here’s what you need and why you need it:
dettol / green soap - this is for sanitizing your skin before you poke. this is important! infections aren’t fun and taking care of yourself is punk af okay. green soap is what most tattoo artists use, dettol is just a basic antiseptic / antibacterial wash. i have both and prefer the green soap, it seems to clean better and smells nice (there’s lavender in it!)
transfer paper - don’t use normal carbon paper, get tattoo transfer paper. it’s cheap and easy to use. there are videos online of how to use transfer paper, so google it. you can wipe over your design transfer a few times while working which is why i recommend using a transfer, even if it’s a really simple design. (also skin moves & when you’re working. and you want to hold the skin taut while you’re working, which can warp the design. so transfers = good amazing yeah woo fun)
clear solid (not gel) deodorant - this is for transferring your design to the skin. and it works really well! i use bar of speed stick. (remember, men’s deodorant is usually cheaper than women’s so go with that if you’re on a budget)
powder free latex gloves - gloves are like condoms, they come in lots of sizes so there’s no excuse not to use them & they keep everything safe. pregnancy, however, is not an issue with stick and pokes. if you somehow end up pregnant from a stick and poke, it’s safe to say you got a bit lost in the process. “stick & poke” is not a euphemism.
tattoo needles - really important! i have no fucking idea how people manage a good line with a sewing needle. tattoo needles are awesome because they come sterilized and they’re a bunch of really sharp needles bound together. you can buy all sorts of sizes (sizes is probably not the right term), but for the work i do, which is thin / medium line work, i use 7RL and 5RL for outlines, and sometimes a 3RL for smaller lines or line shading. what “5RL” means is that there are 5 needles bound together, creating a round tip (as opposed to in a line). 3RL means there are 3 needles bound together. (i haven’t used shaders or anything else so i can’t tell you abt those.) look around on ebay to see what they sell—i ended up with a box of assorted sizes since i was just starting out and didn’t know what would work best.
tattoo ink - you can buy any colours you like! they have them all! i work only in black (at least for myself). tattoo ink isn’t that expensive and since it’s formulated to be used in tattoos, it’s not dodgy like india inks. the ink i started with was a black ink from mom’s millennial, which is a good affordable brand (though it does get gloopy, it’s a bit messy, and it heals kind of blue-ish). i’ve now switched to intenZe ink’s “true black”, which doesn’t dry as quickly and doesn’t make such a mess when wiping up, and it heals fairly dark (not pure black tho, i don’t think many inks do). other highly reviewed black inks for outlining are the black pearl from mom’s millennial, kuro sumi black ink, and talens.
BE VERY CAREFUL buying tattoo inks on ebay, and even amazon. in fact, i would kinda suggest not doing that cause there are a lot of knock-offs out there (especially of intenZe inks.) if you’re serious about tattooing yourself and you want something that you know is safe and is going to last, get it straight from the manufacturer.
pencils & tape - this is to bind your tattoo needle to to make it easier to work with. you don’t need to wrap the needle in thread when you’re using tattoo needles, since they hold ink on their own. the kind of tape doesn’t matter so much. i use masking tape.
paper / ink cups - you can use paper cups (cut down) to store your ink, though this creates more surface area and so more of your ink will dry out faster. ink cups and ink cup holders are really cheap on ebay (I got 100 small and medium ink cups with a holder for $5) and a good investment. but whatever you use to store your ink, make sure it’s disposable. don’t reuse supplies.
small spray bottle - when you’re working, you’ll want a small spray bottle (a 3 oz travel size works well) filled with a mix of water (purified is best) & dettol or green soap to help wipe away the ink as you poke.
paper towels - cut up a good sized stack of paper towels to have on hand for wiping away ink. kleenex leaves behind fibers, so paper towels or dinner napkins are your best bet.
gauze / bandage - i usually cover my fresh tattoos with some gauze if they’re on a part of the body that’s going to rub up against anything. there’s some debate as to what’s best to wrap fresh tattoos in, and i feel like saran wrap isn’t ideal, since it’s not breathable and will basically incubate the tattoo (and any germs) instead of letting it breathe.
aquaphor - i use aquaphor for aftercare, since it’s a gentle, breathable ointment. i’ve had minimal itching and scabbing with it and my tattoos have all healed really well (except for the tattoo on my finger, but those are notoriously sketchy when it comes to healing, so it’s not the aquaphor’s fault)
so far i’ve spent about $70 on all these supplies and i’ve done nine tattoos (seven on me, two on a friend)
update: still using all these supplies, spent maybe $7 on a box of 5RLs, i’m up to about 16 tattoos on myself and 5 on other people. i’ve still got a lot of ink, ink cups, about half a bottle of green soap.
before you start, make sure you have enough time and energy to do a stick and poke! they take longer than they look, so don’t try to squeeze one in before bed or work or something.
clean your work area & your skin. make sure to shave any body hair from the area you’ll be tattooing (some say up to a 4” radius). this is done becuase it’s easier to work without a bunch of hairs in the way, and it keeps everything cleaner, since hair can hold bacteria.
transfer your design to transfer paper with a ball point pen & cut it out. apply some deodorant to the skin and lay the transfer on. don’t rub or touch it too much of you’ll get a smudgy design. if you don’t put it on in the right place, no worries! you can rub the transfer off and use it again, up to about 3 or 4 times i’ve found.
you don’t need to leave the transfer on for too long; once the paper looks wet, you can remove it. wait for the deodorant to dry before you start poking. if your skin is wet, the ink bleeds really easily, making the design underneath difficult to see.
then, start poking! it does depend on the area of the body you’re working on, but i find that stick and pokes don’t hurt very much. if you’re just starting out, a lot of people recommend tattooing the bottom of your foot first, since the skin there is thick (it’ll hurt less), and doesn’t shift a lot (fleshier areas are harder to get a clean line on in my experience, bonier areas hurt more but are easier to poke). and becuase our feet get so much wear, your tattoo may wear away in time, which is good if your first job is shitty (hey don’t worry tho, happy accidents.) my first stick and poke was my “stay creepy” over my knee, and that was a super easy place to tattoo. my recommendation, design wise, for a first poke is something tiny. and simple. that way you can gauge just how long these take (they take way longer than you’d think, especially when you’re starting out) and can make sure you set aside enough time to finish them if you want to do bigger and more complex designs later.
how deep you should poke you’ll figure out on your own. it should definitely stick into the skin, though. i can usually hear a small “pock” kinda noise when i take the needle out of my skin if i listen closely.
really really take your time with your pokes. i usually do three pokes in the same spot before moving on, and i have to go over my lines at least twice. make sure you have plenty of ink on the needle & wipe away ink whenever you need to. i usually spray my water/dettol mixture on the paper towel and then wipe at the skin; spraying directly on the skin can make it run everywhere.
you might bleed a tiny bit, but that’s okay! i don’t know where or what or why bleeding happens, but i’ve only had
one (update) four tattoos bleed on me (it was just one or two pokes next to each other) and it didn’t hurt any more than the other pokes. tattooing over your wrist or any place with really visible veins can be scary, but don’t worry, you’re not going to puncture anything. my friend jack, who i’ve given two tattoos, both on his wrists, is still very much alive.
since tattooing takes a while, this is a good time to listen to podcasts or audiobooks or your favourite album or “rewatch” your favourite tv show (i’m quite fond of watching the mighty boosh or buffy)
and once you’re done poking, wipe away as much left over ink as you can & bandage it up. then just do the standard tattoo aftercare stuff & it should be all good!