What You Should Know About Hand Poked Tattoos

Hand Poked Tattoo @trinukagonzalez

Hand poked tattoos – also known as stick-and-poke tattoos – are a throwback to the beginning of inked body art. But, is this form of tattooing safe? Also, is it more painful than the modern electric tattoo machines? Let’s dive into the world of hand poked tattoos to answer these questions and more. 

What Are Hand Poked Tattoos?

The method of hand poking is a non-electrical way of getting a tattoo. It uses a needle and ink, poking the ink into the skin by hand to create a design. 

Dot by dot an image is formed. This way of tattooing does take longer than more modern methods, but the result is well worth the wait. The delicate design definitely has a different look to it than a tattoo done with a tattoo machine. 

“While a tattoo machine moves up and down between 50-30,000 times per minute, a needle without electricity (depending on the artist’s experience), will produce approximately 50 pokes per minute,”

KTREW Tattoo
Hand Poked Plant Tattoo @kaya.y.punto

Hand poking harks back to the ancient days of tattooing. From Japanese tebori tattoos which involve needles attached to a long stick, to the ancient practice of Sak Yant in Cambodia, hand poked tattoos have a long history. 

“The hand-poke process originated from traditional forms of non-electric tattooing across cultures that were generally used in connection to community or religion; the single needle and ink process dates back as far as ancient Egypt as mummies were found to have intricate tattoos on their arms, shoulders, and abdomen,”


In recent decades, however, hand poked tattoos underwent a resurgence during the punk era of the 1970. With just a sewing needle and some ink, it was popular to do your own amateur tattoo.  

Hand Poked Heart Tattoo @lluviasarttt12

Are Hand Poked Tattoos More Painful Than Modern Tattoo Methods?

First thing’s first, pain is relative – we all have different pain thresholds. What’s super painful for one tattooee is only a bit uncomfortable for another. 

Generally, undergoing a hand poked tattoo is less painful than a modern machine tattoo. 

“In general it doesn’t hurt as much as a machine tattoo as it’s far less invasive, which means the skin heals much quicker too. However the pain often depends on the particular area being tattooed – some areas will hurt more than others. It does take longer than a machine tattoo; if your design is large it’ll most likely be split into sessions to make it more pleasurable for you and your artist!”

Hand Poked Neck Tattoo @martinagorozo.lab

Some of the most painful places to get tattooed include the spine, ribcage, knees, and ankles. Basically a good rule of thumb to follow is that if the area is boney with thin skin, getting a tattoo there will most likely be painful. This is because there isn’t a lot of fat or muscle to absorb the shock.  

If you’re a tattoo novice and want to start your body art journey by sticking your proverbial toe in the water, choosing a more fleshy tattoo placement could be considered a good move. 

Spots such as the forearm, bicep, and thigh are considered some of the least painful spots to get tattooed. 

Hand Poked Mountain Tattoo @z_hue

How Long Do Hand Poked Tattoos Last?

A hand poke tattoo is still a tattoo, which means that it’s permanent. However, they can fade quicker than machine-made tattoos. This is because it can be challenging to get the needle deep into the dermis layer of the skin. With a tattoo machine, the ink is deposited up to 2mm deep, past the epidermis. 

This is why it’s important to go to a tattoo artist that is experienced in this method of tattooing. They’re most likely able to get the ink deep enough into your skin than someone who isn’t experienced. 

Hand Poked Lotus Flower Tattoo @b_handpoked

“On average, a hand-poked tattoo can last anywhere between 5 and 10 years, if you’re lucky. If a tattoo is done by a professional tattoo artist and properly taken care of after, it can last up to 10 years,”

Saved Tattoo

So, while some aspects of your hand poked tattoo’s longevity depends on the experience level and care taken by the tattoo artist, a lot also depends on how you look after your ink. 

Hand Poked Cat Tattoo @poaks_

Do Hand Poked Tattoos Require Special Aftercare?

Not really. The aftercare for a stick and poke tattoo is much the same as with a machine-done design. 

Stick and Poke Tattoo recommends leaving a covering on your fresh ink for the first two to five hours, afterwards wash the tattoo with gentle soap and lukewarm water. 

Hand Poked Crescent Moon Tattoo @groovelinetattoo

Remember, your tattoo is basically a good looking open wound – it’s a great breeding ground for bacteria and infections. So, keeping it clean is a must. 

After washing, apply a fragrance free moisturiser to keep the area hydrated and let your tattoo breathe. 

A big pro of a hand poked tattoo is that it takes less time to heal than a machine-done tattoo. 

“Hand-poked tattoos often heal faster than machine tattoos because they tend to cause less trauma to skin. You can generally expect your hand-poked tattoo to be fully healed within 2-weeks time. That being said, everyone heals at a different rate, so don’t worry if your tattoo takes a bit longer,”

Liquid Amber Tattoo
Hand Poked Star Finger Tattoo @tatsontoast

However, is one of the cons to hand poked tattoos that you can’t have whatever tattoo design you want?

Are Tattoo Designs Limited With The Hand Poke Method?

While the majority of hand poked tattoos are delicate, mini tattoos, you aren’t that limited when it comes to tattoo designs. Shading can still be done, however any design with a lot of shading and details will take multiple sessions. 

If you want a colorful tattoo, you may need to save hand poking for another tattoo design.

“Colours can be used, although aren’t best suited to the method, a machine will give much better coverage. Many hand poke artists only use black and greys because of this.”

Hand poked Couple Tattoo @township31

The modern tattoo machine isn’t the only way to get inked. The world of hand poked tattoos is safe (provided you go to a reputable tattoo artist) and awe-inspiring. To learn more about ancient tattoo methods, click here.

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