How to Use a Tattoo Stencil Machine: A Step-by-Step Guide

Tattoos have a great deal of importance to those who wear them, and that means getting them right is essential. 

Learning how to use a tattoo stencil machine is simple and helps you perfect your tattoos.

All you need to do is slide the paper into the machine, select your design, print it, and then transfer it onto your client’s skin.

It’s the ideal way to help transform creative expressions into reality and to ensure things go to plan. Everything you need to know to get started is right here.

Key Takeaways

  • Familiarize yourself with the tattoo stencil machine and all its components before use.
  • Clean both the skin and the tattoo equipment before starting a session.
  • Pick a tattoo transfer paper you are comfortable using.
  • Position your stencil on your client’s skin, adjusting as necessary for optimal results.
  • Always apply pressure evenly to ensure that lines don’t come out too thin or too thick on clients’ skins.

What are Tattoo Stencils?

Tattoo stencils are paper templates that help you to TRANSFER the design onto your client’s skin. 

This is a great way of ensuring that you have the correct shape and size for any tattoo, as well as PREVENTING mistakes from occurring.

It also allows you to create a template for COMPLEX tattoos, which makes it easier for both artist and client to see what the end result will look like.

Pro Tip: Stencils make it much easier to get accurate lines for a smooth result that looks professional in its execution.

READ MORE: Parts of Tattoo Machine

How to Use Tattoo Stencil Machines

If you’re ready to get started, the steps below will help you through the process. 

The GOOD news is that it’s exceptionally easy, and in a few short moments, you’ll have a fresh stencil to print onto your customer’s skin.

What You Will Need:

  1. Tattoo stencil printer
  2. Tattoo stencil paper (thermal paper)
  3. Stencil supplies
  4. Gloves for tattooing

Now that you have the supplies you need, let’s take a CLOSER look at the steps you’ll need to follow. 

Get that PRACTICE skin ready; you’ll need to give it a few runs before you’re ready to use the stencils on human skin.

You can also watch this video along with reading these steps to get a complete idea of stencil making. 

Pro Tip: Always get the right paper for your tattoo transfer machine, as every tattoo thermal copier has paper types it can and cannot use (such as carbon paper).

Step One: Plug in the Thermal Tattoo Printer

Find a suitable power outlet and plug in the machine. Then you can turn it on and wait for it to go through its warm-up cycle. 

Not EVERY machine needs time to warm up, and this is why you should always check the manufacturer’s instructions before you start.

Step Two: Get the Sheets Ready

It’s time to prepare the tattoo stencil paper. It’s important to make sure that the sheets are in the RIGHT ORIENTATION for printing out your design. 

To do this, you need to check which way the printer head will move over the paper and then adjust accordingly.

Step Three: Insert the Sheets

Slide the sheets into the machine and make sure that you have them in place properly. It’s IMPORTANT to get this right, as otherwise, your designs won’t print correctly. 

It can take a few tries, but patience and a little time go a long way to avoiding errors.

Step Four: Choose Your Design

Now you can choose the design that you want to print out. You can do this DIRECTLY from the machine or by uploading it via a USB port.

Pro Tip: This is a good time for you and your client to confirm and finalize the design choice before everything is printed. Good tattoo artists keep the client in the loop constantly.

Step Five: Copy the Design

Once you’ve chosen the design, it’s time to copy it onto the paper. 

This is EASY with tattoo stencil machines, and all you need to do is hit a few buttons (follow the instructions for your specific thermal printer) and wait until it’s done.

Step Six: Apply the Stencil

The machine will print out your design onto the tattoo stencil paper. You then need to cut it out with scissors or a stencil knife, and once you have done that, you’re READY to apply the stencil.

The application is very simple, but we’ll go through it in more DETAIL in the next section. This should help make it clearer so that you feel more CONFIDENT when doing it.

How to Print the Tattoo Design onto Skin

Now that you have the stencil ready, you need to PRINT the design onto your customer’s skin. 

To do this, start by applying a THIN layer of a stencil transfer medium, such as Vaseline or stencil gel, to the area.

Then place the stencil onto your client’s skin and FIRMLY press down in one motion. Make sure that you DON’T slide it around, as this will cause the design to become distorted. 

Then remove the paper, and you will be left with the tattoo design printed on your skin.

Pro Tip: Have a damp cloth in hand and use it to remove any excess transfer medium before proceeding.

With this done, you can get the tattoo needle out and start working on the design. 

The stencil will stay in place for a while, so there is NO NEED to rush, and you can take your time perfecting the design.

What are the Types of Tattoo Stencil Papers?

There are SEVERAL types of tattoo stencil paper available, and each one has its own unique properties. [1] 

The most common types are:

  1. Thermal transfer paper – This is the most popular type of stencil paper for tattoos, as it allows for a clear printout of the design. It’s also easy to use and produces good results.
  2. Thermal wax transfer paper – This type of paper is slightly more complicated to use than thermal transfer paper, but it allows for more intricate and detailed prints.
  3. Stencil foil papers – These are specially designed papers to help you create designs with a metallic sheen. They’re perfect for adding extra sparkle and shimmer to your designs.
  4. Hectograph paper – Hectograph paper is a type of stencil paper that has been used for many years and is still popular today. It’s great for creating bold designs and vibrant colors.
  5. Tracing paper – Tracing paper has been around for centuries and is a great choice for creating tattoo designs. It produces very detailed prints, and it’s also relatively inexpensive.

CHECK: List of Supplies Needed for Tattooing

Frequently Asked Questions

Are Tattoo Stencils Safe?

Tattoo stencils are generally safe as long as you follow the instructions correctly. 
By using a tattoo stencil machine and preparing your design choice in advance, you can ensure that there is no risk of skin irritation or infection.

Are Tattoo Stencils Considered Cheating?

No. Tattoo stencils are an effective way of ensuring that your design choice is accurate, and it’s a perfectly acceptable practice. Any good tattoo artist will tell you the same.

How Long Do Tattoo Stencils Last?

Tattoo stencils can last for several hours as long as you take care not to smear or smudge them. It’s best to apply them onto the skin as close to when you intend to tattoo as possible [2].


Using a tattoo stencil machine is an INCREDIBLY simple and straightforward process. 

By following the steps outlined above, you can quickly and accurately prepare your design choice for printing onto the skin.

With the right form of preparation, you can ensure a SAFE and satisfying experience for your customer. 

We hope this guide has helped you become more confident in the process as you start EXPERIMENTING and printing tattoo stencils. Remember to practice on fake skin first.

tattoo artist putting a stencil paper on the woman's leg


  1. tat2. Tattoo Stencils: Tips, Tricks, and Techniques from the Pros. Painful Pleasures Community. Published February 17, 2022. Accessed December 27, 2022.
  2. Kate. Do Tattoo Stencils Wash Off? What To Use For Removal? – InkArtByKate. Published 2022. Accessed December 30, 2022.

About Edith Russo

Edith is a self-made entrepreneur with a keen business sense that others admire and a total “can-do” attitude. She’s always coming up with new ideas to anticipate her readers’ needs and help solve all their toughest beauty and skincare problems. READ HER LATEST ARTICLES. FOLLOW HER on Linkedin and Twitter. Learn more about her HERE.

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