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Last Updated on October 28, 2020
Tattoos are as popular as ever, but that doesn’t mean getting one isn’t a big decision.
For many, the process of deciding on future body art can be painstakingly deliberate. For others, it’s about spontaneity and getting inked “in the moment.”
No matter how you’ve arrived in the parlor chair, you’ll likely notice your tattoo artist utilizing tattoo transfer paper. The paper that tattoo artist uses is a carbon copy that leaves an outline on your skin of the design. If you’ve ever had fun with fake tattoos as a kid, it’s a similar concept.
Transfer paper is a must to ensure a tattoo is sharp, proportionate, and exactly as intended.
We’ll discuss what tattoo transfer paper is and illustrate how to use tattoo transfer papers for aspiring tattoo artists and curious minds.
Two Options: Hectograph or Thermograph
To start, there are two different types of tattoo transfer paper:
- Hectograph tattoo transfer paper
- Thermographic transfer paper
Hectograph transfer papers are carbon copy sheets that closely mimic the process of applying a childhood tattoo. The only difference is that you or the artist are drawing the tattoo. You may hear people refer to these as “freehand transfer papers,” as well.
The second option is a thermographic transfer paper, a more complicated process involving a thermogenic image transfer.
Each option makes transferring images to your skin significantly easier and exponentially more accurate than eyeballing an outline.
Hectograph/Freehand Tattoo Transfer Paper
Hectograph or manual transfer papers are a convenient way to transfer images on tattoo paper. If you understand this method, learning how to use tattoo transfer paper is simple.
These are three-layered carbon copy sheets similar to what you would see in a manual typewriter. The top sheet is where you’ll draw the tattoo design, the center sheet removes when you begin, and the bottom sheet is the carbon where the drawing will transfer.
The process is simple. Draw your tattoo design on the top sheet allowing it to copy down onto the bottom sheet. Once you’ve done that, you can cut out your design and begin to prepare your skin.
You can use a product called Stencil Stay on your skin to remove imperfections and ensure that the image comes through sharply and accurately.
When your skin is ready, you’ll align the transfer paper on the location where you want the tattoo. It may take a few tries for you to get it right. Take your time. The last thing you want is a tattoo in a location or position you didn’t expect.
Once you’ve aligned the sheet with confidence, wet it with a damp sponge or cloth by wiping back and forth.
Remove the tattoo stencil transfer paper and check to ensure that the design looks correct on the skin. This type of tattoo stencil transfer paper is relatively inexpensive and easy to use, so you can wipe it off and give it another go if you’re not happy with what you see.
There are several colors available to ensure maximum visibility, depending on your skin tone.
Thermographic Tattoo Transfer Papers
Thermal transfer papers consist of four unique layers. The top layer is where the design will transfer over. It’s coated in a thin, disposable layer that protects it from dust and dirt.
Beneath that is a purple ink layer, which is the same as the carbon sheet from the previous method—this layer aids in transferring your image.
The final layer is a yellow sheet that acts as a support for the rest of the sheets. This layer is there to hold everything in place and protect the carbon sheet from getting damaged or dirty.
Create your design on a regular sheet of white paper using a pencil.
When you’re finished, slide the sheet between the purple ink layer and the yellow bottom sheet. Your drawing will now be the third sheet in line from top to bottom.
Now you’ll insert all four sheets of paper into a thermogenic transfer maker. These are in most tattoo artist shops. If not, check your local printing shop.
After you’ve run the papers through the machine, make sure you remove the top piece of paper to find your design underneath. Prepare your skin the same way as before and position the paper on your skin.
Smooth out the sheet and apply pressure to make sure that the image transfers properly. When you pull back the thermal paper, you should see the full drawing represented on your skin.
Here are some common questions we receive regarding how to use tattoo transfer paper.
Q: Can you use a regular printer for tattoo transfer paper?
A: If you have temporary tattoo paper and a printer, you can make a tattoo stencil transfer paper, but it won’t be of the same quality.
Q: Where can you buy a transfer paper?
A: You can find tattoo transfer paper on Amazon, Walmart, and possibly local tattoo shops. There are also cases where we’ve seen people use parchment paper, wax paper, and even vaseline to transfer tattoo images.
Needing to remove a tattoo is the last thing anyone ever wants to do. It’s more painful than the initial process, it is costly, and it is inconvenient.
Using tattoo transfer paper along with the processes mentioned above is the closest you can come to getting a good look at the design on your skin before you give your artist the green light.
While we can’t promise you’ll never outgrow any of your tattoos, you can significantly reduce the risk of regret or dissatisfaction by seeing a non-permanent version of the design first using transfer paper.