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Stick and poke tattoos are a popular way to get inked on the cheap. The good news is that they can be done by anyone that follows the necessary safety instructions.
The problem is that beginners often don’t do them properly which can lead to infection, among other concerns. In this guide we aim to show you how to do a stick and poke tattoo safely step by step. Read on to find out what you need to avoid when giving yourself a stick and poke.
1. Choose a Place for the Tattoo
First choose a placement for your stick poke tattoo. It can go almost anywhere as long as it’s and make sure it’s not near a mucous membrane, abrasion or sores.
2. Design your tattoo
Create or find a simple design online that you really like and that you are able to simple-line draw. If you need some inspiration, check here.
3. Get the Appropriate Supplies
The most crucial step is to gather the appropriate tattoo supplies. Here’s what you’ll need:
- Tattoo ink
- Tattoo needles
- Disposable plastic gloves
- Rubbing alcohol
- Make up remover pads
- Clean surface area
Tattoo needles and ink are very important of course. It doesn’t hurt to have several medical supplies to safely deal with minor injuries inherent in all tattooing. Finally, it is crucial that you invest in the correct after care supplies, to prevent long term damage and make the tattoo last for a long time.
Just because stick and pokes are cheap that doesn’t mean you should skimp on quality. A variety of tattoo materials like inks, are not regulated by the FDA. This results in a lot of cheaply produced and unsanitary products being on the market. It is good to know what ink brands are good for stick and pokes.
4. Prepare the Space and Skin Area
- Create a flat and clean surface for all the stick and poke tattoo equipment. Use a small box or sharps container for the used needles.
- Prepare the skin you’ll be tattooing by first washing it with water and soap and then shaving it using a disposable razor.
- Always wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water before starting your tattoo. Put on latex gloves.
- Shake the ink bottle and pour the chosen colour of ink into a sterile container, like a mini glass jar or cap. You can mix ink colours, even diluting inks for a lighter effect.
- Use an alcohol wipe to clean the skin around the area meant for the tattoo.
In order to prepare for your body for a tattoo, you should drink large amounts of fluids and avoid alcohol and drug use. This is because it severely dehydrates your body and may have a detrimental effect on your tattoo. Try to be sober in preparation of your tattoo.
If you have any allergies, you can always test an area of your skin by poking in some ink to see if you have a reaction.
5. Transfer the design
- Apply the stencil on the skin using appropriate stencil transfer gel.
- Allow the stencil to dry for 5-10 minutes. If the stencil was applied incorrectly, quickly wipe it away and apply the same stencil again. You can reuse the same stencil a few times.
Ideally, you should use stencil paper or a tattoo pen. A normal pen is not safe as the risk of infection is higher. Regardless of the type of pen you go with, don’t ever use the same pen across different people.
When tracing with a pen, it might be tempting to stretch the skin when tracing, but that will likely mess up your tattoo design when the skin shrinks back to normal.
Take advantage of tracing to see how your stick and poke tattoo will look from different angles. Don’t hesitate to go back to the drawing board. Slight improvements can make the difference between tattoos you’ll regret and ones that look great.
Related: How to use tattoo transfer paper
6. Start Tattooing
With every tattoo that you do, your experience will grow. This is part of the process. Regardless, there are many examples of beginner’s that have created beautiful, well performed tattoos.
It might be helpful to position your original sketch alongside the tattoo stencil, as a useful way to ensure you are correctly following the right design. Sometimes things can get a little messy while you are tattooing, therefore any notes about special effects (like variation in needle sizes or colour) on your drawing will help you remain focused on what you intended to do.
- Dip the tip of the needle into the ink so as to coat it above the cluster of needle tips. This will create an ink reserve and allow for a less frequent need to dip into the ink again.
- Carefully and gently press the needle into the skin so that the ink begins to get deposited within the skin’s layers. It is crucial to remember that you are not trying to penetrate fully through the skin, but barely into the skin. Start out lightly and assess how much ink stays in the skin after you wipe it. There should be a slight tug as you withdraw the needle. There should be very little blood, although the skin will ooze a plasma which is normal.
