Stick and poke tattoos are made without electric tattoo guns. The ink is applied manually with a single needle dipped in tattoo ink. It is a technique that is used by professional tattooists as well as amateurs. Tattoo ink has small particles designed to remain permanently in the skin.
You can’t use fountain pen ink for stick and poke. These inks are water-based and will dissolve in plasma and blood, flushing the ink out of the skin during the tattooing process. Apart from the fact that the tattooed image won’t hold, fountain pen inks can be toxic and may lead to nasty infections.
For homemade tattoos using the stick and poke method, India ink is the most commonly recommended. It is a black, pigment-based ink that is never used in fountain pens. India ink usually contains shellac that destroys the pen when it dries within it.
Fountain Pen Ink vs. Tattoo Ink
Fountain pen inks are water-based and contain either pigments or dyes. Pigments consist of water-insoluble particles that are embedded in the writing surface. Dyes consist of much smaller water-soluble particles. The majority of pen inks are dye-based because pigmented inks contain particles that end up clogging the pen.
By contrast, tattoo ink contains organic chemicals, Naptha-derived chemicals, carbon, and heavy metals like arsenic, lead, beryllium, cobalt, antimony, and nickel. These are used mainly as pigments to make up the various ink colors. If you tried to use tattoo ink in a fountain pen, you would ruin the pen because of all the particles in the ink. It would clog up fast and block the feed.
Fountain pen inks are designed to interact with paper and other inorganic surfaces, not human skin. Even if you use pigment-based fountain pen ink, you risk your health because the pigments could be toxic. They are not manufactured with tattooing in mind. If you use a product for a purpose not intended by the manufacturer, you cannot complain when something goes wrong.
Tattoo ink has an entirely different consistency to fountain pen ink. It is designed to penetrate through the top layers of skin and remain there, whereas fountain pen ink is designed for surface application only, that surface being paper of various kinds.
Fountain pen inks have complex chemical formulas that are sometimes patented. They contain surfactants, resins, humectants, preservatives, biocides, and pH modifiers in addition to the dye. These chemicals have not been tested for cosmetic purposes on humans, so their safety factor is unknown.
Tattoo inks are entirely pigment-based and sterile. They are also formulated to avoid allergic reactions after being inserted by the tattoo needles. Even though some fountain pen inks use pigments, these are not intended to be used in tattoos. They may not be wholly sterile, and there is a greater possibility that they will contain allergens.
Why You Shouldn’t Inject Fountain Pen Ink Into The Skin
Human skin contains oils and fatty substances that paper doesn’t. There are also tiny blood vessels in the skin layer you need to penetrate when making a tattoo. It is, therefore, very different from the surfaces fountain pen ink is intended to be used on.
Skin is living tissue that moves, grows, and changes with time, whereas paper is much more static. Paper is made up of microscopic fibers of various sizes, while human skin consists of cells. The fibers in paper react chemically and mechanically with fountain pen ink in a completely different way to how skin reacts. You wouldn’t wet paper after you have written on it, but you have to bathe skin regularly to maintain body hygiene.
The majority of fountain pen inks are dye-based and are therefore likely to dissolve in body fluids such as the plasma and blood that seep out of a tattoo site. The dye particles are too small to be retained for long within skin cells. Most of the ink would be flushed out by blood and plasma almost as soon as it is deposited.
Pigments usually make stronger, fade-proof colors than dyes. Unlike fountain pen ink, Tattoo ink is classified as a cosmetic product by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Fountain pen ink is not recognized as a cosmetic because this is not its intended purpose.
Mold Can Grow In Fountain Pen Ink
Fountain pen enthusiasts have a term for anything they find in an ink bottle that is not transparent liquid ink. It is called SITB, short for Stuff In the Bottle or Slime In The Bottle, and it is generally anathema to fountain pen users. SITB can consist of sediments, mold, and slime and looks like a gel.
Mold can clog the delicate ink feed system in a fountain pen, making it unusable, and is hard to eliminate once it starts growing. While mold growth in fountain pen ink is rare, it can happen, particularly if the bottle has not been closed properly after use.
Fountain pen inks usually contain a biocide component, such as phenol, to prevent mold and other fungi from growing in them. However, if there is insufficient biocide in the ink or the bottle has been stored in inappropriate conditions leading to chemical changes, mold may still grow.Mold is a fungus. It is a living organism that sheds microscopic spores which can float in the air and be inhaled.
You do NOT want to inject mold into your skin! Fungal infections in humans are difficult to manage medically and can lead to serious illness, especially if you have a weak immune system. Some molds can continue to grow inside the human body. They can affect the central nervous system and the lungs, causing difficulty breathing or even seizures.
A medical condition called Sporotrichosis is an infection of the skin caused by a fungus. It usually happens when mold spores are forced into the skin by a thorn or sharp stick. A natural stick and poke, in other words. While this fungus usually occurs in gardeners and nursery workers because it lives in soil and on plants, it could get theoretically get into a bottle of fountain pen ink if you have spores on your hands or in the air.
Mold causes fountain pen ink to smell bad and may look like tiny threads, fuzz, or fur on the nib. You can sometimes see mold on the surface of the ink too. Some pen stores sell an additive that prevents mold from growing in ink.
Using Anything Other Than Tattoo Ink Is Not Smart
Fountain pen inks can be toxic in large quantities, while India ink is not. India ink is a cheap carbon-based ink that is very stable. It is therefore commonly recommended for stick and poke. However, professional tattoo ink is still better because India ink tattoos don’t hold up well over time. India ink was designed for writing and drawing on paper and textiles, not for insertion into the skin.
Any inks used for writing and drawing are not necessarily medically sterile. This means that they could contain pathogenic bacteria that can make you really ill. An infection from a tattoo can cause sweats, chills, shakes, and a high fever. It can even be serious enough to land you in the hospital, so it is not advisable to use non-sterile fountain pen inks for stick and poke.
If you’ve decided to get a tattoo using the stick and poke method, you should do all you can to ensure that it is attractive and permanent. Why would you use ink that is highly likely to make a mess, won’t last, and can cause a nasty infection?
Fountain pen ink is not suitable for tattoos, and you are likely to make a mess if you use it in stick and poke. There are enough health concerns around tattoos without adding to them by using the wrong ink. There is a high risk of contamination of inks used in DIY stick and poke with biological pathogens such as hepatitis C, HIV, and other blood-borne diseases. Using fountain pen ink just isn’t worth it.