A Quick Look at Stick and Poke

A gloved tattoo artist is holding six packaged tattoo needles in their hands.

While stick and poke is the oldest tattoo technique to exist, it’s become hugely popular over the past few years – thanks to social media. Particularly during lockdown, where we delved into DIY activities to keep our minds busy and we saw the rise of Tik Tok, stick and poke interest skyrocketed. This technique can be thought of as basic, but stick and poke tattoos are actually super versatile. They can range from a simple dot design to a complex, detailed piece of art. Whether your tattoo will be poked by an experienced artist or your best friend, it’s a personal piece of art that’ll be on your body forever. Here’s a quick look at what you need to know about stick and poke tattoos:

Where did they come from?

Stick and poke originated in ancient Egypt, where mummies were found with tattoos inked on their fingers. Read our oldest tattoo blog post to read more about this. It’s not surprising to hear their long history due to the technology-free nature of them. In Thailand, monks have been practicing Sak Yant Tattoos for years with bamboo sticks which is similar to stick and poke. Similarly in Japan, traditional stick and pokes were known as Tebori. They involved the application of intricate Japanese artwork onto the body by hand. In more recent times, stick and poke has been associated with underground culture, hence why it’s sometimes attracted backlash. However with the rise of social media, the hand poked style has come into the mainstream. Now, due to their versatility, even celebrities such as Debby Ryan, Grimes and Noah Cyrus have stick and pokes.

Safety first

You’ve probably heard stories of stick and poke tattoos going wrong. But if the correct care and precautions are taken, they’re generally safe. Let’s take a quick look at the basics of stick and poke safety. Sterilisation of needles is the key factor in making your hand poked experience safe, as this will avoid disease or bacterial infections. If you or a friend are tattooing your skin, it’s super important to dispose of your needles afterwards. Definitely do not to share them with anyone else, as this can cause harmful diseases. If you’re getting your tattoo done by an experienced artist, they should already know this. Similarly with machine tattoos, it’s vital to shave the area you’re going to tattoo to avoid ingrown hairs. If in doubt, consider getting a professional stick and poke artist to bring your design to life. 

It’s more than just a tattoo

There are more benefits to stick and poke than just the aesthetics. The intimate, technology-free experience of it is what appeals to many. Unlike with machine tattoos where you have the help of technology to create dense lines, a stick and poke tattoo is just you and the artist – whether that’s a professional or your friend. If it’s a professional, the absence of the sound of machines leaves room to talk about their art, experiences and journey. On the other hand, if it’s your friend poking their creation onto your skin, this can create a special bond between you. 

Will it hurt?

There’s no right or wrong answer on whether stick and pokes hurt more than machine tattoos. It can often depend on the placement of your design and personal pain threshold. It has been said though that the sensation is different to that of a machine tattoo. This is because it’s a single needle poking into your skin at a slower rate than a machine tattoo, which uses more needles at a much faster rate. Due to the nature of single needle tattoos, they can often take longer than machine tattoos and sometimes need going over again, which is also something to consider with your pain threshold.  

How long does it last?

A common misconception about stick and poke tattoos is that they don’t last as long as your typical machine tattoo. However, a good quality ink, the correct procedure and a solid aftercare routine should provide a long lasting tattoo. One element that can sometimes be hard to get right is the poke technique itself. Especially finding the balance between going deep enough for the skin to take the ink, and not going too deep to cause blowout. How well you care for your tattoo can affect how long it lasts, so we’ll have a quick look at stick and poke aftercare it in the next paragraph. 

How to look after it well

Stick and poke healing times are quicker than those from a machine. This doesn’t mean you should take your aftercare routine any less seriously though. In fact, the first week of aftercare can determine what your tattoo will look like long term. As soon as your tattoo is complete, leave a bandage on it for at least two hours. You then want to fully clean of the area. Use antibacterial soap and lukewarm water, then pat it dry and let it air dry fully. But don’t rub it at all, as this can cause damage to the tattoo. Next, it’s onto moisturiser and salves. Combining a non-scented, hypoallergenic lotion with a salve will keep your skin properly hydrated. It’s all about balance though, as too much moisturising can cause damage. Aim to clean and apply ointment three to four times a day for seven to ten days.


Ready to delve into the stick and poke world? Make sure you tag @stick_n_poke_tattoos in your creations on Instagram so we can feature you on our page.