Dommy Sullivan


What You Need To Know Before Getting A Hand Poked Tattoo

Find out everything you need to know about getting your first hand poked tattoo, including the importance of trusting a professional artist.

Tattoos — whether completed by machine or hand — present a unique opportunity to turn your skin into a literal work of art. While the idea of wearing permanent art on your body is beautiful, there are a number of things you should consider before ever sitting down in the tattoo parlor chair. For those thinking about getting a hand poked tattoo, also know as stick 'n poke tattoos, NYLON turned to experts to find out everything you need to know about getting your first hand poked tattoo.

But before artists Kelly Thorn of Brooklyn's Welcome Home Studio and UK-based artist Dommy Sullivan dive into every detail of the application process, there is one thing that should probably be addressed right away. Despite the DIY-feeling often associated with the concept of hand poked tattoos, the experts agree that you shouldn't trust your friend or an amateur artist with giving you a tattoo. Beyond having to potentially deal with a blotchy constellation or some crooked text on your arm for, well, the rest of your life, serious skin and health consequences can occur when you or someone else that isn't a trained tattoo artist attempts to ink your skin. "Please go to an actual artist," Sullivan cautioned. "They’ll know what they’re doing and have proper hygiene and equipment. You’ll come out with a design you’re happy with rather than something that you might regret later on."

Before you schedule an appointment with a professional, here's everything you need to know about getting your first hand poked tattoo.

Research An Artist

It's important to find and decide on a tattoo artist that aligns with what you're envisioning for your ink. Sullivan suggests turning to Instagram, noting that many artists will use the social media platform as a place to share their work.

While completed tattoos are always worth admiring, Thorn said to look at the complete social media picture, including healed ink and accompanying work spaces in the background. Ensure that the artist's space is sanitary and that their tattoo license is displayed.

If a social media search doesn't yield results, Thorn recommends turning to friends, and in some cases, even strangers. "The best way to find a reputable artist, hand-poked or otherwise, is through word of mouth, by asking a friend where they got their tattoo that you like, asking the person in line in from of you where they got their tattoo. Some of my favorite clients have come to me this way, and it’s so nice to think of the web of friends and new acquaintances that I’ve tattooed," Thorn said.

Understand The Process

According to Thorn, there are differences between getting a regular tattoo and a hand poked tattoo. As for the overall inking process, she said that hand poked tattoos tend to hurt less and heal faster. "Although pain is completely subjective, they tend to hurt less because because the process is slow and quiet. They tend to heal faster because a it is less traumatic to the skin, as we form the line up of a dot next to a dot next to a dot, and because of this, they generally take longer to apply than an electric tattoo," she told NYLON.

In fact, the difference in pain and process can make hand poked tattoos a great option for your first choice of ink, Sullivan suggested. While hand poked tattoos can take longer to complete, the less intense application method can be somewhat gentler than an average tattoo process. "Hand poke is great for if you're a bit nervous about getting tattooed. As it’s just the needle being used without any electric machines, there’s no noise so it can be quite relaxing sometimes," Sullivan said. "I usually recommend going for an arm or leg placement if it’s your first tattoo, as the body tends to be a more painful spot for most people."

Prepare For Tattoo Aftercare

Just because the artwork is complete and the appointment is over doesn't mean your job is finished. Much like a machine tattoo, hand poke ink also requires aftercare. However, Sullivan and Thorn noted that healing time for a hand poked tattoo is typically quicker.

When it comes to caring for a hand poked tattoo, Thorn suggested daily washing and moisturizing. "The aftercare of a hand poked tattoo is a dream, especially if it’s mostly outlined," she said. "I use RXDerm, a sterile matte bandage that looks like it’s not even there, so you can still show it off (indoors and in the shade—no sunlight for 6 months and always use SPF after healed) while it’s healing."

Below, get a look at some of Thorn and Sullivan's work for possible ink inspiration.