Stick and poke tattoos: HOW TO and true origins

If you’ve been around the internet for a while, you’ll remember the stick and poke tattoo trend going around. That trend has not died out yet and probably never will.

There are a few misconceptions about those stick and poke tattoos and we’re here to bust the myths surrounding them.

Table of Contents

The correct term: handpoke

Despite this technique of tattooing acquiring a new online-crazed name, this method has been around for thousands of years. After all, how do you think people tatted each other in the times before tattoo machines were a thing?

Handpoking is essentially the process of manually poking a design onto someone’s skin using only your hands and a needle. That needle is often strapped onto a piece of wood as a handle.

You might’ve heared this being called stick and poke tattoos, machine-free tattoos, non-electric tattooing,…. They all describe the same thing.

What it is NOT, is hand-tapping or tebori. 

Respect for the correct terminology

It’s important to have respect for the correct terminology. In certain cultures, the essentially same technique may have a different name.

When it comes to it, the basics are the same but each culture has its differences. This is why we need to respect the terminology. If you’re talking about the Japanese method, call it as it is: tebori!

Why handpoke when we're alive during the 21th century?

I’m so glad you asked! Although we’re surrounded by technology that makes our lives much easier, sometimes we need to ask ourselves if it’s really always for the best.

 

There are people who love the authenticity aspect of getting, or giving, hand-poked tattoos. It is ultimately how it all got started. No electric machine buzzing and giving you the vibrating sensation, no tuning the machine, no cords dangling around,… just the artist doing their thing on their client.

For many it’s a way to connect with their ancestry, especially when done by an expert of that certain culture. This is why some people go to Thailand or Japan: to get tattooed by specific tattoo artists that are also very often priests.

Wanna find out which celebrity got a piece done like that? Go on…click me…

For others, it’s one way to get a sense of self as it is an experience that will definitely get you centered. Even more so if that person happens to appreciate the cultural history of the tattooing practice. It’s a way to connect to, in some ways, better times. *insert the downsides to technology here*

The battle of the best: machine vs stick and poke

Even though the two seem similar and are essentially the same thing, there are some pretty huge distinctions.

The feeling

One of which, the sensation. When getting a tattoo done with a machine, there’s the buzzing sound along with the vibrations. Instead of feeling each dot, you feel the drawn lines. The pain comes from each individual line.

Whereas hand poked tattoos make you feel each individual dot. It’s a constant ‘jabbing’ sensation instead of prolonged tugging. It’s more rythmic and in a way, meditative. Some compare the experience with that of acupuncture.

Pain

We’ve already touched on the pain, up above, and where it stems from.

There’s a common misconception that a hand poke tattoo causes more pain. 

Most people report that hand poking is actually less painful. The experiences are very different and we can see why people have come to this conclusion.

Just keep in mind, a stick and poke tattoo is usually much smaller and more simplistic than machine tattoos. So, that might have something to do as for the reason why.

Duration

Although I just incited, that the process of hand poked tattoos is slower, this isn’t always the case.

It actually depends a lot on which artist you go to! Other factors that contribute to the duration of getting a handpoke are: size and difficulty of the design, body part, experience of the artist, etc….

Healing process

Generally, hand poked tattoos tend to heal a bit faster than traditional machine tattoos. This is due to there being less trauma to the skin.

What tattooing with an electric machine does to your skin is essentially ripping it open. There are (often) more needles, going up and down in a much faster pace while the tattoo artist is pulling lines. There’s bound to be a lot of trauma to that.

Split opinions

This technique is either loved or hated, depending on who you ask. Amongst the tattoo lovers and enthousiasts, many love it! Mainly, because it is so beginner friendly, along with some other misconceptions.

The tattoo artists however, really can’t seem to agree. Those that don’t know a lot about it, see it as a way of prolonging the process. Why would you if you have electricity?

The artists that are unsupportive tend to focus on the fact that

a stick and poke tattoo often (according to them) looks unfinished or sloppy. As the method is so ‘beginner friendly’, there are lots of amateurs who buy themselves the necessary supplies and just start poking. Of course, there’s going to be a lot of shitty stick and poke tattoos out there!

On the other hand, there are also tattoo artists that can see why it is a thing and can appreciate it. After all, most clients that look for a stick and poke tattoo artist are in it for the experience. Not so much about the perfect execution of the design.

To be fair, there are some really clean stick and poke tattoos out there! It all comes down to finding a skilled tattoo artist.

