Updated: Oct 12
Every time I ask a customer if they know what to expect from getting a hand poked tattoo, they usually respond saying they don’t know. This article should hopefully serve as a guide to getting a hand poked tattoo. I won’t go into too much detail about the history of tattooing but it’s useful to know some:
Before electricity and tattoo machines were invented, tattoos were created using a variety of tools and methods. Countries like the Philippines, Samoa, Japan, New Zealand to name but a few, had their own methods of tattooing. The northern part of the Philippines used thorn, soot mixed with water and bamboo instruments to create skin art and they still practice this today as part of their culture and to serve tourists.
The oldest tattoo artist to date at 103 years of age is called Whang-Od from the Philippines. She’s one of the most famous tattoo artists in the world and if you want to learn more about Whang-Od and the hand-tapping method she uses, head over to: https://www.ktrewtattoo.com/post/5-best-tattoo-documentaries-to-watch-online
Now that we know that hand poked tattoos did not originate in prison (common misconception), here are some of the most frequently asked questions in regards to this method:
How long does it take to get a Hand Poked tattoo?
It generally takes much longer than a machine. Because no electricity is used, the hand poked artist literally uses a needle and their hand to deposit ink under your skin. 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. It is vital that you do not rush your tattoo artist if you want to get a good quality tattoo. Reserve a day dedicated to your appointment just in case, as it’s nothing like getting a haircut or your nails done. If you’re generally impatient whilst getting tattooed, this method might not be right for you so don't rush to book in for one.
Why do people get Hand Poked tattoos?
People get hand poked tattoos for its style and method. Most people get their first tattoo using this method as it is less invasive and relatively hurts less than a tattoo machine, while some people simply like the look of them. I have had customers tell me that they like the method as it’s peaceful and quite therapeutic and some of them had even fallen asleep whilst getting tattooed; they were that relaxed! While it’s less invasive and relaxing, it’s also a slow process so you need to be super patient to get the best results.
Do they hurt?
It will be a needle being poked in under your skin repeatedly so yes it will hurt. However, it shouldn’t hurt as much as a tattoo done with a machine. It will also depend on which part of the body you’re getting tattooed. Ribs for instance, will hurt more than your forearm. Wherever is sensitive or skin is relatively thin and quite close to the bone, it will hurt a bit more but should be absolutely bearable. If you have survived stubbing your toe whilst walking past that damn chair, you’ll survive hand poked tattoos.
How long do they last?
Hand poked tattoos are permanent as the ink is deposited into the second layer of the skin, just as a tattoo machine would do. How well they age will depend on how you look after your tattoo. Just like tattoos done using a tattoo machine, they will fade over time and will need touch ups or topping up to maintain them.
Is it a method or a style?
It is both. No tattoo machines are used, only a needle and the artist’s hand are required. If you look at hand poked tattoos closely, they consist of tiny dots, instead of smoother lines. Depending on the style your hand poked artist is going for, sometimes you'll see bigger gaps in between the dots and those are intentional. If you want super smooth lines, definitely opt for a machine tattoo. There are many examples of hand poked tattoos on the web, particularly on Pinterest if you want to get an idea appearance-wise. I also have a portfolio here and via Instagram under @pokeyhontastattoo
Is it cheaper to get a hand poked tattoo?
Although no electricity is used, the price is around the same as a normal tattoo. It definitely requires more time and effort from the artist and prices will
depend on the size and how much detail you want. You’ll find that prices are probably cheaper if you’re getting work done by an apprentice as they build a portfolio.
Are Stick and Poke tattoos the same as Hand Poked tattoos?
Yes they are. Some artists prefer to be called Hand-poked Artists rather than Stick and Poke Tattooer/Tattooist/Tattoo Artist. It’s all down to personal preference but the method and style are the same.
Can you get a hand poked realistic portrait of David Beckham?
I haven’t seen anybody do this yet and I don’t think it would look good unless you’re after a stipple effect. It would be better to get a realism tattoo done using a machine if you want smooth gradient shading. The human hand simply cannot imitate the movements of a machine at the same speed and accuracy. It would also take far longer to finish a tattoo this size without electricity. There are also many different types of shading that a hand with a needle simply cannot achieve at the same pace, until bionic arms get invented solely for this purpose in year 3000, when not much has changed but we live under water.
I hope I’ve covered most of the questions surrounding hand poked tattoos but if you have more questions, please do not hesitate to get in touch.
If you would like to book in for one, I do both custom and flash designs. I have some designs on offer via Instagram under @pokeyhontastattoo. I’m based at KTREW Tattoo studio in Birmingham, UK.
Thank you for reading!