tattoo system that has been in existence for decades.  The system is simple; two coils form and electromagnet that actuates an armature bar assembly.  The downward pull on the bar disrupts the electrical circuit, releasing the bar until is makes contact and re-established the circuit.  This system has been in use for so long that we now have standardization in components and a broad base of supplier for parts and accessories (tubes, needles, grommets, etc.).

 Rotary machines have recently made a resurgence.  Most people are surprised to learn that rotary systems where one of the first electric-tattoo systems, pre-dating coil machine systems.  Rotary machines where initially developed by Thomas Edison as a means to create documents that could be copied by perforating the original and then using ink-rollers to transfer the original to new paper. Sam O'Reilly took Edison's "Electric Pen", redesigned the tube-assembly and added an ink reservoir, then patented the electric tattoo machine in 1891.  Edison later modified his pen with an electric coil, and in 1904 Charlie Wagner modified that design for use in tattoo.  

Cheyenne Hawk 
 Modern rotary machines are smaller, quieter, and far more consistent than a standard coil tattoo machine.  Most of these machines make use of the same accessories as coil machines, the same tubes and needles.  Their growing popularity among tattoo artists has resulted in a number of other machine systems entering into the market-place.  One such system is the Cheyenne Hawk.  The Hawk builds on the rotary tattoo system by including a special grip and cartridge assembly, replacing the standard tube and needle.  The advantage is that pigment and other contaminants do not go up the tube and reach the machine, making the Cheyenne Hawk in theory cleaner and safer than standard systems.

Cheyenne Cartridges.  Stock up!
 New devices are designed to look very high tech and operate using novel systems.  The Centri Cobra is one such machine; using two magnets to create a centrifugal force that actuates the needle bar.  This makes the movement of the machine virtually without friction, which should result in smoother operation and greater control.  The cobra comes with a built in spot-lamp, a feature that is popular on many new devices.  

 The problems with these new machines is the price, and it is not all in the initial cost.  As I stated, with a coil machine system I can purchase components from a broad base of suppliers.  Maintenance and modification of my coil machines is simple and I have numerous options.  A Workhorse Iron coil machine runs about $500 (you can get a machine for much, much less).  If the coils on my Workhorse go bad, I can replace them for as little as $20 if I want to go cheap, and no more than $50 if I want top-of-the-line coils.  With a system like the Cheyenne Hawk, I have to use the needle cartridges and grips for their system.  If the Cheyenne company goes out of business, I have a a $600 device (drive and grips) that are rendered useless when suppliers run out of cartridges.  With the Cobra, if something fails with my $600 device, I have to purchase another $600 Cobra if I want to continue using that kind of machine.  

Centri Cobra, from the future!

 This is the reason for the continued success of the coil-machine system; your initial investment is easy to maintain.  The innovations of new devices are interesting, but the marginal improvements in use and convenience (many systems are designed to offer multiple types of stroke, but switching from one machine to another when going from lining to shading really is not that difficult) do not really make up for the high initial price and long-term maintenance costs.  More over, many artists who use rotary machines or some other new system have a set of coil machines as a back-up for when their more modern system fails.

 That speaks volumes, in my opinion.

 Jason Sorrell is a writer, tattoo artist, satirist, artist, and generally nice guy living in Austin, TX.  He loves answering questions about tattoos.  Shoot him a message at


  1. If the Centri Cobra systems fails you do not have to buy another. They Repair it or replace it depending on the individual case. I like your Article but should we also buy that bad ass bike and bike rack for our cars just in case? All in all nobody makes you have to use any particular setup or devices, we choose to buy what we want out of pure desire. Its not the need its the WANT! On another note, why are there so many makers of parts needed to repair a coil? Must be a high demand for fixing them... Hmmmm

    1. For the sake of full-disclosure, Mr. Snijders appears to work for, if not own, Centri Tattoo, so naturally he is an advocate. I think the machine is a novel system, and I love the look. I went back and check out your website, and must still be missing the bit about a life-time guarantee. Even if that is the case, it assumes that Centri will be in business for my lifetime, meaning this system has to really take hold. I dig it, and wish you the best of luck. Coils have stood the test of time, and parts are made for them because of that fact. Fixing them, customizing them, tweaking them... that is part of the coil-machine's appeal.

      I'd love to try out a Centri Cobra and give it a more hands-on review. If you feel like sending me one, I am certain my readers would appreciate the feedback I would have to offer I really dig the green, but the blue would be nice as well. Email me, and I will send you my mailing address.

      Hey, and thanks for checking out my blog!

  2. very nice article just found your blog.

    ive been into rotaries exclusivley the last couple of years and now im switching back more and more. ive used a coil machine for lining after about 3 years and i wondered why i fought myself so hard to make the rotaries work for me (initally the noise and weight i guess). the lining was just effortless. and after that i started thinking that coils have been around for so long that if a rotary would be as good as a coil it would be anchored in the industry as the coils are. people that were before us would have found a way to utilize the rotary system in a similar way. todays fancy aspects aside of course. lets just quote lyle tuttle and said something like "as long as your putting holes in the skin its still tattooing" if i remember correctly