I am putting this together because I love handpoking and I love the culture that springs up around it, and I want to help the curious and interested followers of my blog have the best DIY tattoo that they can get. Handpoking is the oldest form of tattooing! People were handpoking before they built churches or learned to write.
The fact of the matter is, you are going to do whatever the hell you want to do. I offer the following information only in the hope of spreading knowledge to you in an attempt to help you do the best stick and poke tattoo that you can do. if you’re going to do something, I encourage you to do it well by applying a willingness to devote at least a minimal amount time and energy into learning something about said skill.
Acquire the proper tools, PRACTICE before you poke, and above all else, BE CLEAN when you tattoo yourself and others. Don’t reuse needles. Don’t reuse ink. Wear fucking gloves. Dispose of your needles in the safest way you can manage. This will help minimize the risk of infection and decrease the spreading of blood borne pathogens.
I recommend that you order, from the internet, real tattoo needles that would normally be used in a machine, instead of making your own, but I will go over making your own rounds below, as well. You can get needles from any number of tattoo supply websites and even amazon has them. Tattoo needles are the best option because they come pre-sterilized and deliver crisp lines when used with skill.
In case you have never seen a tattoo needle, here is a picture.
As you can see, a tattoo needle is a long rod with a grouping or cluster of pins on the end. These groupings of needles come in different sizes and shapes, depending on how many needles are grouped together or what configuration the needles make when pushing ink into the skin. There are liner needles and shader needles, rounds and flats.
See that blue dot? That blue dot means the needle is sterile. If there is no blue dot, or the packaging is open, throw the needle away.
For handpoking, I recommend round liners. Liner needles come in different numbers, depending on how many needles make up the formation. There are 3RL, which is a grouping of three needles in a circular formation, followed by 5RL, 7RL, 9RL and 11RL.
It is good to have some popsicle sticks to tape your needle to, this makes it easier to work with.
Hand making a round liner
So, maybe you live somewhere where just ordering needles isn’t an option. Maybe you’re on the road. Maybe you’re locked up. I will be frank and say making your own rounds out of sewing needles isn’t clean, and isn’t something I recommend. Unfortunately just boiling something isn’t enough to make it sterile, and burning the tip of the sewing needle isn’t a good idea either. That said, I have like 9 handpoked tattoos, and none of them became infected, and some of them were administered with homemade round liners using sewing needles. I opted to take that risk.
Ultimately, the choice is yours to make, and the risk is yours to take. There will always be some risk associated with this practice, but by being as clean as you can, you can minimize that risk.
Making a homemade round liner is easy to do badly. You have to be careful to get the needles flush with one another when you are making your round. The needles need to be flush so they’re not poking in at different depths.
You will need at least three (3) “clean” sewing needles, duct or masking tape, thread, and a pencil.
Fig. 1. Take a long piece of masking tape and put all three of your needles about ¼th down the sticky side of the tape, close to one end of the tape, sharp points of the needle up. It is EXTREMELY IMPORTANT that all three of your needles be level as you can get them. (lol they’re not level in the diagram, sorry)
Fig. 2. Fold the end of the tape over, securing the needles in place.
Fig. 3. Carefully wrap the rest of the tape around the end of the pencil so the needle tips are about 2/3rd of an inch above the eraser.
4. Take a long piece of sewing thread and wind it around the needles, starting around the bottom and working tightly up. If you are using india ink, you will want to wrap your thread all the way up until only a centimeter or two of the needle are showing, essentially the very tip of the needle. You will use the thread as a wick for your india ink. Bind the needles so tightly that the row of three needles becomes bundled into a round formation.
I find that if I am using tattoo ink, I do not need to use the thread as a wick, I just dip often.
Wind the thread back down and secure with a bit of tape.
There you have it, a handmade 3RL.
Handmade Liner FAQ
Why do I need to use 3 needles? Can’t I just use one?
You could use just one needle but you’d have to poke three times as much to make your lines solid. Using three needles instead of one makes each poke more efficient and productive.
Isn’t that going to hurt?
Yes, but not as much as you’d think. When you are tattooed with a machine, your tattooist is not using a single needle.
What happens if I do use just one needle?
