How to Use Tattoo Transfer Paper

How to Use Tattoo Transfer Paper

Transfer paper is something that makes the life of both tattoo artist and client way easier. Even professionals keep tattoo transfer paper on hand to ensure the best for their customers. The paper allows clients to inspect their tattoo design before it becomes permanent. It allows artists to know exactly what the client wants before it goes into their skin. Most importantly, it reassures both of them that the end result of the tattoo session will meet both of their expectations! If you’re an artist and wondering how to use tattoo transfer paper, then look no further! This article has a step-by-step guide on using it, information on transferring without a machine, how to make transfer paper at home, and finally which type of tattoo transfer paper you’ll want to stick with. Let’s get started!

How to Transfer Tattoo Stencil to Skin with Carbon Paper: 10 Steps

I’ll start with the basics that most tattoo artists need to know. Thermographic transfer paper is very easy to use (assuming you have a thermal printer for them, which I talk about on this page). There should be at least two thermal printers in every tattoo shop. If you want to deliver the perfect design to your own artist, rather than have them do it, you can also pay attention to how to make that design easier on their end!

  • Step One – Draw your design in pencil on the regular white paper. Make it as close to your desired design as possible. When you transfer the tattoo, it will look exactly the same as your drawing (albeit in a transferable format).
  • Step Two – Put your design in between the two sheets.
  • Step Three – Put everything through the thermal printer. Make sure to smooth it out as best you can beforehand so that your design completely shows up.
  • Step Four – Throw away everything but your newly transferred design. It will be on the waxy layer.
  • Step Five – Wash your customer’s skin with a soft soap and water. Shave it until it’s nice and smooth. After that, rinse it off. It’s okay to keep it wet, but make sure to get all the soap off. Any soap will make the stencil transfer before you want it to.
  • Step Six – Confirm the location with your client. Don’t forget this step. Once you both agree on a spot, go ahead and press the carbon paper firmly onto the tattoo area. You’ll be able to redo this if it’s in the wrong spot, but you’ll have to start again from step one.
  • Step Seven – Wet your client’s skin with soapy water and apply it to the carbon paper while it’s still on the client. Carefully place the tattoo, checking again with your client to see if it is positioned correctly.
  • Step Eight – Smooth it out to really make sure that it transfers. It won’t be super dark—it only serves as an outline—but you still want to transfer as much as possible.
  • Step Nine – Carefully peel away the carbon paper. By peeling slowly, you can choose to put it back down if you notice any bits that didn’t transfer. If you notice any holes, just follow the angle back down and smooth it out again. Feel free to add more soapy water, so long as the transfer paper stays in place.
  • Step Ten – Confirm the placement and appearance with the client one last time. If they are dissatisfied, simply remove it with rubbing alcohol (just like a temporary tattoo), rinse the area off, and try again.

How Does Transfer Paper Work?

If the above section is a little confusing, don’t worry. Let’s talk about what makes carbon transfer paper work before we move on. Transfer paper was originally made for type writers. Keys would use pressure to create two copies of a work at the same time. This was exceptionally useful when you needed the second half sent elsewhere. People still use this type of pressure-sensitive paper for anything involving signatures. On top of that, by using transfer paper, people saved a lot on ink (which, let’s be honest, is still expensive).

From the old pressure-sensitive transfer paper, research brought us all the way to thermal transfer paper. In the current era, these are used almost exclusively for tattoo stencils. A thermal tattoo transfer paper has four layers—a top layer for drawing the design, a waxy layer, a layer of red or violet ink, and a final layer to hold everything steady in the printer. Temporary tattoos use a similar method of transfer, which you can learn about on this page. There are even methods to make custom temporary tattoos that look realistic! You can find all the details you need on that here.

How to Use Tattoo Transfer Paper without a Machine

If you don’t have a thermal printer, but still want to give your clients consistent and satisfactory design work, there are still ways of doing it. Simply draw directly on the paper. The end result is less clear than a thermal printer and relies on the ability to draw things right the first time. Sounds like a breeze, right? Well, no. There’s no erasing. You might as well draw right onto the client. At the same time, the technique does have its benefits.

The advantage to transferring tattoos this way is that you can show the client exactly what they are getting before the stencil gets to the skin. It helps you get the size and shape perfect, even if the tattoo area is on a curved part of the body. Other than the consistence and ease that a thermal printer allows, this has all the same positives that a thermal printed stencil would give.

Homemade Transfer Paper for Tattoos

To make homemade transfer paper, you only need four things: tracing paper, a graphite pencil, a solvent of some sort (I.E. Rubber Cement Solvent), and something like a cotton ball or small sponge. Scribble a layer of graphite onto the tracing paper. You don’t have to cover every millimeter, but do a thorough job. Once that’s done, move into an open or outside area and apply your solvent. This destabilizes the graphite and makes it more of a liquid. Smear that liquid around with your cotton or sponge until it looks like a smooth color. Let it dry, apply the graphite side to your client, and trace over a regular design with the transfer paper beneath it. There will be a bit of a mess, but the parts where you draw will be easily recognizable.

This is the easiest way to make tattoo transfer paper, but it’s not without its cons. First and foremost—do you know if those chemicals are safe to use on your clients? Graphite is probably safe, but who knows what the solvents do. You are poking a suspicious substance into your client along with the ink. Second—it isn’t as clear as a thermal stencil (even a non-printer  thermal stencil) would be. Third—solvent isn’t cheap, even if it lasts a while. The only reason you should be doing this technique is if thermal transfer paper is difficult to get ahold of. That’s not even counting just how many of these papers you’d have to make as a professional tattoo artist. Filling in an entire sheet of paper with a graphite pencil takes ages, and you need to do it every time you make one!

Best Tattoo Transfer Paper

So, what sort of transfer paper is the best for tattoos? If you’ve been reading at all, you’ll notice I only wrote about Thermographic tattoo transfer paper. This is the widely-accepted industry standard (if something like that even exists for the tattoo ‘industry’). There is one other type of transfer paper that pops up in tattoo shops sometimes. It’s sometimes called Hectograph tattoo transfer paper, and other times freehand tattoo transfer paper.

Unlike thermal paper, it stuck to the pressure-sensitive transfer technique. It only needs three layers—a top layer to draw on, a tissue layer that protects the bottom layer, and then the bottom layer that the stencil gets transferred to. Before you begin, you remove the protective tissue paper. You can freehand it easily, simply tracing any designs you want onto the paper. If you have a dot matrix printer (memories!), you can even print directly onto the paper. However, I haven’t seen one of those since the 90s. Let’s just check the price on that…two or three times more expensive than a regular printer, yikes!

If it wasn’t already apparent, thermal transfer paper is the best tattoo transfer paper. Hectograph transfer paper jumps into the lead only when you are missing a thermal printer. It’s true that both have freehand and printed styles, but thermal paper has way more consistent results and a smaller monetary barrier (which you can confirm from my thermal printers review article). On top of that, thermal printers are able to transfer more kinds of ink. Want to transfer something to a shirt? It can do that. Maybe you want something for your purse? It can do that too. Its versatility goes way beyond hectograph tattoo transfer paper.


Learning How to Use Tattoo Transfer Paper

Are you feeling a little more confident in your knowledge of how to use tattoo transfer paper? Hopefully so! Learning how to use tattoo transfer paper is an essential part of becoming a tattoo artist. You need perfection and confidence to ensure the best experience for your client, and tattoo transfer paper gives you both of those. Drawing and printing are things that artists do all the time, so even if you have no experience working with tattoo transfer paper or thermal printers, you will pick up the specifics quickly. It’s only a matter of time before you become a master at nailing those perfect designs!

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