While delving into the world of tattooing can be full of excitement, this journey also exposes you to many intricacies. It demands an elevated level of attention to detail that can quickly overwhelm even the most enthusiastic amateurs.
On top of the list is the elaborate process of creating intricate tattoo designs on clients’ skins. Unsurprisingly, most artists constantly face the accompanying fear of messing up the tattoo and creating an unrecoverable error.
Elaborate tattoos typically pack a lot of small details that can easily complicate the process and give credence to this fear of error, especially when you are freehanding the design.
Freehanding is a tattooing form where the artist draws the design by hand (using a pen or marker) directly onto the canvas and then etches it out with a tattoo machine.
However, this form of drawing tattoo strays into a realm typically reserved for only the most talented and experienced artists. This system is a highly specialized form of art, and it requires tattooists who have the know-how and the confidence to complete error-free designs by hand.
New artists, amateurs, and hobbyists do not have to make this jump. An alternative, less stress-inducing way to get started tattooing is to use tattoo stencils, either drawn by hand or printed from a tattoo stencil printer.
What is a Tattoo Stencil?
Tattoo stencils are outline drawings on either hectograph carbon paper or thermal paper that works as a template for transferring pre-fabricated designs onto the skin.
When working with a tattoo stencil, the artist applies the piece to the skin to create an outline, then traces it out with the tattoo machine to complete the job.
The pros of using stencils include considerable time savings, a lower chance of errors, and a massive simplification of the tattooing process.
Most premade stencils typically feature a standard barebones design of simple objects or the rudimentary framework of a more complex structure. The artist and the customer can then develop their own ideas further from this starter image.
The Case for Tattoo Stencil Printers
Consequently, with most tattooing jobs, tattoo artists have to customize pre-existing stencils or create a new one from scratch altogether.
For the longest time, the best way to achieve this goal was to draw the new stencil by hand on a tattoo transfer paper to create a stencil and then trace the design with a tattoo machine. Even today, many artists still stick to the use of pen and paper, mostly for sentimental reasons.
However, this method comes with a slew of potential problems.
Drawing a stencil by hand often defeats one of the main reasons to use a stencil in the first place: time savings. While hand-drawing a stencil provides more leeway for error than freehanding the tattoo, errors here can be time-consuming as you often have to restart the drawing from scratch.
Even after you’ve completed the drawing, your client may request an adjustment of the tattoo placement after you’ve transferred the design, and then you have to make the stencil again from scratch.
The latest technology—tattoo stencil printers—solves all of these problems.
With a tattoo stencil printer, you can quickly reproduce stencils, significantly optimizing your workflow and boosting your overall efficiency as a tattoo artist. Plus, with the proliferation of tattoo-design-capable software like Procreate, Photoshop, and AmazioGraph, you can now create and edit source photos to make your stencils on the fly for instant usage.
Portable personal-use tattoo stencil printers like those included in this article are effective for printing simple line pattern tattoos.
However, the result will be significantly lacking if you apply them to complex imagery that features intricate shadows or other elaborate color works. While the machine will do its best to transfer the image, the product may be more of an outline without complicated details.
Are you sold on these machines yet? Here are the top options on the market that you can snag today.
Our Pick: Life Basis Tattoo Stencil Transfer Machine
In Life Bass Tattoo Stencil Transfer Machine, you have one of the most popular tattoo thermal printers on the market today, and all it takes is one test run to understand why.
This device is a common feature in many professional tattooists’ studios and homes because it is arguably the best option you can get right now when creating dot matrixes for tracing out elaborate tattoos with your tattoo machine.
Another primary key to the popularity of the Life Basis machine is its extended functionality. This printer doubles as both a thermal copier machine and as a tattoo stencil printer. Meaning, you can use this machine to make a stencil out of a hand-drawn sketch on carbon paper or print a digital tattooing stencil (one created with an app like Photoshop).
This multifunctionality means that this machine can cater to artists who use digital creations and others who are more in love with the old, freehand drawing method simultaneously. The device also accepts print requests sent via Wi-Fi or ethernet.
Plus, the Life Basis machine also comes with two operating modes: Mirror and Copy, while letting you use both standard and mirror-inverted imagery to create stencils. With either mode, the machine will have a ready-to-use stencil available in under a minute.
The machine also features a deepness setting that lets you switch between “Deepness 1” and “Deepness 2” to adjust the device’s sensitivity to line thickness, adjusting it better to deal with either heavy or more delicate lines.
All of these functions come with dedicated control buttons (includes ones for start and stop) so that you know exactly how to trigger each process without the need to go through a manual. The device is super-easy to operate, and you will have it printing high-quality stencils for your work in no time.
Plus, if you need any extra help, the package ships with an instruction manual inside, written in simple, legible English that should be easy for anyone to follow.
