In good hands: hand-poke tattoos

An ancient and traditional method, hand-poke tattooing offers a more relaxing and intimate experience compared to traditional machine tattooing. Yes, you read that right, relaxing! Stick ‘n’ poke can also be a lot less painful, so much so I even fell asleep during one hand-poke tattoo session on my knee ditch. Armed with a single needle and ink, hand-poke brings a level of intimacy and connection that’s hard to find in our technologically charged world. But don’t take my word for it, read the experiences of hand-poke creators and wearers alike.

Kelly Needles, vegan tattoo artist in Leeds –

“After originally learning to use a machine, when I moved onto hand-poke it immediately felt more natural to me. Perhaps because I am very tactile, I especially enjoy tattooing small designs, ears and fingers, and I personally can't imagine doing it with a machine.”

“The actual tattooing part is gentle pokes into the skin, dot by dot, to make the final design. I use either a hand-poke tool, or a grip tape wrapped needle. As it's a lot gentler on the skin it tends to heal nicer and faster (no big scabs or itchiness!). Mostly I find the experience more personal, perhaps that's due to the tender, calm and quiet process of getting hand-poked.”

Kelly Needles

Millie, owner of LolaRose&Coco

“What I love most about hand-poking is the quiet! Being hard of hearing, it's difficult to have conversations over the loud buzz of a machine and, for me at least, that's a big element of being able to relax during tattooing. I have 14 hand-poked tattoos and they were all so much more enjoyable and much less painful because I was able to ask the artist about themselves and just generally relax in ways that are made difficult with machines.”

“I currently have a lot more plans for tattoos than I have time for, but for now I have a selection of dots, runes, and constellations on my fingers. My favorite piece is between my breasts on my sternum that reads 'one bad witch'. I got that one on Halloween last year as it's my favorite holiday! I’m super excited to add more to my hand-poke collection.”

One Bad Witch Millie's tattoo by Mike Love

Jenn, hand-poke artist in Toronto –

“I love doing hand-poke tattoos! Hand-poking is slower than machine tattooing and I really appreciate the time I get to spend with my clients. I love how deliberate each dot is. It's so satisfying to see an artwork emerge one dot at a time. I like how hand-poking has a super minimal setup and a very direct connection between my hand and the client's skin.”

“Hand-poked tattoos tend to be much gentler, I've had clients compare the sensation to plucking hairs. The experience of receiving one is extra peaceful since you don't have the buzz of the machine either. There is also a misconception that handpoked tattoos fade away faster or aren't as good quality as machine tattoos, which is also false! They're just as permanent and can heal just as beautifully as machine tattoos. “

Jenn Mellow Pokes

Shreya, hand-poke tattooer in India –

“I saw friends in college give each other hand-poke tattoos at parties and I'd always wished that we had this culture in India, too. The first hand-poke tattoo I gave was to my boss, Cara, around three years ago in New York. We both tattooed each other that day and it was such an exhilarating experience, being total newbies we might have poked each other a bit deeper than needed but we got the hang of it. Now I have taught over 150 people in India the craft of hand-pokes, with workshops and selling DIY kits. I am more than happy to lend them my body to practice tattoos!”


This article is written by Rosalie Hurr, who is the editor of Things&Ink magazine.

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Have you ever wandered about what the significance of where you put your tattoo, or how much it hurts? Read our article on placement and pain.