Stick and Poke vs. Machine Tattoos: Process, After-Care, and Experience

Handpoke tattoos are as beautiful and permanent as machine tattoos, the difference is in the technique used to push ink into the skin

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I was 25 years old when a dear friend who happens to be a skilled artist told me he wanted to do stick-and-poke tattoos as a hobby. I already had a few tattoos so he probably thought I would be a great guinea pig for him. I love hand poke tattoos and he bought a Stick and Poke Tattoo Kit to poke safely so I immediately considered it. Today, he's given numerous small hand-poked tattoos to many friends.

Although the hand poke tattoo process has been plagued with its fair share of safety concerns, there are more and more hand poke kits and specialized professional artists cropping up, which means tattooers are dedicating their artistry to the unconventional form.

To know the difference between one another, here's a simple guide to the world of hand-poke and machine tattoos.

Process

The difference between stick and pokes and machine tattoos is how the ink is inserted into the skin. Hand poke tattoos are powered by hand, using a sterilized tattoo needle attached to some sort of grip, dipped in ink, and pushed into the skin. The needle goes just as deep and the results are just as permanent. It's a very slow process, where hours are needed to get a small tattoo. Meanwhile, machine tattoos use a small motor encased in each tattoo machine that moves the attached tattoo needles up and down in a smooth, almost cyclical pattern. The machine speeds up the process dramatically.

Safety

Regardless of the method, there are always key things to look for: sterile equipment, clean surfaces, and proper hygiene, to name a few. Stick and poke is just as safe as machine as long as the person practicing the method understands the process.

But where things get tricky is when people tattoo at home. Although it seems like an easy recreational activity, people should never give or get a tattoo with the typical home supplies: a sewing needle, thread, and pen or craft ink. Sewing needles are much wider than tattoo needles and open the skin too far, causing blowouts and unnecessary scarring. Improper sterilization, disposal, and wrong ink type are some of the reasons to stick to hand poke tattoo kits or to a professional poker.

But things get worse: you can find machine tattoo kits online for as little as $50. While a lot of professionals start out this way, you can really mess up with a machine tattoo kit. Unlike stick and poke tattoo kits, which are tipically used to get a small tattoo in a time-consuming method, machine tattoo kits are the ones where you can get a really big permanent large bad tattoo in a no time. You have to keep in mind that you can contaminate other people or yourself if you do not follow the health and safety measures. It is also important to have good material when you are getting a tattoo because usually pre-prepared tattoo kits are really cheap and contain bad materials that could be harmful.

Healing

Machine-based tattoos, depending on size and type of shading, take two to three weeks. As for hand poke, they tend to heal faster. Plus, you also get less itching and scabbing.

Experience

The first thing you’ll likely hear about stick and poke tattoos is how much longer they take than machine. Like hours or even days (sessions) longer. This can be chalked up to the tedious nature of having to individually poke every dot. But the time taken isn’t always a negative thing. Most clients describe the hand-poke experience as quieter, less painful, and generally more chill.

The counterculture nature of hand poke is one of the reasons people love them. It’s unfortunate that the more side, underground form of tattooing is becoming so professionalized. There’s something rebellious about getting a tattoo outside of what your parents, or grandparents, once saw as rebellious. And even if not for the rebel inside us all, hand poke is a new form of art that many people don’t want to see minimized or crushed under professional standards.

The Choice of Craft

Hand-poke and machine tattoos are less about ink insertion and more about varying styles. It’s not just underground versus mainstream, but thinking about what kind of tattoo you want. After all, it is your body and it is going to be there permanently.