The Ultimate Guide to Hand Poke Tattoos

Hand poke tattoo

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Main image by Ellie of @sharp_pokes

Thinking about getting a hand poke tattoo? Here's what you need to know about how much hand poke tattoos hurt, how long they last, costs and aftercare.

What is a hand poke tattoo?

Full sleeves, half sleeves, dot work, realism… just when you thought you were familiar with the common types of ink and their processes, you come across the intricate art of hand-poked tattoos.

Also known as stick and poke or machine-free tattoos, there’s a certain rebellious, DIY feel about this type of tattoo, which some attribute to punks and prisoners scratching into their peer’s skin with household needles and ink.

But what exactly is a hand poke tattoo?

Hand poke tattoo designImage: Tattoo by Ellie of @sharp_pokes

The process behind hand poke tattoos

Hand poke tattoos are created without a machine. Instead, a tattoo needle is dipped in ink and then poked into the skin dot by dot.

While the process may sound pretty rustic, professional hand poke artists work in an environment just as sterile as everyday licensed tattoo studios.

“I think my favourite thing about hand poke tattoos is that the process is brought back to basics and feels organic and natural without the use of machines or electricity. The environment feels peaceful and relaxing”, explains Ellie of @sharp_pokes, a hand poke specialist based in Dorset.

Hand poke tattoo designs

Weighing up a hand poke vs. machine tattoo? A common misconception about hand-poked tattoo designs is that they need to be simple, monochrome dot work. And it’s true, the method does lend itself to that aesthetic.

Especially because the artist will create the image with a series of dots rather than a continuous line. However, experienced tattooists can imitate the likes of bold lines, colour and shading, all with years of perfecting the magic of the stick and poke technique.

Where can I get a hand poke tattoo?

From Liverpool to London and Dorset to Dublin, there are lots of hand poke tattoo artists dotted around the UK and beyond. It’s always important to do your research and find an artist who specialises in the style.

In terms of where on your body, tattoos can be hand poked in the same areas of skin as an electric tattoo machine.

In fact, because they can be more durable than regular tattoos, certain areas such as fingers can benefit from this approach.

Hand poke tattoo designImage: Tattoo by Ellie of @sharp_pokes

How long do hand poke tattoos last?

Just like machine tattoos, stick and poke tattoos are permanent. The ink is deposited to the second layer of the skin in the same way and, if not taken care of, can fade just the same too.

Some people opt for hand-poked tattoos on high traffic areas such as hands, as they have the potential to last longer on some skin.

While other people will find that the delicate technique can look lighter from the start, due to be being made up of tiny dots.

How long do hand poke tattoos take?

As with most manual art forms, hand poke tattoos take a little longer than their electric counterpart. This is because they're carefully crafted by hand, with some areas needing repeat work to intensify the lines or shading as required.

Do hand poke tattoos hurt more?

Since some areas will need the needle to go over the skin twice, this arguably makes them hurt a little more. However, they shouldn’t be any more painful than a machine tattoo, and sometimes the delicate process can feel more gentle than the electric method.

Hand poke tattoing

How hand poke tattoos heal

Most hand poked tattoos take around two weeks to heal, like any other tattoo. However in the same way a nose piercing with a needle might heal quicker than one with a gun, the less skin trauma there is, often the quicker the recovery.

"I was drawn to hand poke because it's a much gentler way of tattooing. I find it very therapeutic. Because it's so gentle, it settles down into the skin much faster and easier. I find I can be more precise with certain designs and also placements, like ears for example. I love the effect you can get with it too," shares hand poke tattoo artist Kelly of @kellyneedles in Leeds.

"It does take a lot longer than machine tattoos but I think because it's so gentle and the whole process and healing is calmer, it's totally worth it."

Hand poke tattoo aftercare

Looking after your beautiful new hand poke tattoo is very much like any other; keeping your tattoo clean, nourished and free from inflammation.

Among the latest tattoo skincare lines from Stories & Ink, we recommend the Tattoo Aftercare Duo, which features everything you need for the first few weeks of healing.

What’s more, they’re 100% natural, dermatologically-tested, fragrance free, hypoallergenic, vegan-friendly and suitable for all skin types.

Should I give myself a hand poke tattoo?

Unless you’re an experienced stick-and-poke tattooist, the short answer is probably not. We wouldn’t recommend a DIY tattoo and always leave the professionals to it.

Hand poke tattoo artists we love

Wondering where to get a hand poke tattoo near you? We’ve compiled some of our favourite hand poke tattoo artists.

So whether you’re thinking of a particular design or need some inspiration, check out the hand poke artists we’re lusting after, as well as the popular hashtags #handpokedtattoo, #handpoke and #handpoked.

1. @Sharp_pokes 


2. @kellyneedles 


3. @megansancheztattoo 


4. @cathpillingtattoo 


5. @handpoked_gelfwai


6. @she_shan_yu 

7. @slowpokes_

The history of hand poke tattoos

One of the original forms of tattoo, the first known hand and poke designs are said to have originated as far back as the Egyptians.

So, despite connotations of teenagers at parties getting giddy with a homemade hand poke kit (or just things they could find around the house), it truly is a traditional body modification.

As well as 5000-year-old mummies adorned with the likes of dots, dashes, nature and geometrical patterns, "one of the earliest tattoos in the world was discovered on the frozen remains of Otzi the Iceman, who was buried in a glacier on the Austrian-Italian border c. 3250 BCE. Otzi's body has 61 tattoos covering him from his lower legs to his upper back, torso, and left wrist." - Joshua J. Mark, World History Encyclopedia.

Hand poke tattoos also have roots in Japan, known as tebori, which translates as "hand carving". Dating back to the pre-electric Edo period (1603-1868), this Japanese method uses a wooden or metal rod to push ink gently into the skin.