Whether you’re just beginning your tattoo apprenticeship or you have years of expertise, knowing how to make a tattoo stencil is essential. Tattoo stencils serve as a roadmap for where you will place your linework and shading. Furthermore, a solid tattoo stencil contains clear and crisp lines and dark enough ink to be able to transfer to the skin and be readable.
Luckily, there are several ways to make a readable tattoo stencil. With just a few tools and a little practice, you can nail down a method that works for you and create the perfect stencil every time. When considering which method to use, your budget, how frequently you’ll tattoo, and the size and style of your tattoos are factors to think about. For artists that tattoo lots of intricate detail, investing in a thermal printer would be wise. On the other hand, making a tattoo stencil by hand is not a bad option for those who tattoo thicker lines, smaller, or less detailed tattoos.
Let’s dive into how to create a stencil and the pros and cons associated with each method.
Drawing Your Tattoo Stencil: The Traditional Way
Before there were ipads and software programs, all designs and stencils were done by hand. This is the traditional method. No method is better than the other. It’s all a matter of preference.
However, doing everything by hand can be extremely time-consuming. To create your stencil by hand, you first need to create your design on a regular piece of paper. When creating your design, use colored pencils like red, green, or blue. These colors will be very prominent when tracing over it with a lightbox. After your design has been created, place a sheet of tracing paper over the design, and turn on your light. Carefully trace the design onto the tracing paper using pens. If the tattoo will have various line weights, use multiple pens with different sized tips. As a result, you will have an idea of which needles and tapers to use during the tattoo process. The idea is that your stencil will tell you exactly how to tattoo your design.
Once your design is complete, you may want to run it through your copy machine and store a copy in your portfolio. You can display it in your station, use it as a flash tattoo, or a reference for a future tattoo. Now it’s time to transfer the design onto stencil paper. Let’s discuss your options for creating a stencil.
The General Consensus About Tattoo Stencil
Although there are a variety of ways you can make a tattoo stencil, it seems the general consensus is that using a thermal printer is the way to go. If you have access to a thermal printer, take advantage of this machine. There may be a bit of a learning curve but once you’ve practiced, using this method can save you a lot of time and energy. In other words, using a thermal printer is especially helpful for tattoos with a lot of detail. Having to create your stencil by hand can drain your energy and make your hand tired before you’ve even begun to tattoo! Now, let’s get into detail on exactly how to create your tattoo stencil using a thermal printer.
Printing a Tattoo Stencil With a Thermal Printer
- Ensure your design is finished and printed (or drawn) to the desired size.
- Grab your stencil paper pack and peel up the first layer. Discard the brown, carbon piece underneath. Flip the packet over and remove the yellow backing with gentle tugs. This leaves you with the stencil paper and a purple layer.
- Feed your stencil paper into the machine. The purple layer should be against the machine. In other words, the stencil paper will be facing you. Select the mirror option on your machine and turn it on.
- Grab your design and feed it into the feed part of the machine, ink facing the machine. Do not push or pull the design or stencil paper. Instead, hold it gently and allow the machine to feed it through.
Tip: If you’d like to avoid wasting stencil paper, you may cut the paper to fit the size of the design. Just be sure to feed the design through the machine to line up perfectly with the smaller piece of stencil paper.
How to Make a Tattoo Stencil With a Regular Printer
Making a tattoo stencil with a pre-existing design and a regular (wireless) printer is simple. You will need to have special stencil ink installed into your printer. In addition, you will need tracing paper or stencil paper. If your design is hand-drawn, simply copy the design in your copy machine, adjust the size, and print it onto stencil or tracing paper. If you’re printing a digital design from Adobe Photoshop or Procreate, there are a few extra steps involved.
- Create a new layer on top of your finished design. Retrace the entire design to get line work only. Again, using different pens to create heavier/lighter line weight, if desired.
- Flip your design horizontally and save it to your device.
