The Difference Between ‘Stick-and-Poke’ Tattoos vs. Machine Tattoos (and Why It Matters)

The Difference Between ‘Stick-and-Poke’ Tattoos vs. Machine Tattoos (and Why It Matters)
Photo: Zamrznuti tonovi, Shutterstock

While machine tattooing is considered the norm in the tattoo industry, another tattooing technique — the “stick-and-poke” method — is becoming increasingly popular. There are some similarities and differences between the two types of tattooing methods to consider before getting inked, and knowing the finer points of both approaches should help you decide which method will work best for you (and the tattoo you plan on getting).

Stick-and-poke tattoos use a manual method

Stick-and-poke tattoos, also referred to as hand-poked tattoos, are done using a meticulous, manual method. The artist uses a traditional, sterilized needle, a grip, and body-safe ink to create the tattoo.

Stick-and-poke tattoos are achieved by repeatedly making a series of individual punctures in the skin. The punctures create small dots, which eventually create lines that turn into the larger image of whatever you’re getting tattooed.

Machine tattoos are faster

Tattoo machines (also called tattoo guns or tattoo pens) are small, handheld devices that use electromagnetic coils to move an armature bar up and down. A sterilized needle connected to the armature bar pushes the ink into the skin as it moves up and down. There are a few different types of tattoo machines, from rotary and coil machines to pneumatic tattoo machines. A tattoo gun often gives off a loud buzzing sound while the artist works. The machine has different settings that allow for the control of needle depth (how far it penetrates into the skin) and speed (how fast the armature bar moves up and down).

Should you get a stick-and-poke tattoo or a machine tattoo?

The main difference between the two methods is that stick-and-pokes do not use machinery; everything is done by hand. Think of it like getting your ear pierced — one could either use a needle to pierce a hole in the lobe or a piercing gun, but you’ll wind up with a pierced ear either way.

Because the artist is poking ink directly into the skin by hand, stick-and-pokes take much longer than machine tattoos. Some people, however, enjoy the lengthy process and feel more connected to the tattoo if it’s done using the stick-and-poke method.

According to tattoo artist Gemma Flack, because of the amount of time hand-tattooing takes, it might make more sense to chose a machine tattoo if your desired artwork includes a lot of thick lines and large patches of colour, or extremely fine detail that requires crispness and precision. Stick-and-poke, on the other hard, can be a good choice for artwork that is softer and requires less precision. It can also be a good choice for tattoos on small or awkward areas of the body, like your ears.

Which hurts more?

As long as proper sterilization and hygiene methods are used, stick-and-poke tattoos are just as safe as machine tattoos. Some even argue that stick-and-poke tattoos hurt much less than machine tattoos. It all depends on various factors, like your pain tolerance, the artist’s skill, the tattoo’s size, and if your artwork requires shading.

Some people create their own DIY stick-and-poke tattoo kits, but it’s much safer to purchase a stick-and-poke tattoo kit online, as they’re specifically designed for giving these types of tattoos.

Because tattoos are permanent, it’s always a good idea to visit an experienced tattoo artist who will give you the results you’re looking for. It costs more, but it’s worth the money for something that is going to live on your body forever, And whether you get a stick-and-poke or a machine tattoo, the artist should use sterile needles, follow standard hygienic practices, and work in a safe and clean environment.

Tattoo aftercare

While stick-and-pokes take longer, they typically heal much faster than machine tattoos — usually only taking one or two weeks to heal fully. They inflict less trauma on the skin than machine tattoos, so recovery is quicker. Machine tattoos can sometimes take upwards of three weeks to heal properly.

Either method requires the same amount and type of aftercare. It’s recommended that you listen to your tattoo artist’s instructions about how to care for your tattoo once it’s finished, but aftercare may involve leaving the tattoo covered for some time, then cleaning the tattoo two to three times a day using mild soap and water. It’s also a good idea to use a gentle moisturizer or Aquaphor, Vaseline, or another ointment to keep your tattoo from drying out or scabbing over.

Stick-and-poke tattoos have a bad reputation among some, but they’re just as safe as machine tattoos if done correctly. Before you let anyone near you with a needle, it’s wise to do some research into the method of tattooing that will fit your needs.

  

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