How Stencils Can Ensure a Great Tattoo

How Stencils Can Ensure a Great Tattoo

Flowers and foliage are what makes Jen Stewart tick. When the 44-year-old Canadian artist looks over a landscape and sees something she likes, she takes a photo. She knows she is about to plant the seeds for her next tattoo stencil.

Stewart, who studied at the University of Regina and the Nova Scotia School of Art and Design, knows how to draw a stencil from the photo she has taken. She has learned that tattoo artists are only as good as the quality of their stencils, as well.

Tattoo aficionados love stencils. They serve as a blueprint for guiding an artist through the basic features of a tattoo design and ensure that line thicknesses and shading are outlined and etched to meet the tastes of the client. A stenciled design makes life simpler for the tattoo artist and the subject who must live with the permanent artwork. The sad news is that far too many people are unhappy with their tattoos because they don't like the way the image appears.

While flash art will always be popular with clients, lots of potential customers also look forward to getting custom artwork done- whether this is them bringing in an image that they want, or asking the artist to draw up an idea they have in their head. While an artist can have an easier time sketching up something that can be tattooed, many clients simply aren't aware of the fact that not every image is transferable to skin. Whether it's very thin, fine lines that may negatively impact and clutter the larger image, or detailed to the point where it simply wouldn't look good on skin, this balance of what the client wants versus what the artist can do is a tricky act indeed.

This is where the practice of stenciling really comes into play. The artist can produce the image that the client wants, and can get rid of details from the image the client brings in that wouldn't translate to a good tattoo. After producing the stencil, the client can see how the image would look prior to getting the tattoo. Perhaps they wanted a tattoo in a particular spot on their body, however after seeing the outlined stencil of the tattoo, they realize they don't like the placement. Stenciling also allows the tattoo artist to produce an image exactly as it is drawn; making sure that the image is consistent with the client's needs.

Proper stencil transfers can help artists avoid creating a tattoo that their client will regret. Some of the products used in stencil transfer include surgical markers and blaster pens, copier machines specifically designed for stencil paper, and creams & gels for prepping skin and removing ink.

Transfer paper is a thin paper that acts as the vehicle for the tattoo artists to stencil the design of the tattoo to be placed on the skin of the client. This provides the artist with a carbon copy of the design stenciled on paper, that will be administered onto the skin. A thin coat of transfer fluid is generally used to coat the tattoo area and allow the ink to remain on the skin once the paper stencil is removed. When the paper and transfer gel are applied correctly, then when the transfer paper is peeled from the skin, the stenciled design will draw the ink from the paper and transfer it onto the clients skin. Now there is an exact replica of the original design ready to be inked. Thermal copiers and printers can also be used to create stencils that can be transferred onto a client's skin for outlining. For the adventurous artist and client, sprays are available that seal free-hand stencils.

While there are tattoo artists who don't use stencils, and specialize in what is known as 'freehand', the issue here is consistency. Two four-leaf clover tattoos, done by freehand and compared side by side, may not be exactly alike, as opposed to when a stencil is used.

This isn't to say that freehand tattoos are "wrong" or "bad" by any means- there are fantastic tattoo artists who create breathtaking masterpieces freehand. However, for common tattoos, or for clients who want a very particular image, using a stencil may be necessary. It's important for the client and the artist to sit down and discuss the image that is to be tattooed- the client can lay down precisely what it is that they will and will not change about the idea that they want, and the artist can give their creative input and direct the client as to what is transferable as a tattoo.

Bringing the client into this process not only allows them to feel more involved with the artwork that will be on their body forever, but also gives the artist a more defined, workable, idea so that the end result is a great one.

Tattoos don't have to provide unexpected results. Stencils allow for both the client and the artist to know exactly what is going onto the body, and are given a rough draft look at how it will appear on the skin. Both the artists and clients are encouraged to do their homework and carefully prepare together so that the tattoo experience is a positive, beneficial one, and the image that will be forever on the client's skin isn't one they will live to regret due to poor design execution. Make sure to sit with your client, and discuss the art going onto their body, and weigh out the options as to whether the tattoo in mind should be performed with a stencil or not.

Back to blog

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.