25 Gorgeous Stick and Poke (aka Prison-Style) Tattoos That Really Move the Needle

Tap! Tap! Tap! Stick and poke tattoos have always been and will always be trendy. Also known as stick-and-poke, hand-poke, machine-free, prison-style, or S&P, stick and poke tattoos are created without the use of modern tattoo guns and instead rely on the artist’s handiwork, literally. Stick and poke has been practiced by many cultures across the globe and dates back to the Ancient Egyptians. These tattoos often have a DIY quality and many people even experiment on themselves with this style of tattoo because all you need is a needle and some ink. Punk rock! A lot of designs are minimal while others can be incredibly detailed. Some professional tattoo artists specialize in stick and poke and prefer the style of tattooing to contemporary mechanized methods. Stick and poke tattoos don’t last as long as tattoos applied with a gun. The needle doesn’t hit the skin as much or go as deep as a gun which means after a few years, these tattoos will seriously fade and need a touchup. You might be wondering why in the world anyone would endure the pain of a tattoo just to need to go through it again, and dear reader, that’s kind of the point. Here are 25 stick and poke tattoos we absolutely love that show the variety and creativity that’s achieved with just a needle and some ink.

25. A Bird in a Box

When artists apply ink in the stick and poke method, they can’t “draw” a line instead, the needle has to be poked or tapped over and over again for the ink to absorb into the skin. As evident with this tattoo, you can see a lot of “dotwork” here. Look near the bottom of the tattoo, you’ll see tons of dots.

24. California Days

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Done at @highlinetattoonyc

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This fascinating design almost looks like a collage. There’s a set of stairs, the outline of the state of California, a cloud, the sun, and more. We especially love how the artist has incorporated a pattern into the shape of California.

23. Groovy

The first two images we shared with you are examples of stick and poke at its most elaborate. The majority of this style of tattoo is for minimal designs done with a single color of ink. Case in point: this adorable lava lamp tattoo.

22. Howl at the Moon

This wolf tattoo is so thoroughly impressive. With just thousands of dots, the artist has managed to create a near photorealistic wolf.

21. Lunch

People are weird and we love weird. We also love sandwiches and this friendly-looking hamburger tattoo is a feast for the eyes.

20. Peaceful

Wow. If modern art has taught us anything, we often find beauty in the medium and means of production just as much as the finished product. This tattoo showcases all the little dots and it looks almost like the painting technique pointillism that was made famous by Georges Seurat and Paul Signac in Paris in the mid-1880s

19. Ow Meow

This Japanese-Inspired yōkai tattoo is of a nekomata, which is a supernatural cat creature with two tales. The imagery isn’t strictly found in Japan, the cat with two tales can also be found in China and its various folklore traditions. You don’t often see a stick and poke with this much color.

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18. Sleeves

Stick and poke tattoo sleeves are a thing. A thing that takes an extremely long time to have done. This person has a variety of tattoos done in this style, but we were most impressed with the two down near the wrists. The artist did incredible work getting those bold lines and dark shaded areas.

17. A Tooth

This hand-poke tattoo of a tooth is a little charmer. Placed right between the collar bones, it probably hurt a whole lot. We hope this fun denticle tattoo was worth it.

16. Well, Hello

Hi there! This cute, friendly stick and poke tattoo wants your salutations. While some stick and pokes are wildly imaginative, this very simple tattoo manages to communicate a lot in its own minimal way.

15. A Snake

This snake tattoo is deceptively simple, but here are a lot of complex elements that aren’t easy to get right. The swooping, circular curves of this tattoo and the shading took a considerable amount of time to complete. We love all the little symbols and pictures inside the snake’s body.

14. Say Cheese

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helet ost #handpoke #stickandpoke

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A block of cheese, please! This lovely wedge of cheese tattoo is so cute. While not the flashiest tattoo on this list, it makes an impression and makes us want crackers.

13. Summits and Stars

The person who shared this image of their stick and poke tattoo depicting mountains and the night sky said that they’ve hidden an “easter egg” in the design. Easter eggs, of course, are just a hidden joke or little bonus image. We have stared at this tattoo for hours and cannot seem to locate it.

12. Gladiolus

Birth flowers are similar to birthstones. Just like birthstones, there is a corresponding flower for each month. This person honored her birth flower, Gladiolus for the month of August and got it tattooed.

11. Exact Change

This person turned his arm into a vending machine cash slot. The design style reminds us of the Monopoly board game. Also, the thick, black lines look so clean, which isn’t as easy as it looks to achieve.

10. A Butterfly

Similar to the gladiolus tattoo, this butterfly tattoo is very delicate and pretty. You can also see how the collection of dots makes parts of the design appear darker while fewer dots make it appear brighter with more of the skin peeking through.

9. That’s Hot

This micro tattoo of a campfire is such a delight. The tinder of the fire is just five black lines while the flame is done with two colors of ink, yellow and red, that have been blended by so many little pokes.

8. A Portrait

This incredible tattoo comes from a Chicano tattoo artist who calls the design “La Cejona.” We think that’s a reference to artist Frida Kahlo and her signature eyebrows. This tattoo is so impressive that we’re barely certain that it’s S&P.

7. Eye See You

In art, the practice of shading using dots is called stippling. For realistic-looking stick and poke tattoos, stippling is the name of the game. This beautifully done eye tattoo is a masterclass.

6. Floral

We told you that stick and poke tattoos fade and because of that fact, black is normally the dominant color ink used. Black ink provides the most permanent tattoos. This floral design hardly has any black and instead favors green and orange that will both lose their vibrancy over time. That’s not necessarily a bad thing! Some tattoos are meant to fade and become subtle. That’s a big reason white ink tattoos are so popular.

5. Prickly

This stunning slice of a desert landscape has a bold diamond shape. We love the stylized sun that’s simply a circle made of small dots. It’s both very creative and attractive.

4. Breakfast

For lunch, we served you a burger. As a snack, you got some cheese. Now, we’re bringing you breakfast with this darling little piece of toast.

3. An Offering

The lines that compose the hands are so smooth it’s hard to believe that this tattoo was created machine-free. The outstretched hands cupping a flower give off a peaceful vibe we really love.

2. Lovers

Crested penguins are known for the distinctive color marking of their feathers. Most penguins mate for life and this pair of crested penguins look very much in love. What a sweet and romantic tattoo.

1. A Mini Masterpiece

Vincent Van Gogh painted Café Terrace at Night in 1888. Do you think he ever imagined it would be recreated in tattoo form and shared across this magical platform called the internet 132 years later? There’s no telling how long this tattoo took to complete or how many different inks were used in teeny-tiny amounts. This is just crazy good.

Stick and poke tattooing takes us back to the basics of tattooing. This ancient method has been used forever, but we have the earliest evidence of tattooing from Egyptian mummies. This method requires only a needle and some ink and with those materials, these incredible tattoo designs can be made.

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