Stick and Poke Tattoo in 9 Simple Steps
Stick and poke tattoos, also called hand poked tattoos, homemade tattoos or DIY tattoos, can be done by anyone taking the right precautions and using the proper tattoo tools. Follow this step-by-step guide detailing how to stick and poke, and you’ll be totally safe.
1. Designing the Stick and Poke Tattoo
Figure the design, size and placement of your stick and poke tattoo. If you’re looking for inspiration, our stick and poke tattoo ideas will help you decide on what stick and poke tattoo to get.
You should not choose an area that is near open sores, boils, abrasion, infected wounds or a mucus membrane.
2. Preparing the Stick and Poke Tattoo Equipment
2.1 – Wash your hands with water and soap. Cover wound you may have with a plaster and put on medical gloves.
2.2 – Prepare the area and the tools you’ll need for your stick and poke tattoo. First, make sure the surface on which you are working is uncluttered and clean. I use a household bleach solution (1 part of household bleach to 9 parts of water) as a disinfectant. Then, lay out paper towels or a medical tray cover to place the rest of your material. Have few pair of gloves nearby but outside of your work area in case you need to change them during the process.
2.3 – Shake your stick and poke ink for about 1 minute and fill the ink container. Close the cap tightly and wipe the excess ink. Pour rubbing alcohol into another container. Remove the ink and rubbing alcohol containers from your work area to prevent cross contamination (your hands touching the tattoo and then these bottles is cross contamination). If you have to refill ink during the tattoo process, you should throw away the ink container with your gloves and then prepare a new one, outside of your working area, after putting new gloves on.
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3. Preparing the Skin Area
Prepare the skin area you’ll be tattooing by first washing it with water and soap and then shaving it. This will prevent possible infections by skin organisms. As an additional safety measure, never use the same shaver twice. Once that’s done, sterilize the area thoroughly with rubbing alcohol using make-up remover pads. Take extra precautions and sterilize an area larger than the tattoo itself.
4. Tracing the Stick and Poke Tattoo
Ideally, you should proceed with a tattoo pen or a tattoo stencil (also called tattoo paper). If you must use a normal pen, make sure it’s a new one to minimize the risks of infections. Regardless of the type of pen you choose, don’t use the same pen across different persons.
You might be tempted to stretch the skin when tracing, but that will likely skew your tattoo design when the skin shrinks back to normal. For example, here is the same tattoo tracing on a stretched skin, and in a neutral position.
Take advantage of tracing to see how your stick and poke tattoo will look from different angles and postures. Never hesitate to go back to the drawing board. Slight improvements will make the difference between tattoos you’ll regret and ones you’ll proudly show off.
If you used a tattoo stencil, sterilize the area again with rubbing alcohol. If you used a pen, this might erase your tracing.
5. Testing (optional)
Some recommend testing the stick and poke tattoo needle in the skin without ink. The purpose of this step is to familiarize yourself with the feeling of the needle in the skin, and to ensure that the person you’ll be tattooing can handle the tattoo needle pain.
Depending on the person I’m tattooing, I may offer to perform this step. In my opinion though, it’s preferable to get right to it and start with the ink. Doing otherwise can feed apprehension and do more harm than good.
6. Tattooing the Outline
Start by taking out the needle from its package, being careful not to poke yourself on the sharp tip.
Fill the needle with ink and carefully start poking the skin. I refill the needle every 1 to 3 pokes. You will easily know the needle is going into the skin by feeling it breaking the surface layer of skin. If the skin is bleeding, you might be poking too deep; try to put less pressure on the skin. Every poke will spread ink on the skin, and full lines will therefore be hard to complete on your first round.
Once your outline is finished, move to the next step.
7. Completing the Stick and Poke Tattoo
Remove excess ink with a make-up remover pad imbued with rubbing alcohol (or ideally a green soap solution). You can then continue your stick and poke tattoo, removing excess ink as you go. The skin might swell at some point, and will therefore be too inflated to retain ink. In this case, striving to complete the tattoo is useless; you should therefore stop and continue when the skin is completely healed.
Once your stick and poke tattoo is complete, clean it one last time with rubbing alcohol and apply a bandage on it.
About rubbing alcohol: this product is hard on the skin and dries it excessively. Instead of using rubbing alcohol to clean (but not sterilize) the skin during and after the tattoo process, professional stick and poke tattoo artists typically use green soap mixed with distilled water (1:8). Still, rubbing alcohol needs to be used to sterilize the skin before you start poking and before putting on the bandage.
8. Disposing of the Equipment
Safely dispose of all your used tools. Put the needles in a plastic container before throwing it away. Ideally you should dispose of this container in a sharps disposal facility (see your local pharmacies or hospitals). Know that all the equipment that was on your working area or in contact with the tattoo should be considered to be medical waste.
Be sure to read our short guide on how to safely remove your tattoo gloves. When your gloves are removed, wash your hands with water and soap. Finally, disinfect your working area.
9. Stick and Poke Tattoo Aftercare
Stick and poke tattoos need aftercare just like conventional ones. There are a few things the person you’re tattooing should know about the healing and preservation of their tattoo. To learn more, consult our specific article on stick and poke tattoo aftercare measures.