If you’ve been on social media any time in the past year, you’ve probably seen a few homemade stick and poke tattoos. Whether it’s to regain a sense of control in the limbo that is COVID quarantine, an act of apocalyptic impulse in the face of uncertainty, or simply a new daily habit, stick and poke tattoos have become immensely popular among those stuck at home.
If you’re wondering how to do a stick and poke tattoo, there are plenty of resources out there for you. With a quick browse online, you can find DIY tattoo kits that include everything you need to kickstart your stick and poke adventure (needles, gloves, stencils) — home tattooing has perhaps never been more accessible.
And I, like many others, recently decided to dip my toes into the trend. I got a friend who was down for creating some homemade tattoos, watched a couple of YouTube tutorials, and just started poking. Admittedly, this wasn’t my best idea. Our tattoos turned out to be grim reminders of our artistic limitations — misaligned little black dots struggling to form what we cannot in good conscience call lines.
So, in search of some professional advice to make my next DIY tattoo a little less wretched, I spoke to three professional tattoo artists who offered tips for beginners looking to get in on some of that stick and poke action.
What is a stick and poke tattoo?
Also known as hand-poked tattoos, stick and poke tattoos are created by dipping a needle in ink and manually poking the skin with it. While the technique is certainly more beginner-friendly than machine tattoos, that doesn’t mean it’s any less legit — they’re just as permanent and have a style of their own.
Where on the body should you put a stick and poke tattoo?
“It depends on your priorities,”. Finding a spot where the skin is already stretched would work well for a first tattoo. Vivien said she did her first tattoo on her ankle even though it was a “very painful area,” just because the stretched skin in that part is easier to poke.
How safe is a stick and poke tattoo?
Tattooing yourself at home comes with its fair share of safety risks — from staph infections to bloodborne diseases. That’s why if you do want to DIY, it’s very important to keep things clean (Read: never, ever, reuse your needles). And not having professional hygiene advice is no excuse for stick and poke beginners. “These are the things you really can Google,” said Patrick, adding that tattooing equipment should be completely sterile.
How to do a stick and poke tattoo
Start with a sketch. Yi Min said that when using a pen to sketch out your tattoo design, it’s important to keep your body relaxed and natural. This is so that the sketch will look like how it’s supposed to, on your body.
Next, it’s important to stretch the skin where you’re tattooing. “That’s the most important [part],” said Patrick. “You need to have a really good stretch.” While one hand does the poking, the other hand is responsible for stretching the skin.
When piercing into the skin, the ink-dipped needle is usually angled at 45 degrees — though there are no hard and fast rules about this. Vivien noted that this is because it’s harder to be precise if the needle is poking perpendicular to the skin. The direction in which you’re poking also matters.
Now here’s the tricky part:
How deep should you go? By poking too shallow, the ink may drop out instead of remaining under the skin. But go too deep, and the ink may spread — this is known as a blowout, which causes tattoos to look a little blurry. According to the three tattoo artists, knowing how deep to go is definitely something that comes with practice. But they generally agree that it’s better to start off light.
“You can always go back and add ink…but you cannot take ink out of your skin,” It’s also important to note that everyone’s skin is different. This means adjusting your tattoo session according to how your skin reacts. “Going over the tattoo too many times will hurt the skin. The tattooed part will become swollen,” If your skin is getting really red and bumpy, it’s better to leave the tattooing for another session.
Don’t be too worried if there are empty spaces between the dots. Instead of rushing to touch it up, give your new tattoo a little time — the ink may spread a little under the skin over the next couple of weeks, filling up these little spaces.
Can you do a stick and poke tattoo at home?
Tattooing yourself at home comes with its fair share of safety risks — from staph infections to bloodborne diseases.
Do stick and poke tattoos stay forever?
On average, a hand-poked tattoo can last anywhere between 5 and 10 years if you’re lucky.
Does Stick N poke hurt?
There Is No Consensus on Stick & Poke Pain.