Stick and Poke tattoos are all the rage right now. As a professional tattoo shop, we get a little wary about them. They can turn out wonderful, but there is risk involved too since it isn’t be done by a trained professional. This style was once dominated by jails, but it has since become a hit with a new demographic- college kids. We can’t necessarily recommend these tattoos, but here is everything you should know about them.
Hand poke tattoos are rooted in the historical practice of tattooing. Back before tattoo guns were a thing people got tattoos in the same way that stick and poke tattoos are done- by sticking a sharp object with ink on it into the skin. Some areas in the world still practice tattooing in this way. Angelina Jolie is famous for her tiger back tattoo that was done by Thai monks using their form of sick and poke tattooing. Western countries stopped practicing this style once tattoo guns became widespread, but they still persisted in the jail system. This style used to be referred to as “jail house” tattoos. Now with college kids adopting this style, that stigma has dropped.
What is it?
The name of this style says it all. A sharp object is dipped into ink and then poked into the skin. People used a number of sharp objects, such as sewing needles, safety pins, or even tattoo needles just not connected to the machine. There isn’t standard ink used for this style. Most inks used for hand poke tattoos isn’t FDA regulated so be warned. Sometimes people even used regular pen ink.
Stick and poke is a style that can be done by anyone, from traditional monks to professional tattoo artists. However, the current style has more of a DIY notion to it, with it usually being done by a non-professional individual. These people are usually talented, and some even do it for a living. They aren’t trained, licensed or work out of a shop though so there is more risk than a standard professional tattoo. Hand poke tattoos are usually done in a more intimate setting, like a home, and done by friends so there is more meaning behind them.
The biggest concern about sick and poke tattoos is the sterilization and sanitization of the equipment used. Professional tattoo artists are held to certain standards, even more so if they work out of a tattoo shop. All equipment is cleaned and sterilized regularly. With hand poke tattoos there is always a risk that the needle isn’t clean. Using a needle that isn’t new opens up the risk of contracting a disease such as hepatitis or HIV.
No matter who’s doing the tattoos, make sure that everything is cleaned properly. Never use the same needle as someone else too. Also, make sure you follow the same aftercare advice that you would for a professional tattoo. Keeping it clean helps prevent infection.
A huge downside to hand poke tattoos is that they hurt even more than professional ones. Having a machine do a tattoo means that the process goes by quicker. When it’s done by hand, every line and dot have to be done individually. It takes longer and more practice to get the ink right. The ink used also isn’t the best, meaning it takes more layer to get the ink to show. What all of this means is that it will hurt, no matter where it’s done.
Another downside is time. Stick and Poke tattoos take longer to complete. Everything has to be done by hand, more layers of ink are required, and the design comes to life one dot at a time. What would usually take a few minutes can take up to hours.
Design and Size
The DIY aspect of hand poke tattoos can give you some ideas for what designs are popular. Doodle designs are common, especially on a smaller scale. Some people have become incredibly talented and skilled in this style though. They can create large, intricate tattoos that look like a machine did them.
There is an art to placing ink in the right part of the skin for tattoos. This is part of what’s covered and practiced when a professional tattoo artist gets trained. When the ink is placed too close to the surface, it won’t hold. If it’s placed too deep then it will blur and bleed. It takes skill to hit the sweet spot for ink placement. Due to this, and the lack of FDA approved ink used, stick and poke tattoos tend to fade more. This isn’t always the case, but most hand poke tattoos fade more often and quicker than professional ones. For some people though, this is actually a benefit.
Price is the number one reason people are drawn to hand poke tattoos. A professional tattoo can cost hundreds of dollars while stick and poke tattoos are either free or significantly cheaper. People who have a talent for this style and have made a name for themselves may get a higher price, but the majority of people use friends who don’t charge anything.
As professionals, we don’t advocate these tattoos but they can turn out super cool. Make sure you get everything sanitized before getting a hand poke tattoo. If you have any questions or want to discuss a professional tattoo, contact us.