Tattooing methods: hand poked and machine

Earlier this year I had the pleasure of going to a Tattoo Convention, and though it was in July, it was so awesome I remember it vividly. Seeing all the designs from artists across the UK (and a few from abroad), watching people get fresh ink, hearing the buzz of the machines – it’s like music to my ears. I was in awe. But what got me, was seeing people opt for hand poked (or stick ‘n’ poke) tattoos.

Hand poked tattoos are exactly how they sound – using a needle attached to a stick, ink is poked into the skin dot by dot to create the design desired. No electric tattooing. People seem to like that element, and it’s as safe and hygienic as a machine. Hand poking creates unique and beautiful body art, but it can be painful. When I saw a guy getting a mandala style tat from his neck down to his mid-back, I asked what it was like, and he responded, face bright red, “It’s a bit more painful, but it’ll be worth it.” I can’t vouch for it, I haven’t had one but his face spoke volumes. However, this does really all depend on where you are getting tattooed – placement is vital.

Little hand poked design by Grace Neutral.

The butterfly on my ribs wasn’t painful, it was ticklish actually. It ached afterwards for so long though, because it was sore, but once it healed, I was so proud of it.  My artist was as accurate as Clint Eastwood with his gun, free-handing all of the dotwork to create a perfect symmetry. That being said, my tiny thigh ones (Star Wars inspired) were troublesome when I was getting them done (in a questionable parlour), but afterwards I had no dull aches or pains. Everyone’s pain tolerance is different. When I got my butterfly (which I named Beryl), the artist recounted a guy who’d been a week or two before me getting a much larger piece on his left rib and cried at the pain. I was shocked, but it is just pain tolerance. Graphs, like the one below, try and tell you where hurts most – I really don’t think they’re accurate. They may be of use in helping decide where you’d place your art, though really only you can judge.


There may be a slight difference in time between a hand poked tattoo, and as I’ve mentioned, they are as safe and hygienic as those done with machines because tattooists are trained, equipped and take the right precautions in order to give you a design you’ll hopefully love forever. Before the 1890’s, people were getting inked in this way. That was until the idea of an electric tattooing “gun” came about (by Samuel O’Reilly who took Thomas Edison’s electric pen idea to develop a tattooing machine), it has obviously improved since then. Opposed to hand poking, a gun does offer different groups of needles – a group of three, but sometimes just one, for lines and a much larger amount for shading – and is better for coloured tattoos or those where you want even shading. I also just really love the buzz of them.

Traditional design done by Jordan Baxter with a machine at Black Garden Tattoo, London.

The main thing, whether you are considering a machine or hand poked tat, is to do your research and go to a professional. Tattoos are really not a DIY thing (unless you’re a tattooist) so go, have a chat to a pro in their parlour, discuss your ideas and the method you’d like to use and if they can’t help you, they will at least help you do find the right artist who can. Honest.

Here are some links that might help:
Needle information:

6 myths about hand poke tattoos:

You can follow Grace on Instagram at: graceneutral.
You can follow Black Garden Tattoo on Instagram at: blackgardentatto.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s