Over-poking an area can lead to scarring, blown out ink, and potential infection (a tattoo is an open wound), and when you use just one needle you have to poke the design in many, many more times over.
Can I use a safety pin?
NO! Safety pins have barbed ends that will literally tear up your skin.
Can I use a piercing needle?
Piercing needles are hollow and are not recommended for tattooing.
Can I use a needle more than once?
NO. Throw it away in a drink container or empty beer can, or take it to a sharps container.
Can I share a tattoo needle with someone?
NO. Aside from being a great way to infect yourself with someone elses’ blood borne pathogens, it also dulls the needle.
As with tattoo needles, it is my opinion that you should use tattoo ink for your handpoking, as it is specially designed to be poked into human skin to make images. It’s vibrancy and lasting power compared to water soluble pigment based india ink can’t be beat. I personally prefer Intenze black ink for my tattoos, but there are other good brands as well. Don’t be tempted by the inexpensiveness of brands like Scream or Prizm, they don’t cost very much because they fucking suck.
If tattoo ink is simply not available to you, a WATER SOLUBLE PIGMENT BASED INDIA INK will work. Speedball or Higgins are the two trusted brands of india ink that work well for stick and pokes.
Don’t use toothpaste and markers. Don’t use ball point pen ink. Don’t use paint, or lipstick, or crayon, or ash and piss like you’re in prison. Don’t use mascara, or eyeliner, or sharpie. None of these things are designed for tattooing and will increase your risk of scarring, infection and possibly even blood poisoning.
The options are: tattoo ink or water soluble pigment based india ink. India ink is 4$ in most places and you can get it at Walmart. Make it work.
Since you’re hopefully already ordering needles and ink, you should also order plastic caps that you can put ink into when you tattoo. If you aren’t, I would use a soda bottle cap that has been cleaned for at least two minutes with soap and extremely hot water and then rinsed for an equally long period.
Can I reuse ink once it’s in the cap?
Can I use anything other than tattoo ink or india ink?
So, you have your needles and you have ink. What now?
Before you tattoo someone, or yourself, even, I would encourage you to buy an orange or two and practice poking them. Practice straight lines over the curved surface of the orange. Remember that human bodies are curved and rounded in most places, and not a flat paper canvas. Get a feel for it. Granted, poking an orange will be different than poking yourself, and definitely different than poking someone else, but basically anyone who wants to poke a tattoo should relegate themselves to the extremely minimal practice and experience of tattooing an orange or two.
Tattoo ink only needs to be poked into the first few (3 or 4) layers of the dermis. If you poke too deeply, you will poke ink into your subcutaneous fat layer which causes the ink to spread under the skin. This is what is referred to as ‘blow out’. After you have poked some oranges, and you are ready to poke yourself, remember this.
When poking at the right depth, you should feel a bit of a springy pop- that is the feeling of the needle poking through those first few layers of dermis. This will signify that you need not poke any deeper. You will know you are poking deep enough, but not too deep. Once you feel that pop, pull the round back out.
DON’T FORGET TO WEAR GLOVES. This is super important, especially if you tattoo someone other than yourself. Even the smallest cut or scratch on your fingers or hand, even an angry hangnail being left open can expose you to a host of shitty diseases that you don’t want to infect yourself with. Just because someone says they’re clean doesn’t mean that they are.
If you would wear a condom during sex, you should wear gloves when tattooing.
When tattooing myself, I use witchhazel to wipe the ink away with, it is soothing and works well for me personally. You can get green soap from amazon.com as easily as you can get needles or ink.
So You’ve practiced. You have your needles, your gloves, your ink. Let’s talk about your workspace. Disinfect your area that you will be working in. Get some bleach, lysol, what have you, and clean that shit. Wipe the table down, wipe any wipe-able surface down. Saran wrap is good to put down after you’ve wiped everything down, because it provides an uncontaminated surface for you to set your ink, needle and paper towels on. It is good to have a clean roll of paper towels, you’ll want to have some on hand for wiping your ink away as you administer the tattoo.
When you are finished tattooing, keep your gloves ON as you dispose of the needle and the bloody/inky paper towels, then take them off and wash your hands. By following these simple measures you can ensure that your tattoo will be cleaner and less likely to become infected or scarred.
I hope this tutorial was helpful and informative.
Safe and happy poking!