Everything You Need to Know About Stick and Poke Tattoos

Stick and poke tattoos are becoming increasingly popular worldwide. Here’s everything you need to know before getting your first stick and poke.

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As with all industries, the tattoo world has evolved, encouraging people to look for creative inking techniques that offer different aesthetic results. One trend that is taking the world by storm is the stick and poke tattoo. Unlike popular belief, stick and poke tattoos are not a new concept. This ancient tattooing technique is emerging as one of the peoples’ favorite go-to options and for good reasons.

The stick and poke technique offers really unique results - as long as you work with the right artist. Here’s everything you need to know about stick and poke tattoos so that you can decide whether this type of ink is the right one for you.

Matching hand poked crescent moons by Koktel Sombre. source

What is a Stick and Poke Tattoo?

A stick and poke tattoo is a completely manual process. The artist or person performing the tattoo uses a sharp object - in most cases a needle - and some ink to repeatedly poke your skin until they achieve the design you requested. Also known as a DIY or hand tattoos, this form of inking dates back to ancient times and requires a steady hand as well as a lot of skill.

Homemade stick and pokes can be an inexpensive way to get the designs you want. That said, because of the amount of time it takes to create them, the technique is mostly used for smaller and minimalist tattoos.

History of the Stick and Poke

Stick and poke tattoos date back 5,300 years and were thought to have been performed for therapeutic reasons rather than decorative ones. The placements of the tattoos coincided with health problems such as joint issues.

Furthermore, Egyptologists have found several mummified female bodies with a variety of tattoos on them dating back to approximately 2100 BC. Researchers concluded that these markings were also for therapeutic reasons and may have served to increase fertility as they predominantly covered the lower abdomen. Not only this, but the mummified bodies also had tattoos on their thighs, torsos, and arms.

Hand poked finger ornaments by Imitacja Sztuki. source

The Difference Between a Stick and Poke and a Machine Tattoo

The key difference between a stick and poke tattoo and a machine one is the technique used to insert the ink into the skin. Hand poked tattoos are performed completely manually by pushing the inked needle into the skin one dot at a time. Machine tattoos use a small engine, which makes the needle jump up and down into the skin multiple times per second. Because of this motor, machine tattoos are significantly quicker to complete.

The stick and poke technique is far quieter and, generally speaking, creates a more relaxing experience than when undergoing a machine tattoo. Both techniques provide different styles and the one you choose should come down to the type of tattoo and experience you want.

Hand poked 'Africa in tears' tattoo by Tiss. source

The Different Tools and Inks

The tools and inks used to performed hand-poked tattoos vary from one country to the next. In Western society, these tattoos are performed with a long needle and traditional ink found in professional studios. But, while we have access to these simple tools, the same could not be said for ancient cultures and remote tribes.

Traditional stick and poke tattoos were performed with a variety of sharp objects. These included small chisels made from bone, shark teeth, bamboo, and even rose thorns. In ancient times, the ink was often made of different colored clay pigments, soot, ochre, and charcoal, to name a few materials.

Tribes and artists in different parts of the world still use some of these techniques, creating unique effects and textures that can’t be found anywhere else.

How Painful is a Stick and Poke Tattoo?

While the experience is more relaxing than with a machine tattoo, the sensation and pain are more or less the same. Because stick and pokes are performed manually with just one needle, the process may be lengthy, meaning the pain is prolonged.

Moreover, the body has more time to react to the tattoo, leading to increased swelling in some cases. Typically, people describe the experience as getting scratched on extremely sensitive skin, but the end result is (almost) always worth it.

Hand poked vase with a moon by Zoni Worker. source

Precautions You Should Take

Regardless of the tattoo you get, you should take precautions to avoid infections and the transmission of blood-borne diseases. Many stick and poke tattoos are performed by individuals with little to no professional experience. And, while it’s absolutely fine to tattoo yourself and your friends at home, you should always take the right measures to stay safe.

When getting a tattoo of any kind, you should:

- Always use a new needle

- Sterilize the needle before use

- Ensure you’re not allergic to the ink as many contain led and titanium

Hand poked palm tree tattoo by Diego. source

Do Stick and Pokes Last Forever?

The short answer is yes, stick and pokes are permanent. Like with a gun tattoo, the ink is inserted in the deep layers of the skin. That said, they can fade depending on where they are applied, the experience of the artist, and the quality of the ink used.

Hand and feet tattoos don’t last as long since we wash them more thoroughly and they experience more friction against shoes, gloves, jewelry, and other surfaces.

As with any other type of tattoo, you can get a stick and poke removed by visiting a shop that offers professional laser tattoo removal. Traditionally, laser tattoo removal is expensive, however, you’ll only be able to get an exact quote by getting in touch with your local provider.

Interested in getting a DIY tattoo kit for your next stick and poke? Check out our gallery or contact us today and we’ll be glad to help.