Asia Travel Tips

Bamboo “Stick & Poke” Tattoo vs. Traditional Machine Tattoo

My Bamboo Tattoo Experience

You can read about my Thai bamboo tattoo experience in full detail, but basically, I got a small stick and poke style tattoo in Phuket six months ago. This style of tattooing is done with a stainless steel rod and a single needle rather than a typical “Western” style machine tattoo.

My boyfriend also got a large one, on his right ankle. This obviously took a lot longer and was more expensive.

What’s the Difference?

Read on to find out more about how the recovery was, and what the difference is between the two styles. For the purposes of this article, I’ll be using “bamboo tattoo” and “stick and poke tattoo” interchangeably. “Western” style tattoos are machine tattoos.

The bamboo “stick”


It’s hard to compare cost from a Western-style tattoo you would get in the USA, so I think the best way to compare cost is to compare a machine tattoo cost vs. a bamboo tattoo cost in Phuket, Thailand.

My bamboo tattoo cost was around $100 USD including a 20% tip, Dallas’s tattoo was around $450 including a 20% tip. I suspect this cost was on the high side, but the last thing in life you should cheap out on is a tattoo.

These costs were about double what the cost of a machine tattoo would be in Thailand. This is because it takes more time to tattoo bamboo style, and you’re paying for the years of experience of a good artist.

Healing Time & Process

Check out the pictures above to see how my tattoo healed after 6 months. Note that this is on my foot so it would fade more than the average tattoo because of the placement. This is true for machine or bamboo style tattoos.

The process of aftercare is similar to machine tattoos- keep it moisturized and covered for the first few hours, it healed fully in about 2 weeks. Our bamboo tattoo artist told us we can go swimming in the ocean (but not the pool) the next day, but we did not because of the fear of getting a bacterial infection.

Both our tattoos did get some irritation and had little red bumps that almost looked like zits. The red bumps stuck around for about 5 months after we got the tattoo. They didn’t hurt and didn’t scare us enough to go to the doctor.

Machine style tattoos take about a month to heal fully, depending on a variety of factors.

How Long It Took

Bamboo style tattooing is much slower! I feel it took about twice as much time as a machine tattoo would have because of the method of application. Mine took around 20 minutes, my boyfriend’s tattoo took about 2.5 hours.

Example of an elaborate bamboo tattoo by Pitbull Tattoo

Complexity of Design

My recommendation is to keep your design pretty basic because more advanced shading techniques and designs don’t seem to be possible due to the bamboo style.

Pain Levels

I had read beforehand that bamboo style tattooing didn’t hurt, or didn’t hurt as much as machine style. I disagree, but it could be because this is my only foot tattoo. My other tattoos are on the inside ankle and ribcage. My boyfriend has a 3/4 sleeve on his arm.

Overall, I would say the pain levels are similar but it heavily depends on where you get your tattoo. I think machine tattoos feel more “scratchy” while bamboo-style feels more “poky”.

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