How to Give Yourself a Tattoo Without a Gun

Three Parts:Preparing for Your TattooStarting Your TattooCaring for Your Tattoo

It's hard to resist the allure of a stick 'n' poke tattoo. Staples of the punk-rock scene, these DIY ink jobs require little more than some India ink and a needle. Still, there a few things to keep in mind before grabbing a sewing kit and a bowl of ink. Stick 'n' pokes can be dangerous, so make sure you know what you're doing before breaking skin. Keep it clean and if you're not comfortable with the process, do not attempt it.

Part 1
Preparing for Your Tattoo

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    Buy or assemble a home tattoo kit. The main components of any home tattoo kit are needles and ink. Any needle will do so long as it's clean and new. Tattoo ink is preferable, but not always easy to find. India or Sumi ink will work just fine. [1]
    • Home tattoo kits are the safer option and include both supplies and instructions.[2]
    • Make sure you only use black India ink. Colored inks can be toxic.[3]
    • You can use any type of needle you like. Sewing needles, straight pins, and even safety pins will all work just fine. The most important thing is to make sure they are fresh and clean.[4]
    • Don't use old needles. Don't share needles. Doing either of these will put you at serious risk for infection.[5]
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    Set up your station. You'll need a few other things before you start putting needle to flesh. Grab some cotton thread, a cup for water, rubbing alcohol, and some clean rags. [6]
    • Keep a non-permanent marker around for drawing potential tattoo ideas.[7]
    • It's a good idea to keep a shallow bowl or saucer handy to pour India ink into.
    • It's important to make sure everything you use is clean. Wash any bowls or saucers you'll be using in hot, soapy water. For extra protection, wear gloves when handling any of the supplies you'll be using.
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    Clean and shave your chosen area. Wherever you decide to tattoo yourself, clean it with soap and warm water. Shave the hair off in the area about an inch larger than you want your tattoo to be.
    • After you shave, sterilize your skin with rubbing alcohol. Dab it on with a cotton ball and make sure it's evaporated before continuing.
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    Draw the design on your skin. Trace or draw your desired tattoo in the place you want it to go. You can have someone else do it for you if you want, but take the time to get it how you want it. This image is all you'll have to go on once you start.
    • Since you'll be tattooing yourself, make sure the place you choose is easily accessible. Depending on your design, you could be poking for a few hours. Awkward or hard to reach places on the body, such as your chest or shoulders, may not be the best idea for stick 'n' pokes.
    • Stick 'n' pokes work much better with simple and tiny tattoos. If you want a complex tattoo, you're better off going to a parlor.[8]

Part 2
Starting Your Tattoo

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    Sterilize the needle. The best way to sterilize the needle before using it is with flame. Hold the needle over the flame of a candle or a lighter until it glows. Make sure you hold the other end with a cloth, or you'll burn your fingertips. [9]
    • Once the needle is sterile, wrap it in cotton thread. Start about 18 inch (0.3 cm) away from the tip and wrap the thread back and forth about 14 inch (0.6 cm) up the needle until the thread has formed an oval shape. This will absorb some of the ink as you dip your needle into the saucer.[10]
    • For added stability, try attaching the needle to the end of a pencil. Stab the eye of the needle into the eraser side of the pencil and wrap it tightly with thread.[11]
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    Start poking. Dip the needle into the India ink and then poke it through your skin, leaving a small dot. There may be some blood, but there shouldn't be much. You're only trying to poke through the first couple layers of skin. [12]
    • If you're doing it the right way, your skin should stick with the needle a little as you pull out. You may also be able to hear a faint "pop" as it goes through each layer.[13]
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    Start working your way along the lines. Stay inside the line of the tattoo design you've drawn, filling it in with tiny punctures. Use a Q-tip or a rag to wipe away any blood or excess ink. [14]
    • The skin will puff up as you poke it which may cause the resulting tattoo to appear spotty. You may have to do touch-ups when the swelling goes down if you want smooth lines throughout the tattoo.[15]
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    Clean the tattooed area. When you finish the tattoo, wipe down the area with rubbing alcohol. Throw away any remaining India ink or needles. They are no longer sterile. Use a new needle and a new saucer of ink if you plan on doing any touch-ups in the future.

Part 3
Caring for Your Tattoo

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    Bandage your new tattoo. Apply a thin layer of A+D Ointment to the area, just enough to make the skin look shiny. Cover your tattoo in a sterile absorbing pad. [16]
    • Only use A+D Ointment for the first couple of days to start the healing process of your tattoo. Going too long could have adverse affects on your skin.[17]
    • A+D Ointment is a topical ointment containing vitamins A and D, used to treat minor cuts and burns, and dry skin. You can find it at most drugstores.[18]
    • Leave the bandage on for 2-4 hours, but no longer than 8.[19]
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    Keep your tattoo clean. Remove the initial bandage and gently wash the area with warm water and non-scented soap. Don't scrub, and only wash the tattoo with your clean hand. [20]
    • Don't soak your tattoo and don't run it under hot water. It won't feel nice, and it could cause your tattoo to become splotchy.[21]
    • Avoid picking at the tattoo as this could cause some of the ink to bleed out, causing messy lines and even scarring.[22]
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    Apply lotion to your tattoo. After the first couple of days, switch to a plain, unscented lotion. Most professionals recommend Lubriderm or Aquaphor. Keep the layers thin. Your skin needs to breathe so it can heal properly. [23]
    • Moisturize your tattoo 3-5 times a day depending on the size of the tattoo. If your skin starts to look dried out, use a small amount of lotion.[24]
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    Let your tattoo heal. For the first week or so be mindful of your tattoo. It's going to scab over and you'll need to take extra care to keep it clean. In addition to washing it and keeping it moisturized, you'll need to avoid certain activities. [25]
    • Avoid swimming. Natural bodies of water are full of bacteria, which can lead to infection. Swimming pools are cleaned with chlorine, which is also not good for your tattoo.[26]
    • Avoid any activity that is high-contact or induces excessive sweating. [27]
    • Wear loose clothing so your tattoo can breathe. Tight clothing prevents this.[28]
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    Watch out for infection. Be on the look out for redness or excessive scabbing around your tattoo, as well as any oozing, or swelling. These are all signs of possible infection.[29]
    • You can minimize the risk of infection by keeping your supplies clean and taking care of your tattoo. Still, it is possible your tattoo could become infected. If you suspect that your tattoo has become infected, consult your physician.[30]


  • The safest way to get a tattoo is in a professional tattoo parlor. Do not try this if you are not comfortable with the risks associated with self-tattooing.
  • Home tattooing puts you at risk for serious infections, and may be illegal in some places. Know the risks before you start.[31]
  • Only use tattoo ink or India ink. Other inks are toxic and could cause serious problems.
  • Only use new, clean needles and make sure you sterilize them before you begin. Never reuse or share needles.
  • Sharing needles can put you at risk for HIV, Hepatitis, Staph. infections, MRSA, and a host of other transmittable diseases.[32]

Sources and Citations

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Categories: Tattoos and Piercing