Skin-Care Tips

3 Things To Know About Getting a Stick-and-Poke Tattoo for the First Time

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Photo: Stocksy/Susana Ramírez
While many people associate tattooing with the whirring, buzzing sound of a mechanical machine, tattooing can actually be a silent experience. Such is true for a method known as stick-and-poke. As the name suggests, stick-and-poke tattooing, also known as "hand poke tattooing," involves physically “poking” dots of tattoo ink into the skin. In most professional instances a single, sterile, specialized tattoo needle is used.

Whereas mechanical tattoos employ numerous ink-depositing needles in a rapidly vibrating fashion, stick-and-poke tattooing uses a single needle—and, most importantly, is a completely manual process. It’s “entirely by hand...one dot [of ink] at a time,” Rosa Perr, founder of the New York hand-poke tattoo shop Bluestone Babe explains, likening stick-and-poke to “a slowed-down machine tattoo.” Below, three key facts about stick-and-poke tattooing to know ahead of getting one.

1. Stick-and-poke tattoos may have a more organic, hand-drawn look

The slow and steady approach of stick-and-poke “encourages more simplicity and delicacy in the design,” Perr explains. “[Stick-and-poke tattoos] do tend to look a bit more delicate, organic, and hand drawn on skin.” (That said, Perr says it’s also possible to create delicate designs with a machine; the size of the needle, the design itself, and, of course, the artist, all influence the final outcome.)

With the popularity of minimalism over the past few years, the dainty nature of many stick-and-poke tattoos is, perhaps, one reason they’re having a renaissance. Perr, who has been hand-poking for her entire career, says she’s noticed an uptick over the past couple of years. (Demand for the style, she notes, has always been high.) Needling ink into the skin solely by hand—sans machines—has existed for thousands of years and across numerous cultures. While there are certainly variations on the theme, the concept of creating tattoos in a slow, silent fashion predates the buzzing machines often associated with tattoo art.

 

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2. Stick-and-poke tattoos are typically gentler to the skin

Whereas mechanical tattoos may require significant healing, scabbing, and aftercare, stick-and-poke tattoos tend to heal much more quickly, Perr notes. ”The needle simply pierce[s] through less skin,” she explains. For this reason, stick-and-poke tattoos are relatively gentle. It’s worth noting, however, that this style of tattooing—when created by a professional—should last as long as its mechanical tattoo counterparts, Perr says. “Professional” is the key word here. Inking the skin with a sewing needle, a pen, and/or any other DIY method may lead to premature fading, ink feathering, and/or infection. In other words, this is probably one of those things you’ll want to leave to the pros.

 

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3. Stick-and-poke tattoos are often less painful

Given their relative gentleness, and “because stick and poke tattoos are less invasive,” Perr says her clients typically report much less pain with stick-and-poke than with other tattooing methods.

Of course, pain is subjective; for this reason, it’s impossible to make a blanket statement about whether stick-and-poke tattoos hurt more than mechanical tattoos, or vice versa. Moreover, Perr says the methods are “completely different sensations.” In addition to feeling somewhat dissimilar, stick-and-poke also sounds quite a bit quieter than the hum of a whirring machine. In fact, the experience of stick-and-poke is often silent. In Perr’s estimation, this makes for a more peaceful experience.

 

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