by Tori Jones
Stick and Poke

We’re heading into the controversial territory of stick-and-poke tattooing and addressing a question that’s been bugging DIY tattoo artists for ages: Can you use pen ink for a stick-and-poke tattoo?

Stick and Poke
@Collins Lesulie Via Unsplash – Want your tattoo to look brighter? Try tattoo balm 

Top-line; while it’s technically possible to use pen ink for a stick-and-poke tattoo, it’s not recommended due to a variety of health and safety risks. Pen ink is not made for use in the body and can cause issues such as skin irritation, infection, or allergic reactions. Also, using pen ink for a tattoo can lead to poor quality results, with the color possibly not appearing as vibrant or lasting as long as professional tattoo ink. But like anything the full answer is more nuanced so if you still want to explore the topic then let’s dig into it.

Stick and Poke
@benjamin lehman Via Unsplash – Want your tattoo to look brighter? Try tattoo balm 

What Is a Stick-and-Poke Tattoo?

When most people imagine a tattoo, the familiar buzz of the tattoo machine likely comes to mind. But not all tattoos are machine-made. Stick-and-poke tattoos ditch the electronics, instead using a needle (imagine a pencil-thin rod with a thread) to apply the ink, dot by dot, creating an analog tattooing experience.

Why Is the Stick-and-Poke Method Used?

Stick and Poke
@Thomas Despeyroux Via Unsplash – Want your tattoo to look brighter? Try tattoo balm 

The stick-and-poke method harks back to ancient times when a needle and some pigment were all an artist needed to etch intricate designs onto skin. This practice survived the test of time, and in the 1970s, enjoyed a resurgence. Today, stick-and-poke tattoos are sought for their affordability and their ‘fun factor’. But don’t be fooled! They’re trickier to execute than they appear, which is why I always emphasize professional tattooing over DIY attempts.

Do Stick-and-Poke Tattoos Hurt?

The pain factor, my friends, is subjective. In general, stick-and-poke tattoos tend to be less painful than machine tattoos. However, you can expect some discomfort, especially on sensitive areas with thinner skin. Think of it as an artist’s gentle, but persistent, poke – a little uncomfortable, but bearable.

Are Stick-and-Poke Tattoos Temporary?

Contrary to popular belief, stick-and-poke tattoos are as permanent as their machine-made counterparts. However, tattoos created by amateurs often don’t last as long, resulting in faded designs or, worse, a tattoo blowout. This is usually due to poor execution or improper aftercare.

So, Can I Use Pen Ink For a DIY Stick-and-Poke Tattoo?

In the world of tattooing, things are seldom black and white – or in our case, black and ink! When it comes to using pen ink for stick-and-poke tattoos, we land in a gray area.

Stick and Poke
@Ritesh Raj Via Unsplash – Want your tattoo to look brighter? Try tattoo balm 

Technically, you can use pen ink. But should you? As an experienced tattoo artist, I’d strongly advise against it. Let me explain why.

The Risk of Pen Ink

Pen ink, commonly found in gel pens, permanent markers, and highlighters, contains dyes, alcohols, and a chemical gel known as glycol or glycol ether. While it’s generally considered non-toxic in small amounts, the story changes when pen ink enters the body, possibly leading to poisoning or overdosing. Symptoms can range from stained skin and stomach upset to digestion issues and skin infections.

The Risk Of Pen Ink Stick-and-Poke Tattoo

DIY tattoos, especially those done with pen ink, are fraught with risk. They’re often performed without sterile equipment in non-regulated environments, exposing you to serious infections like MRSA and Hepatitis. Not to mention, since a fresh tattoo is essentially an open wound, you’re leaving yourself vulnerable to germs, bacteria, and viruses.

Stick and Poke
@Tá Focando Via Unsplash – Want your tattoo to look brighter? Try tattoo balm 

How To Do Stick-and-Poke Tattoo DIY?

For those set on DIY stick-and-poke tattoos, here’s my advice: never use pen ink. Instead, invest in a bottle of quality black tattoo ink. Vegan, heavy-metal-free ink is my go-to recommendation. Always clean and sterilize your tools as much as possible, even if you can’t achieve 100% sterility. Cleanse your skin thoroughly and consider shaving the tattoo area. Finally, follow a proper aftercare routine. If any signs of infection appear (like persistent redness, inflammation, or soreness), seek medical help immediately. But remember, nothing beats a tattoo done by a professional!


In conclusion, while pen ink may seem like a readily available resource for those eager to venture into DIY stick-and-poke tattoos, it’s far from ideal or safe. Risks associated with this practice range from minor skin irritations and allergic reactions to serious infections, not to mention the potential for a disappointing final result. If you’re genuinely interested in the artistry of stick-and-poke tattoos, I would urge you to engage with a professional tattoo artist who can provide both the right tools, including body-safe ink, and the necessary skillset to ensure your body art is not only beautiful but safe as well. Your skin is a precious canvas – let’s treat it with the care and respect it deserves.

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