2024.2.29 Tattoos

Traditional Hand-Poked Tattoos: Understanding the Art, Differences from Machine Tattoos, Pain, and Cost

As the tattoo industry has evolved in design, so have the tools and machines used.
Needles have become more versatile and sharp, inks have become more colorful and safe, and machines have become more efficient at getting into the skin.

In this article, we will focus on “hand carving” which still fascinates tattoo fans, and introduce its advantages and differences from machine/machine carving.
We also mention a guest artist of GOOD TIMES INK, Mr. “Bokuchu” who does hand-engraving, so please read to the end.

Types of Tattoos

In order to explain Japanese hand-engraving, we will first give a brief description of the different types of tattoo techniques, and then explain where the hand-engraving of traditional Japanese tattoos falls in the list.

Polynesian “Hand Carving”





Polynesian “Hand Carving

Did you know that the word “tattoo” comes from the Tahitian word “tatau”? The origins of the tattoo culture have been the subject of much debate, and the exact time period remains unclear, but it is believed that tattoos themselves have been around for at least several thousand to tens of thousands of years.

The act of “tatau”

In those days, tattoos were made by striking ink into the skin using a wooden stick with “spikes of calamansi and other citrus plants”. Some modern Polynesian/tribal tattoo artists have faithfully reproduced the techniques of those days.

Japanese “hand carving”


I will not go into the history of Japanese tattooing, but it is said that the “tattoo culture for decorative purposes” as we know it today began in the Edo period (1603-1868).

Hand engraving in Japanese tattooing

The most common type of chisel is a chisel made of bamboo, wood, or metal with multiple needles tied to the end of a long stick. (*The photo is for display purposes only and is not currently used for treatment.)



While tribal hand carving is called “hand tapping,” Japanese hand carving, in which the needle is inserted in a thrusting manner, is described as “hand poking,” etc.
Among hand carving, there are various techniques such as “Shamisen-bori,” in which a short chisel is held like a pencil.

Sakyan “hand carving

One of the traditional tattoo techniques found in Southeast Asia (especially in Thailand) is called “sakuyan.
Traditional Sakuyan is performed by a “monk/companion” called a “Sakuyan Master/Archan” and is part of a “religious practice” in which prayers and precepts are given and the tattoo is performed.

Hand Carving in Saclayan

In Sakyan, tattoos are now done with a long stainless steel rod. In the traditional style, there are three people involved in the tattooing process: the Sakuyan master and two other companions to stretch the skin.

The author thinks that “stabbing” is closer to the earlier description of “striking” and “poking,” as the treatment is performed quietly and perpendicularly to the skin.

Advantages/Differences of Hand Engraving


Let’s leave the preface aside and introduce the main topic, “hand-engraving” of Japanese traditional Japanese tattooing, taking into account the differences from machine engraving. What is the reason why hand-engraving still attracts people even in today’s age of convenient and efficient evolution of tattoo machines?

Characteristics and Advantages of Hand Engraving

People often say, “Colors engraved by hand become deeper and deeper with time,” or perhaps they are referring to the “depth” of hand-engraving. The word “depth” here is similar to the expression “deep color”.

Some colors, such as white and vermilion, are said to have particularly good coloring, and I have heard that “the reason is that the hole when the needle is inserted is larger than in machine engraving, and the pigment can enter more easily”. (*There are various theories.)” However, it is not always true that “machine engraving is better than hand engraving.
However, it does not necessarily mean “hand-engraving is better than machine-engraving,” but it is more nuanced to say that hand-engraving has a texture that only hand-engraving can produce.

Difference between Hand Engraving and Machine Engraving


The following explains the differences in time, pain, and finish between hand and machine tattooing.

Difference in Treatment Time

Tattoo machines use electricity to move the needle up and down, which means that the needle is inserted into the skin approximately several hundred to several thousand times per second, whereas hand engraving is typically done three to five times per second.

It does not mean that it simply takes dozens of times longer, but it often takes approximately two to three times longer. At the same time, if, for example, the amount of treatment is similar to that of machine carving, the total cost of the treatment is correspondingly higher…which is another difference.

Difference in pain

While tattoo machines are often compared to “the pain of being scratched by a sharp object,” hand tattooing is incomparable to “the pain of being tattooed by hand.
(Sorry, I can only describe it as “-“).

As for the magnitude of pain, I believe that the instantaneous pain itself is more painful with a tattoo machine. However, hand engraving has a greater unevenness of pain (when it hurts and when it doesn’t), and it is a little tiring to be engraved…that is my impression.

Of course, there are individual differences. and others say, “Hand carving does not hurt so much that I fall asleep. So, it is difficult to compare which is more painful… in general.

Difference in Finish

Tattoo machines are better at delicate expressions compared to hand engraving due to the selection of needles, settings, and variations in the machine itself. If you want to engrave lines and shadings more beautifully, precisely, and quickly, the tattoo machine is the better choice.

On the other hand, hand-carving is good at creating a solid finish, but it is much more difficult, especially when it comes to drawing lines evenly and straight. For this reason, many tattoo artists use tattoo machines to draw the lines, and hand-engrave color packing and shading as needed.

About fees for hand-engraving

The price per hour for hand-engraving is often the same as that for machine engraving.
(*For large tattoos or tattoos on the chest, arms, or the entire back, hourly rates are applied regardless of whether they are Japanese or Western-style tattoos (e.g., 10,000 yen per hour).

However, as I explained earlier, the total price for hand-engraving is generally higher than that for Western-style tattooing, because it takes longer to complete the procedure.
If you have any questions about our fees, please feel free to contact us from the Contact page.

About GOOD TIMES INK’s tattooer

Our main artist is the second generation of Hinode Carving from the traditional Kansai carving school, “Carving Shige Ichimon”. Because of his background and sensitivity, Hinode Second Generation has chosen machine carving, and is good at delicate yet deep expression.

About Carving Chue


We also have a guest artist named “Bokuchu” from Bokyo, which is derived from the above-mentioned Bokushige’s family, and Bokuchu performs both machine and hand engraving.

He can do both machine and hand carving.

Please feel free to contact us for more information.


In this article, we introduced “hand-engraving”, a traditional Japanese tattoo technique.

If you have any questions or concerns about our tattooing, please feel free to contact us through our contact page (https://goodtimesink.jp/ja/contact/).