- Open your wireless printing app on your device. Adjust the size and print.
How to Make a Tattoo Stencil by Hand
Making a tattoo stencil by hand is arguably the simplest method since it bypasses the use of fancy machines. However, it can certainly take a lot longer and tire out your hand before you even begin tattooing. To create a tattoo stencil by hand, you will need the image you want to tattoo and stencil paper.
- Start by discarding the brown carbon paper. Place the image in between the two remaining pieces of tracing paper.
- Trace the design using a pen or several pens with various tip sizes.
- Cut out the stencil and it’s ready to use!
Tip: To ensure your design is as clean as possible, follow the steps above with a pencil first.
Making a Tattoo Stencil From Scratch
It is possible to make a stencil without the use of any machines or even stencil paper. Although this isn’t ideal, it can totally work for smaller and less detailed tattoo designs. Here’s how to create a tattoo stencil from scratch:
- Take a blank piece of paper and use a pencil to cover the paper with graphite. Make a spot a little bit larger than the design.
- Next, put the design on top of the graphite and make sure it’s center. Use a pencil to trace over your design.
- Flip the design over and you should see that the graphite has stuck to the other side of the design, replicating it. Now go over this side with a pen. Be cautious when applying pressure with your pen as it may rip the design.
- The side that is raised, or the opposite side you just traced in pen, is the side you will use to transfer to the skin.
Tattoo Stencil Solution
You may have heard that you can use water, alcohol, vaseline, or even deodorant to adhere the stencil to the skin. These practices are generally not ideal. Without a proper tattoo stencil solution, your stencil will not adhere to the skin very well. As a result, you will end up with smudged and inconsistent stencil lines. Tattooing over lines that are not crisp and clean may result in a very distorted, sloppy tattoo. Solutions high in isopropyl alcohol content should be avoided, as they irritate the pores. Vaseline and deodorant can be used sparingly. And, if you decide to use deodorant, you’ll need to choose one that contains propylene glycol, like Speed Stick.
DIY Tattoo Stencil Solution
Thankfully, there are dozens of inexpensive tattoo stencil solutions on the market. However, it is not necessary to purchase one. Here are a couple of DIY tattoo stencil solution recipes.
- Just use green soap or antiseptic soap! Commonly used before, during, and after the tattoo session to cleanse the skin, green soap is very effective for transferring stencils to the skin. You may want to dilute the soap with distilled water and place it into a spray bottle for easier application.
- Aloe vera, Speed Stick, and hand sanitizer. Mix 4 oz Aloe Vera, 2 oz hand sanitizer, and an entire melted Speed Stick together. To keep the solution sterile, microwave or melt the deodorant in a sterile container. It would also be wise to use a microwave and materials dedicated to this process, to avoid contamination from food and bacteria.
- Vaseline or petroleum jelly. Use a sterile, gloved finger to apply a tiny bit of vaseline to the skin. Too much will cause the stencil to smudge. This is not ideal, but it’ll work if it’s your only option.
- Speed Stick. Follow the same process as above. To keep your tattoo process as sterile as possible, use a sterile tool or a gloved finger to extract some of the deodorants from the container. Do not apply the stick directly onto your client’s skin.
Applying Your Tattoo Stencil
Before you’re ready to apply your tattoo stencil, ensure that the skin has been shaved and cleaned with antiseptic soap. Allow the skin to dry and then apply your tattoo stencil solution. Grab your stencil and carefully place it onto the skin. Give the stencil 10 seconds to rest on the skin before gently pulling it back off. Double-check that the design is sitting how you’d like and that your client is happy with the placement. If your stencil is blurry or smudged, clean the skin with antiseptic soap and try again with a new stencil. Once all is in order, you’re ready to begin tattooing!
As we mentioned, there is no right or wrong way to create a tattoo stencil. Each tattoo artist has their own unique method that works for them. Research your options and use the tools available to you to find what works best for you.
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