Fulfilling a long-awaited dream of tattooists, Cheyenne launched its wireless tattoo machine, the SOL Nova Unlimited in March 2020. The machine was first presented at Cheyenne’s Factory Day, in August 2019, by Product Manager Dr. Richard Weiss, with whom we discussed the development, features, and future of the SOL Nova Unlimited.
What challenges did you face in developing a wireless tattoo machine?
First of all, we had to think about what the power supply would look like. While third-party battery packs that you can put on tattoo machines have been around for quite some time now, we think that this solution is ergonomically rather unsatisfactory. So, first there were concepts how best to integrate the battery without hindering the artist. It was clear that our first battery machine would be pen-shaped and the SOL Nova, which is very popular with tattoo artists, was the basis. In the next step we had to integrate the whole inner workings of a control unit, with all its functions, into the tattoo machine and make it operable at the tattoo machine, which we managed quite well.
Let’s first come to the operating concept, which is really revolutionary different and simple. The entire machine is operated with just one button. How does this work and how did it come about?
Our goal is to make life easy for tattoo artists. A machine with lots of buttons and words doesn’t fit in there. So, the ideal thing is the operation by exactly one button, which the tattoo artist finds without having to turn his eyes from his work to the machine. With this one button, the machine not only has to be switched on and off and the stitch frequency changed. It was clear that our first battery machine also has to be able to switch between Steady and Responsive Mode, just like SOL Luna and SOL Terra. To achieve this, our research and development team worked together to make it happen. When the machine is turned on, you can switch between the operating modes by pressing and holding the button for 2 seconds and start and stop the machine by pressing and holding the button briefly. The frequency change is done by gesture control. If you press and hold the button while the machine is running, tilting the machine upwards increases the stitch frequency, while tilting it downwards decreases it. When the desired frequency is found, release the button and you can continue tattooing.
Many tattooists are able to adjust the frequency of the tattoo by feel, but how do artists handle this operation who need a numerical value for reference?
Every SOL Nova Unlimited comes with a small poster that you can hang on the studio wall. It shows the angle of inclination and the corresponding stitch frequencies and voltages. The artist can hold the machine in front of the poster and set the desired frequency accurately. One side of the poster is for right-handed people, the other for left-handed people.
What kind of batteries do you use?
We use a standard 18500 lithium-ion battery, specifically the Panasonic NCR18500A. It was very important for us to use a battery from a quality company that you can find easily. If an artist is travelling and loses his batteries, he can buy them from a local battery shop. This is easier for the tattoo artist than if we were to offer a proprietary solution that can only be bought in specialty tattoo supply shops.
You specify a battery life of at least 5 hours, while competitors speak of up to 10 hours. That sounds like the others are twice as good.
At first glance, you might think so. But you have to take a closer look. We determined these 5 hours with a 27 magnum Cheyenne Safety Cartridge at the highest frequency. This is a needle cartridge with many needles and a comparatively stiff safety membrane, which means a particularly high load for the machine. With the appropriate needle and stitch frequency, running times of over 10 hours are also possible with a SOL Nova Unlimited. However, it is important to us to not mislead the customer with idealized conditions that are not suitable for the majority of tattoo artists. We say that the machine will last at least 5 hours and the artist can rely on it, no matter how demanding his tattooing conditions are. The vast majority of artists tell us that they can cover a complete working day with one battery charge.
What if one battery charge is not enough or I start my working day with a partially discharged battery?
We deliver every SOL Nova Unlimited with 2 batteries and a charger. If one battery is empty, it can be changed quickly. The charger fully charges the empty battery in about 3 hours. That means before the second battery is empty, the first one is fully charged again, and you could tattoo around the clock.
What happens when the battery charge decreases? Will the machine slow down then?
No, the machine runs constantly with the set parameters until the battery is empty. Then it simply switches itself off. You can read the battery charge level via a multi-colored LED on the machine.
You mentioned the operating modes Steady Mode and Responsive Mode. What exactly is that?
The Responsive Mode is what you know from the machines of the HAWK family. The needle punctures the skin, which increases the resistance. Under this increase in load, the stitch frequency slows down and with it the hit. Depending on the condition of the skin, this responsive behavior of the machine is stronger or weaker. We introduced the Steady Mode with the SOL Nova. In this mode, the motor controller continuously measures the stitch frequency. If the load on the motor increases, the controller registers this and supplies the motor with more energy to compensate for the load increase. The stitch frequency, and thus the hit, remain constant no matter what the skin to be tattooed is like. The Responsive Mode is typically used for shading, while the Steady Mode is great for bold lines.
What is the reaction of tattooists to the SOL Nova Unlimited?
They are thrilled. We launched the machine just before most countries went into lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Although very few tattoo artists were working at that time, we were almost unable to keep up with production. The desire for freedom from cables is so great that there was no stopping the tattooists.
Only 8 months after the launch of the Unlimited, you have launched a successor model, what is this all about?
Like the wired SOL Nova, the Unlimited has a 3.5 mm stroke. After the launch, we received customer feedback requesting a stroke of 4.0 mm. Since we take such feedback seriously, we quickly developed a second version with the desired 4.0 mm stroke.
Which SOL Nova Unlimited is suitable for which tattoo artist?
To avoid confusion, we have renamed the original Unlimited to SOL Nova Unlimited 3.5. Its 3.5 mm stroke offers a good balance between lining and shading. The additional SOL Nova Unlimited 4.0 has the desired stroke of 4.0 mm, which is suitable for bolder lining and color packing.
Is the SOL Nova Unlimited 4.0 a further development that replaces the original Unlimited?
No, the Unlimited 3.5 will not be replaced by the new 4.0. Both machines are aimed at different tattooists and therefore have their own individual areas of application. The SOL Nova Unlimited 3.5 will remain in the range alongside the 4.0.
It is good that you are responding to the feedback from artists. Can you tell us where the journey with Cheyenne is heading?
I can’t reveal the details, of course, but the three pillars on which we build are quality, innovation and user focus. There will always be the reliable standard machines of the HAWK family, which run without needing adjustment. We also have our SOL family, which contains the latest technology and features. There will certainly be more to come in terms of ergonomics, operability, user-friendliness and additional wild and unexpected features.
Thank you very much for your time and the detailed answers to our questions.
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