A Beginners Guide to Stick-and-Poke

Tattoos are one of the biggest forms of self-expression out there, and with the times changing to be more accepting of tatted people, ink is filling the skin of people all over the world faster than ever before. As a big fan of tattoos myself, I remember being 16 and wanting one soooo bad. So naturally, as one does, I decided to do it myself since I was underage. I ordered some ink and needles online, then my friend and I went to town on ourselves in a Subway parking lot, and then drove away with freshly inked fingers. Now going straight to your hands for tattooing is something I mildly advise against, just with it being such a visible place you run the risk of looking “unprofessional”, or even worse, you end up with a messed up tattoo right there on your hand, permanently. But this shouldn’t drive you away from doing your own ink. In this article I’d like to educate the reader on the art of stick-and-poke, and how to do it responsibly.  

Gathering Supplies 

When you 'Google' how to do a stick-and-poke tattoo, there are tons of DIY ways to make your materials. Some suggest tying a sewing needle to a pencil and then using pen ink to tattoo yourself and various variations on this method. Personally, I would advise against this though. You really have to remember that what you’re doing is permanent, and while it may be easier to grab a pencil and a sewing needle, I suggest getting some slightly more professional tools. eBay is a great place to find tattoo needles and is where I have gotten all of mine, though before you order any old needle, do some research on the different types. They vary from round, flat, curved, stacked, etc. and all have different purposes. Since stick-and-poke implies that you’ll just be stabbing yourself repeatedly, I recommend using round liner needles. Round needles come in multiple different sizes and can be identified by looking for 7RL needles (7 refers to the number of points soldered into a circle). The bigger the number the bigger the dot the needle will leave when pressed into the skin. Be sure to do your own research when buying your needles as to specify that you’re getting exactly what you’ll need to execute your design the best.  

So now that you’ve picked your needles, next is ink. Tattoo ink comes in many colors, allowing you to get real fun with it. There are plenty of different brands, with most of them being available on eBay as well. Personally, I use the Black Buddha Ink. Again, coming in many different colors, and with my oldest stick-and-poke being close to three years old, I can attest that even on the inside of your finger it holds up quite well.  

Last but not least, you’re going to need sanitation and aftercare supplies. For sanitation, rubbing alcohol works just fine. Use that and cotton balls to keep your skin clean while tattooing and to make sure no bacteria gets in the way of your art. Just a heads up, this process is not super clean. You will most likely get ink on your skin and if you’re not careful, on your clothes as well. So, make sure to wear old clothing and know that even if the ink has stained your skin post-tat, it will wash off after a shower or two. As far as aftercare is involved, all you’ll need is a good moisturizer. Be sure that it is non-scented as to not irritate the skin and provides very good hydration. The best for that is Aquaphor by far, yet any basic lotion will work.  

Choosing Your Design 

There are tons of super cute stick-and-pokes out there, and one search on Pinterest will show you that. But when picking your design, please keep your skill level in mind. While something may look super cool on someone else, you need to be sure that you can recreate that on yourself with confidence. Stick-and-poking is tedious work, and even a tiny design can take a while. I recommend going with something simple and easy for your first one, and possibly in a space with low visibility in case, you mess up. Which is a definite possibility if you’re new to stick-and-poking. For sure, pick whatever you want, but always keep in mind that this is a real tattoo so you would treat the decision just as you would if you were going to a shop. Put some thought into it and only put it on your body if you truly love it.  

Stick-and-Poke Time 

You’ve done your research on needles and ink, acquired your supplies, picked your design and are now ready to tattoo. Before you make the first dot, be sure your work area is clear, clean, and all of your materials are prepared. Clean the skin where you want to tattoo to be with rubbing alcohol and if you want, sketch out the design with a sharpie. This creates a nice guide for you to go off, but as you continually rub at it with the rubbing alcohol, it will come off. Next, take a needle out of its packaging (note: all needles should come individually wrapped in sterile packaging) and pour some ink into a container (note: you need less than you think, pour sparingly, you can always add more). Instead of traditional machine tattooing, you’re not dragging the needle against your skin, you’re pressing decently hard for each dot. So, I suggest putting a small dot onto your leg or something just to practice how much pressure you’ll need when you do the design. Yes, the dot does stay, but the one I have on my leg is super tiny and I personally find endearing. A good rule of thumb I use for pressure is to make sure it hurts, cause if it doesn't it’s not going into your skin. And when you pull the needle out it should have a small “pop” of it coming out of your skin. That’s how I tell if I actually got below the skin. There are no set pressure rules, but use common sense to make sure you’re not pressing harder than necessary, which can cause your lines to bleed. 

Now that you’ve got your first drop of ink in your skin, tattoo away! Stick-and-pokes are super fun to do with friends and I find have a lot of sentiment because you did it yourself which personally, I think is super cool. You may have to go over areas multiple times, and maybe take a few days to complete something if the pain is too high. That’s totally ok though because it gives you time to really look at the tattoo and make any adjustments you want to along the way.  

Aftercare 

Congrats! You now have a new tattoo that is all your own. Whether it’s perfectly done and looks practically professional, or has a few quirks where you learned from your mistakes, your body now has new art. Of course, since you just worked so hard on your piece you want it to last, so that’s where aftercare comes in. After your last poke, give the whole area a good rub down with rubbing alcohol. Then take your moisturizer of choice and coat that baby. Rubbing alcohol is super drying and you want your fresh ink to be as hydrated as possible. Optionally, you can also wrap saran wrap around the tattoo, over the lotion for extra protection, though this is purely up to you. As days pass, make sure you are consistently moisturizing your tattoo, at least twice a day. This ensures that it will heal the best and with the best pigment.  

All in all, that’s about all it takes to give yourself your very own stick-and-poke tattoo. A great alternative for someone who wants something small but doesn't want to pay full shop prices. Of course, they’re not dupes for professional work, as the price reflects the quality you’re getting if you go to a tattoo parlor. And stick-and-pokes are incredibly affordable comparatively. I hope you enjoy your new ink if you use this guide, and welcome to the stick-and-poke community.