How to Use Tattoo Transfer Paper | Painful Pleasures Community

How to Use Tattoo Transfer Paper

Check out this complete guide to using tattoo transfer paper so you can achieve clean stencil transfers every time!
by Danny Tress Last Updated: March 28, 2024

For rookies and aspiring tattoo artists, getting the hang of tattoo transfer paper is crucial to starting your tattooing journey. While the different types of tattoo stencil paper and all of those layers may seem confusing at first (onion layer, anyone?), Fortunately, it’s pretty simple once you get started. Here’s what you’ll need to know:

Understanding the Different Types of Tattoo Transfer Paper

Close-up of tattoo stencil paper packaging by Saferly

There are primarily two types of tattoo stencil paper: hectograph and thermal. Hectograph paper (also known as freehand transfer paper) and thermal paper. Both types feature a top layer that serves for drawing or printing the design. The design then transfers onto another sheet that becomes the stencil you apply to your client’s skin. Between the two, you’ll usually have an “onion sheet.” Its only purpose is to keep the top and bottom sheets separate until you’re ready to draw or print. So, in a nutshell, you can discard the onion sheet.

As you can probably guess from the name, hectograph or freehand paper is great for hand-drawing stencils, and the pressure of the pencil is enough to transfer the design from the top layer to the bottom layer. Thermal paper, on the other hand, uses the heat of a thermal printer to transfer the design onto the bottom stencil layer. Unlike hectograph paper, thermal paper features an additional ink sheet between the top and bottom layers. This sheet is usually purple, but Spirt recently added red and green options to the market, which tend to show up better on darker skin tones. Also unlike hectograph paper, designs can be printed onto thermal paper instead of hand-drawn. This gives you the flexibility to draw your designs digitally and has made thermal paper by far the most popular type of transfer paper among most tattoo artists today. 

Preparing Your Design for Transfer

Tattoo stencil on stencil paper

Once your design is perfected, you must ensure the stencil comes out perfectly too. (Check out our blog on perfecting your tattoo stencil design using Procreate here). In the case of hectograph paper, this is as simple as removing the middle “onion” layer between the top and bottom sheets and ensuring that you use enough pressure to transfer the design to the bottom stencil layer as you draw. (You can find special hectograph pencils made for just this purpose.)

With thermal paper, you’ll need to make sure you carefully and correctly feed each layer of paper/ink sheet into the thermal printer as they can easily crinkle in the machine, ruining the stencil. Always double-check to make sure the design has transferred correctly before you apply it to your client’s skin.

Applying the Tattoo Transfer Paper

Tattoo artist applying tattoo stencil to client's skin

With your stencil ready to go, it’s time to apply it to the client. Of course, be sure to prep the skin first – that means wash it with green soap, shave it, sanitize it with alcohol, and completely dry it, too. Then, you’re ready to apply a thin layer of a tattoo transfer solution like Stencil Stuff or Recovery Stencil Primer. Carefully apply the stencil, spreading it from the center outwards until it lays smooth and flat. Then, use a towel to ensure it’s dried onto your client’s skin before gently and carefully peeling it off. If you’ve done everything correctly, you should have a perfect stencil of your client’s future tattoo!

Troubleshooting Common Issues

Tattoo stencil being printed

If your design didn’t transfer perfectly, take a deep breath—it happens. Common issues include incomplete transfers or smudging. In this case, you may need to clean your client’s skin more thoroughly to ensure the oils aren’t interfering with the stencil. You also want to hit the sweet spot with your tattoo stencil solution. Too much, and the ink from the stencil may not be able to dry properly onto your client’s skin. Too little and the ink may not transfer onto your client’s skin in the first place. 

Final Thoughts on Tattoo Transfer Paper

We hope this crash course has demystified the art of using tattoo transfer paper. Remember, practice makes perfect, so don’t be afraid to experiment with both hectograph and thermal paper and different transfer solutions as you refine your technique. 

Ready to stock up and get started? You’ll all of the industry’s most trusted brands of tattoo transfer papers and stencil transfer solutions here.

Comments are closed here.

Follow us @ Instagram