A tattoo stencil is the necessary guide that an artist uses to help produce stellar tattoo work. Creating and applying a potent tattoo stencil at the start of a session is essential because it cannot be reapplied mid-way through a tattoo. There are numerous ways to create a tattoo stencil, and our article will tell you how to make one by hand.
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How Do Tattoo Artists Make Their Own Stencils?
The idea of tattoo stencils came into practice when flash tattoos became commonplace in parlors, or distributed among people who wanted to get matching tattoos. It presented a quick way for a design to go from a concept and onto skin.
The first method of tattoo artists applying stencils was freehand, via a permanent marker. Before stencil printers even existed, creating stencil paper was the “modern” way that tattoo artists transferred a design onto skin, ready to be tattooed. Stencil paper has a property that is similar to carbon paper, and it helps create dark ink lines on skin as a tattooing guide. These lines are not permanent, but serve the purpose for the length of a session, washing off with wipes of alcohol.
When creating your tattoo stencil paper by hand, or if you’re making your tattoo stencil at home for practice, you need to ensure you have all the materials available to you. This includes:
- Tracing or wax paper (translucent paper)
- An ink pen with a fine tip
- Stencil ink and a dip-pen, or a stencil pen
- Masking tape
- Antibacterial soap
- A disposable razor
- Stencil stay lotion, or stick deodorant if that’s unavailable
How To Make A Tattoo Stencil
Step One: Create and Practice Your Design
Since you are drawing your stencil by hand, there are not many opportunities to print and re-print your design if you have any errors. For this reason, you should practice drawing your design, tracing it, and perfecting the lines.
If you do print a design off of a computer as your basis, then you don’t need to worry about perfecting it by hand. You merely need to ensure that the picture, whether printed or drawn, is bold enough to be seen through the tracing paper you are using.
Step Two: Transfer to Tracing Paper
When you’re happy with your bold-lined design, you need to carefully transfer it onto tracing paper by hand. Remember that you should be patient and allow ample time to do this process, because if you mess up this layer, you will have to start from scratch.
The easiest way to ensure that you are working on a secure work surface is to take down your design and then tape down the translucent paper over top. This will prevent your work from moving, should you need to walk away from it for a moment.
After you have carefully done your first tracing, it’s time to flip over your tracing paper, tape it down, and trace over it again. The reason for this is to create a flipped image that will apply properly and in the correct direction when put onto your client’s skin. Consider that the image needs to be applied ink face down so failing to trace it a second time will reverse the image that your client desires, and make any writing you are doing appear backwards on skin!
Step Three: Transfer to Skin
Prior to applying any stencil to a client’s skin, the area must be carefully shaved with a disposable razor. This ensures that it sticks properly and is easier to tattoo.
Clean the area with antibacterial soap and then dry it. Carefully position the stencil, hovering above the area that you are going to tattoo. Remember that once it is applied, very rarely can hand-drawn stencils be applied a second time so ensure you get the positioning right!
Apply the stencil lotion or stick deodorant to the area and carefully apply the stencil, patting it from the bottom and moving upwards, so there are no bubbles or bumps in the transfer. Do not rub the stencil, but merely pat it gently so it sticks. Allow the stencil to remain attached to the skin for around two minutes to allow for a successful transfer.
After two to three minutes, you can slowly peel the transfer away to reveal your design which is ready to be tattooed.
Other Methods to Make Tattoo Stencils
- You could make a tattoo stencil using tattoo-specific transfer paper. For more information on this method, have a look at our article, Tattoo Transfer Paper - What It Is And How To Use It.
- Many shops or traveling artists use stencil printers to create their tattoo stencils. These can be expensive but do simplify the tattoo stencil process. Have a look at our article on, The 5 Best Tattoo Stencil Printers Reviewed.
Our Final Thoughts
Creating a tattoo stencil by hand enables you to become more skilled in the industry of tattooing, as both an artist, as well as a professional who understands the process of turning a concept into a stencil and then into a completed work of art. Don’t be discouraged if it takes you numerous tries to nail down your traced design. It’s much better to spend time perfecting your piece so you can create excellent work on your clients.