Handpoked Tattoos aka The Stick and Pokes

The back-to-basics tattooing technique may court controversy, but this pro says it’s safe and less painful than machine inking.

  • What is Handpoked Tattoos?
  • How Long Do Handpoked Tattoos Last?
  • Does Handpoked Tattoo Generally Hurt More or Less?
  • Are Handpoked Tattoos Better?

What is Handpoked Tattoos?

Handpoked tattoos which is also known as stick and pokes tattoos or machine-free tattoos, are designs that are created manually. Rather than the tattoo artist using a rotary or coil machine to insert the ink into the skin, handpoking tattoo is done by attaching a needle to a rod-shaped element, like a pencil, to create an analog tattoo machine. They are less invasive, less painful, and “less intimidating” than a machine-done tattoo.

How Long Do Handpoked Tattoos Last?


On average, a hand-poked tattoo can last anywhere between 5 and 10 years. If a tattoo is done by a professional tattoo artist and properly taken care of after, it can last up to 10 years, for sure. However, if a tattoo is done by an inexperienced tattooist or an amateur, you’re looking at 5 years max.

Does Handpoked Tattoo Generally Hurt More or Less?

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Handpoke generally hurts less, but also takes longer so In general it doesn’t hurt as much as a machine tattoo as it’s far less invasive, which means the skin heals much quicker too. However the pain often depends on the particular area being tattooed – some areas will hurt more than others. It does take longer than a machine tattoo; if your design is large it’ll most likely be split into sessions to make it more pleasurable for you and your artist.

Are Handpoked Tattoos Better?

The main differences between machine tattooing and handpoke are the time, the pain level and the aesthetic. With machine tattooing the machine is driving the needle super fast, making tiny dots very close together which gives clean & smooth lines. With hand-poke, there is no machine and the tattooer is pushing (‘poking’) the needle by hand, making a series of dots to create the line.

Machine works best for:

Bigger and more complex pieces
Large areas of black or colour
Clean lines and bold colour
Very small pieces if they have super fine detail

Handpoked works best for :

Small and simple pieces
S soft and gentle imperfect aesthetic
Black & grey, or small patches of colour
Small and fiddly placements like the fingers or ears

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While handpoking is a return to the origins of tattooing, the designs aren’t necessarily minimal or basic themselves; some may look “handmade.” But there are artists whose hand poked art almost looks like it was done by a machine. It’s best to find the best tattoo artist in this tattoo style whose portfolio you like first to ensure your stick-and-poke looks exactly how you want it.