...and the HOW TO: avoid an infection, by going to a professional tattoo artist

We’re sorry for the clickbait, BUT, now that you’re here – hear us out please. We know there are diy tattoo kits out there and plenty of diy stick and poke tattoos on the internet for you to choose from…but that doesn’t mean you should go ahead and start poking.

Just as serious and dangerous

Listen, we know, tattoos are expensive and it is hard to get in the industry – so, we also know why many of you tend to opt for DIY tattoos. They seem easier to do and the supplies you need are more accessible. It’s a way of getting creative, however, don’t forget about infections.

A stick and poke tattoo isn’t any less serious than a normal tattoo. You can still give yourself or others a dangerous infection and you most likely will if you go ahead and DIY it!

We know it’s tempting to get a sewing needle and india ink, but we’re strongly against home tattooing.

Save up money, and go get it done by professional tattoo artists. If you really want to learn how to handpoke, find a tattoo artist who’s willing to teach you. Don’t take risks and do it the right way. Beauty takes pain and sometimes that pain is patience to do things the right way.

A professional artist has sterile equipment and a sterile environment. Not only that, but proper technique aswell.

Wave your reputation goodbye

If you’re looking to get into the tattoo industry yourself, then you should be extra weary of this too. Homemade tattoos don’t have the best reputation amongst professional tattoo artists. Why? Because this is a professional career, despite many taking it as a joke.

People who opt for DIY body art give the profession a bad name in the eye of the uneducated public. Nine times out of ten, those homemade tattoos look bad… like, really bad. To make it even worse, the infections caused by cross contamination don’t do us justice either.

Well then, what am I allowed?

If you really want to experiment, just do so on some fake skin. There’s nothing wrong in teaching yourself the technique, as long as you’re not doing it on actual skin.

Just don’t forget that this is a great way to teach yourself some bad habits, which your potential mentor will have to unteach later on. That’s for those who would try this method out, because they want to get in the tattoo world.

If you’re able to just have careless fun on the fake skin and remember that you’re probably doing things wrong, why not?

At the end of the day, there’s not that much you can do wrong on fake skin. It’s just that, if you were to start learning under a professional one day – you could have the urge to take bad habits over to the skin.

Finding the right tattoo artist

Now you’re probably wondering how to find a reliable tattoo artist. Well, there are some things you can keep in mind when going on the search of a professional.

Just, reallllyyy do your research, please. That is the best advise we can give you when it comes to finding artists for whatever tattoo you’re wanting to get. Do. Your. Research.

Experience

Find out if the artist you’re considering has any experience in handpoking. If they do, great!

If they don’t, it’s not something to die for. Everyone has to start learning somewhere. They probably have more experience with machine tattoos, but if they’re down and willing to – why not let them? Chances are, they’re up for the challenge!

Healed pictures

You should also look out for healed pictures. If the artist doesn’t have any uploaded online, message them! Ask them to show you.

If they show you and they look good, you have nothing to worry about. However, if they are hesitant or start making excuses, perhaps look for someone else.

Reviews

Check their reviews online! Don’t always assume they’re correct, though. Read them with a grain of salt.

If they’re mostly okay, you should be safe. Even if there are a few bad ones. You have to keep in mind that there’s a lot of uneducated people when it comes to tattooing and tattoo culture.

With that, there’s a lot of Karens out there too! Just be on the lookout for the Karens when going through reviews.

FAQ

Well, the aftercare instructions are the same. The only difference is that your tattoo will heal up faster!

They look more or less the same after they’ve healed. The difference is, you don’t need a high pain tolerance.

They’re also mostly small and simple designs. It’s possible to get bigger and more intricate designs, but they’ll probably take more time to complete.

Wash it with water and wrap it up in foil when going to bed. The aftercare for a stick and poke tattoo isn’t different.

If you need in depth tattoo aftercare instructions, click here to read our blogpost about it.

This fully depends on the tattoo design.

Larger and more difficult designs will obviously take longer to finish than the minimalistic ones.

Most people report that they don’t hurt as bad, so, less pain. Don’t expect them to be painless, though. There’s still a needle puncturing your body!

Technically, you can get any design done, it would just take a while longer. Especially if it’s very detailed.

But, dot work designs would look great! Those designs and the technique basically go hand in hand!

Have you guys ever gotten a handpoking of your own? If so, which method of tattooing was more painful? Elaborate down below!

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