What Ink For Stick & Poke – Get The Facts In 2023!

by Tori Jones
Stick and Poke

As a professional tattoo artist, there’s nothing I love more than a good, old-fashioned chat about inks and techniques. But if there’s one thing that makes my eyebrows do the Macarena, it’s when I hear about folks using less-than-savory ink substitutes in their DIY tattoo endeavors. And trust me, I’ve heard some doozies – everything from pen ink to food coloring. The creativity is admirable, but let’s be clear – it’s not always safe or wise.

Stick and Poke Tattoo
@cora.poke Via Instagram – Want your tattoo to look brighter? Try tattoo balm 

Stick and poke tattoos might be the minimalist, cool-kid cousin in our tattoo family, but the same rules apply when it comes to the ink. So, prepare to embark on an enlightening journey where we explore the why’s and why-not’s of using alternative inks for stick and poke tattoos. We’ll delve into the science of the inks, their potential effects on your skin, and why professionals like me prefer to stick to the tried and true.

Stick and Poke Tattoo
@corrieforeman Via Instagram – Want your tattoo to look brighter? Try tattoo balm 

Just remember – my guiding light in all this isn’t to be a buzzkill or a fun police, but rather to make sure we’re all injecting knowledge alongside that ink. Because just like tattoos, knowledge lasts a lifetime! So, let’s pull back the curtain on stick and poke ink alternatives and unveil the gritty truth hiding underneath. Stay tuned and remember, the more you know, the better your tattoos flow.

Stick and Poke Tattoos

Greetings, ink enthusiasts! Your resident tattoo maven Tori here, diving into the trending waves of the tattoo world once again. Today, we’re unpacking the bohemian allure of stick and poke tattoos and why ink alternatives are like inviting a bull into a china shop.

Stick and Poke Tattoo
@cora.poke Via Instagram – Want your tattoo to look brighter? Try tattoo balm 

Years ago, when I was just starting out in the tattoo industry, stick and poke tattoos were all the rage among artists and aficionados looking for that raw, artisanal charm. They’re the handcrafted, machine-free tattoos that can either be a delightful masterpiece or a dodgy stick figure, depending on who’s wielding the needle. Their idiosyncratic appearance gives them character, no doubt, but today, we’re shifting focus to the ink — the lifeline of these body artworks.

An Inkling About Ink Alternatives for Stick and Pokes

Before we dive headfirst into the ink pot, let’s get one thing straight — I strongly advise against using any alternative inks for your stick and poke tattoos. In my line of work, I’ve seen firsthand the outcomes of these homemade inks, and they’re not as picture-perfect as you might think. Sure, you might save a few bucks, but at what cost? Skin irritation, tissue damage, infections – need I go on? Let’s break down some popular alternatives that might seem tempting but are more trouble than they’re worth.

India Ink

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

Many consider India ink a suitable alternative because it’s affordable, widely available, and non-toxic. It might get you through the door, but don’t expect it to stick around for the after-party. In my early days, a friend of mine used India ink for a stick and poke, and let me tell you, her sunflower tattoo looked more like a wilted daisy in no time. It fades quickly, and if it’s your first stick and poke, the application could be a wild ride.

Pen Ink

The DIY community has been flirting with pen ink for tattoos lately, which is like trying to fix a leaky pipe with duct tape. Pen ink is produced for writing, not tattooing, and it’s not sterile. So, if you’re looking to invite skin infections to your party, this is your golden ticket. Moreover, poking pen ink into your skin can cause serious tissue damage.

Sharpie Ink

Remember when we used to draw fake tattoos with Sharpie markers as kids? Well, that doesn’t quite cut it for the real deal. Sharpie ink is notorious for fading quickly, and the final look is far from professional. Plus, it can be toxic when introduced into the skin, so it’s best to leave the Sharpie artwork to paper.

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

Pencil Graphite

Believe it or not, pencil graphite is another alternative that has gained some attention. But let’s clear this up: graphite isn’t skin-friendly. It can cause irreversible damage, and once it’s under your skin, it’s there for good — even laser removal can’t touch it.

Food Coloring

While food coloring is the go-to for cake decorations, it’s a complete no-go for tattoos. Not only does it fail to retain detail, but it also doesn’t stay put in the skin. Plus, there are ongoing debates about the safety of food coloring even for consumption, so imagine what it could do when injected into your skin!


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

Last but not least, we have eyeliner. Just because it’s safe for your eyelids doesn’t mean it’s safe for your skin in general. Your body will likely reject most of the eyeliner once the tattoo starts to heal, leaving a jumbled mess of a design.

Tattoo the Right Way

Remember folks, it’s not just about what looks good today, but what’s going to keep you safe and healthy down the road. There’s a reason professional tattoo artists use specific inks. So, leave the DIY for home décor and let the professionals handle your body art. After all, your body is the canvas for your life’s story, and it deserves the best ink.

When it comes to safe and healthy alternatives for inks in stick-and-poke tattoos, the best route is to stick with professional tattoo inks. These inks are specially formulated to be safe for use in the skin and to stand the test of time. Here are a few options to consider:

  1. Professional Black Tattoo Ink: This is the standard for most tattoos. It’s highly pigmented and durable, making it ideal for stick and poke tattoos.
  2. Vegan Tattoo Ink: For those concerned about animal products in their inks, there are vegan tattoo inks available. These inks are made without any animal products or byproducts and are often organic as well.
  3. Medical-Grade Tattoo Ink: Some tattoo inks are medical grade, meaning they meet strict health and safety standards. They are sterile and hypoallergenic, minimizing the risk of infection or allergic reactions.
  4. Temporary Tattoo Ink: For those who aren’t quite ready to commit to a permanent tattoo, there are temporary tattoo inks available. These inks can last up to a few weeks and are a great way to try out a design before making it permanent.

Remember, even with the safest of inks, proper tattooing technique and aftercare are crucial in preventing infection and ensuring your tattoo heals properly. Always make sure your tattoo artist is licensed, uses sterile equipment, and provides clear aftercare instructions. Your health and safety should always be the number one priority.


As we wrap up this colorful journey through the world of stick and poke tattoos, it’s important to remember that your skin is more than just a canvas – it’s an integral part of you. While the charm of homemade tattoos might be appealing, the ink alternatives we’ve discussed come with a whole suitcase of potential risks. They might be cheaper or more accessible, but using them could mean inviting unnecessary health hazards. As an experienced tattoo artist, my advice to you is straightforward: Prioritize your safety over momentary thrill.

When it comes to stick and poke tattoos, or any form of body art, your best bet is always to trust a professional with specialized inks and a sterile environment. Remember, a tattoo is not just an accessory, but a lifelong commitment. So, choose wisely. But most importantly, enjoy the process. Tattoos are an expression of who you are and your journey in life, so make them count. Now, armed with your newfound knowledge, go out there and make some informed, creative, and beautiful decisions about your body art. After all, it’s your story – make sure it’s one worth telling!

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