- Keep repeating these steps. As you poke along the stencilled line it’s optional to take a break. Any exposed ink left on the needle or in the jar may dry up. If this happens, you can add distilled water to re-hydrate.
Note: Don’t apply too much pressure or it could cause tattoo blowout
7. During the Tattoo
The area and stencil line will probably become obscured with ink and plasma. Ensure that you wipe this away using a sanitary cloth. Professional tattoo artists use blue mechanic shop towels, however we strongly recommend a sterile multi-fibre cloth for maximum absorption and hygeine. After each time you wipe, apply a thin layer of aftercare balm onto the tattoo in order to keep the area clear for longer, it does a good job of containing the mess for a few more pokes.
It is very important to check that the depth of your poking is correct. The skin may bleed, however it should not bleed any more than a few drops of blood in total. The stick and poke, (hand poke) method is much easier on the skin than a regular tattoo machine, however it is possible that you may overdo it when using the stick and poke method as well. In order to not do this, try to avoid going over the same small area too many times with a several pointed needle.
Finish your desired tattoo, to the extent that pain and skin inflammation allow for. Remember, you can always give it time to heal and then revisit the tattoo to fill in any gaps and make any tweaks. It is common for ink to “fall out” of the skin unexpectedly and a later touch-up session on the tattoo is sometimes necessary.
Cleaning up the equipment carefully and hygienically is crucial. Human blood that has been left on a needle can be extremely dangerous. Please ensure that you put your needle in a sharps box, or a plastic bottle with a screwed-on top for safe travel to a needle disposal site. Make doubly sure to place all of your materials, wipes, ink jar, gloves, etc. into one seal-able bag (or box) and attach a label to this that states; “HAZARDOUS WASTE.”
Clean your work space with a bleach-water solution and thoroughly wash your hands with warm soapy water. Blood borne pathogens like HIV and Hepatitis C are real killers, that can easily spread with an accidental or unintended needle poke.
WARNING: If the skin of the person getting the tattoo becomes puffy or changes colour, it may be possible that you are having a bad reaction. Stop immediately and consult a doctor.
8. Dispose the tools
- Safely dispose of all the used tools. Carefully put the needles inside a sharps container. Ask your local pharmacies and/or hospitals for more information, as every country has its own laws.
- Remove the latex gloves by pinching the wrist area on one glove and pull to turn it inside-out half way. Then with clean side exposed, pinch the other wrist and pull until both gloves are inside-out. Then, add the gloves to the box.
- Write “Biohazard”on the box and throw it to the trash bin.
- Wash your hands thoroughly and clean the surfaces in the area with a bleach-water solution.
Stick and poke tattoos need aftercare just like conventional ones. Check our Proper Stick and Poke Tattoo Aftercare post.
Must Do Steps:
- Wear clean clothing.
- Make sure you wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water before starting.
- Use disposable ink-caps.
- Wear a fresh pair of disposable gloves while tattooing.
- Pour each color into its own, new ink cap.
- Use a hand sanitizer and change your gloves before continuing work on your tattoo if you have taken a break.
- Use puncture-resistant containers (also known as sharps containers) to dispose of the needles (they usually look like the red or yellow ones you see in a doctor’s office).
- Use a professional, sterile tattoo needle. Beware of low quality made-in-china tattoo needles. Be careful not to poke yourself on the sharp tip.
Never Do This:
- Reuse needles. They must be sterile, used once and thrown out.
- Reuse any tattoo equipment, unless of course, it has been properly cleaned or sterilized.
- Allow people to put needles directly into ink bottles. Single disposable ink caps should be used for each person.
- If you have concerns or questions about a tattoo, don’t proceed.
We hope that our ultimate guide to giving yourself a stick and poke tattoo helped out. If you have any questions let us know in the comments below.