Bamboo Tattoos vs Machine Tattoos
How Does a Bamboo Tattoo Differ From a Machine (Pen) Tattoo?
The obvious difference is that one is done by hand and the other by machine. A traditional bamboo refers to an ancient technique whereby the tattoo is made using a fine, sharpened bamboo stick which is hand poked into the skin to create the design. Nowadays bamboo sticks aren’t used. The stick will be made of wood or stainless steel with an interchangeable metal tip.
“The tip usually has a line of five needles. This means that a good tattooist can draw extremely fine lines using this stick and poke method. Unlike a pen tattoo, where the needles on the tip of the gun are arranged in a circular formation.”
Another difference is how the tattooist moves the tip to create the design. In the traditional method, the tip is manually pushed and pulled out of the skin, the tattooist moving the tip each time to create the pattern. The skin in punctured, but not torn. With a tattoo gun, the needles don’t leave the skin, they are pulled across it, tearing the skin, as the tattooist draws. This is an important distinction. And the reason why it is (usually) far less painful and heals far faster than a machine tattoo.
Consequently, there’s no swelling or scabbing with bamboo tattoos. The tattoo will not peel or get very itchy like one done by a machine sometimes will. They will heal within a couple of days. And, unlike machine tatts, there’s no problem going in the sun or swimming a day or two after getting it.
Are Bamboo Tattoos More Expensive Than Tattoos?
Yes. For a couple of reasons. Firstly, it takes around twice as long to do do a bamboo tattoo compared to a machine tattoo. Secondly, most tattooists will just learn to use a pen. Tattoo shops won’t invest in the additional time and training required to master the traditional bamboo / stick and poke style of tattooing.
Healing Time for Bamboo Tattoos vs Machine Tattoos
Aftercare for both types of tattoos is initially the same. The new tattoo needs to be kept moisturized and covered for the first few hours. You should also wash it if it gets dirty, then gently pat it dry. Once dry, apply anti-bacterial cream to keep the skin moist and clean.
It will take a couple of weeks for a new bamboo tattoo to fully heal. An iron or pen tattoo will take around a month to fully heal, and in that time there will often be some swelling and scabbing.
Which Tattoo Styles are Best Done by Bamboo?
As mentioned above bamboo tattoos are a traditional way of tattooing. Iron or pen tattoos are much quicker, far more versatile and more detailed. Any design can be done using bamboo. But realistically, unless you want a traditional Buddhist design or something very basic, then you will be better off getting a regular tattoo at any experienced local tattoo shops. Simply because the lines will be cleaner, shading more distinctive, colors brighter and details sharper with a machine tattoo.
This style and the associated bamboo tattoo designs take years of practice and experience to master. Not every tattooist can easily learn the stick and poke method to accurately judge the depth the needles go into the skin and ensure that the design is sharp and doesn’t fade.
Getting a bamboo tattoo is a more spiritual experience and so not suited to everyone. A good tattooist will always steer clients towards having a pen tattoo if they feel a design won’t be pleasing to the eye when done in the traditional method. Make sure to always ask to see design portfolios at tattoo shops before having one done.