Hot! More Detailed Hand-drawn Stencils

By Larry Brogan

In most tattooing, a quality job starts with a well-drawn stencil. Long gone are the days of acetate stencils that wipe off with one pass of a paper towel. Today, most of us rely on thermal spirit masters and a thermal copier or Hectograph paper to hand draw our designs for application to skin. When drawing stencils, it is common to use tracing paper over the original image or a light box to help see the image more clearly. When doing more detailed or realistic designs, it is difficult to see the fine details clearly through the tracing paper, so the following techniques will help put more detail into your stencil drawing.

My process is to edit the original image in Photoshop, then reverse the design, so that you get a mirror image and print it on white copy paper. (Once stenciled, it is important to print the image in the reverse of how it will face on the body.) I then take a sheet of Spirit brand Hectograph paper and tape the original image to the purple side, tracing out your design on a hard surface such as a desk or clipboard, using a pencil or ballpoint pen, making sure to use enough pressure to transfer the purple image to the backside of your original. Tracing directly on the image allows you to see those tiny details and subtleties that get lost when using tracing paper. It is helpful to hold your image up to the light, so you can see where your outline may need more work.  When you are satisfied with the outline drawing, make a photocopy of your stencil. This will give you a master that faces in the proper direction and can be run through a thermal copier as many times as needed.

While it is possible to use the Hectograph stencil to transfer the image directly to the skin, one must keep in mind that, since it was drawn in reverse, to avoid tattooing the image backwards. I typically do not use my hand-drawn originals as an actual stencil, due to the fact it is sometimes difficult to apply the stencil straight and centered every time. It may not transfer to the skin perfectly or you may even find it necessary to re-size the whole image, in order to fit the body better.

In an industry where time is money, who wants to hand draw the same stencil multiple times when you can run it through a thermal copier in seconds?

By the way, Thermal Spirit Master Paper used in Thermo Copy Machines works, too, but Hectograph paper gives you a much crisper, darker image and is the best for hand-drawn stencils.

Spirit brand Hectograph paper can be found at Eikon Tattoo Equipment and Supplies, catalogue #2067 or through National Tattoo Supply in two sizes: catalogue #HP-100-11 and #HP-100-14.


  1. So it goes: always be open an interested and you will find something to learn from. like in this article… how many times did I make a stencil by hand, turned around and used it quickly on skin…? Too many… but this little trick is so helpful: make a copy of your stencil first so you can use it as many times as you want. Or make a bigger one. Or shrink it….how many times did I make a new stencil because the first one was not usable any more???? Shit… Thanx, Larry! Great! Awesome! Thanx for sharing!

  2. Thanks, guys. I am happy the article was helpful.

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