You will find other items in the package include a power cable, a USB cable for connecting external devices, and ten sheets of transfer paper to get you started.
Getting transfer paper in the box is a big plus because one of the most common issues users face with portable copies is their lack of full compatibility with many paper types. The Life Basis Tattoo Stencil Transfer Machine is compatible with both A4 and A5 paper, so you should have no worries here.
However, to be on the safe side, you want to incorporate best practices like wiping the gears regularly and holding the paper as steady as you can during loading and opt for the highest quality papers you can get, like this 25-sheet set from Dragonhawk.
Another central selling point with the Life Basis Tattoo Stencil Transfer Machine is its extreme portability. With its maximum compactness and a total weight of only 1.17kg, this stencil printer is guaranteed to take up only a tiny portion of your workspace and is the ideal option to bring on the road.
Plus, while moving the device around, you never have to worry about its durability. The Life Basis printer has no heating elements, cylinders, or bulbs, so you never have to worry about replacing short-term use parts. This unique design also plays into the long-term economics of owning this printer.
Furthermore, if you run into any issues, you have the backing of the company’s offer of a 2-year warranty and a 1-year product replacement.
This printer also has the backing of a slew of positive reviews from users worldwide, including some top artists who tout the device as their top recommendation for small-sized stencil printers.
Considering everything the Life Basis Tattoo Stencil Transfer Machine has got going for it and its super-attractive sub-$200 price tag, you will have a tough time finding an option that offers a better bang-to-buck ratio on the market today.
- Max functionality working as either a thermal copier machine or a tattoo printer
- Raving reviews from customers and top professional artists
- Also accept print requests sent via Wi-Fi or ethernet
- Supports both A4 and A5 paper
- Mirror mode and dedicated modes for enhancing line detection
- Machine fault light indicator
- Compact and lightweight, with a total weight of only 1.17kg
- With a USB cable for connecting external devices, and ten sheets of transfer paper included in the box
- 2-year warranty coverage and a 1-year product replacement
How to Use a Tattoo Stencil Printer
One good thing about the market for tattoo stencil printers is that you hardly encounter any learning curve when switching from one machine to another. Most professional tattoo transfer machine features a similar layout, set of buttons, and operation process.
Hence, you have no qualms creating a general operating guide that will work with most machines on the market today.
- First, print or draw your favorite pattern onto some drawing paper and have it ready for copying.
- Next, take a transfer paper and remove the protective layer to get it ready for use.
- Place the edge of the yellow side of the transfer paper inside the input tray of the stencil printer.
- Place the drawing paper carrying your design inside the document feeder.
- Choose the line depth sensitivity to match your drawing style if the option is available.
Most tattoo stencil printers feature at least two deepness settings, with one for drawings with bolder lines while the other is more suited for light lines.
- Set the copy mode to mirror (default) or copy (in this mode, the machine does not correct for the mirror inversion that occurs when copying an image), and then hit the start or copy button to begin copying the design
For best results, gently lift the other end of the transfer paper as the machine prints. This small change can significantly increase the machine’s chance of accepting the paper and can make printing much smoother.
- Once the copying completes, the machine would have produced a stencil that is ready for use. However, sometimes, the printer may encounter an error (often indicated by an error light or a warning signal sound) and then stop copying abruptly.
Errors may stem from issues like the machine overheating or being incompatible with the supplied paper. In the case of the former, consider letting the machine rest for a bit. For best results, you should consider giving the machine a short break after completing every couple of copies.
For paper issues, you want to opt for the best quality papers you can find, like this 25-sheet set from Dragonhawk.
Many manufacturers will also ship their printer with a specific paper or recommend buying a particular brand. In such cases, defer to the manufacturer’s instruction as printer-paper compatibility is a delicate balance that can vary significantly from one brand to another.
Other 3 Best Tattoo Stencil Printer We Also Recommend
If our top pick, the Life Basis Tattoo Stencil Transfer Machine, does not do it for you (we seriously doubt that), here are three other top-notch options we found during our research that you can consider.
This group of tattoo stencil printers boasts some of the best functionality, quality, durability, and price effectiveness you will find anywhere.
1. Dragonhawk Tattoo Transfer Stencil Machine
Dragonhawk has made a name for itself as one of the few industry brands with a long track record of producing some of the highest quality tattoo supplies you will find on the market today. Expect nothing different from their entry into the printing space.
With the Dragonhawk Tattoo Transfer Stencil Machine, you get one of the few stencil printer made by a bonafide tattoo industry player. Hence, you wouldn’t be wrong to expect a higher level of build quality and more attention to detail, and that is what you get with this piece.
True to Dragonhawk’s ethos of blending the utmost simplicity with prime functionality, this stencil printer sports a clean, muted look, with a smooth black finish on the ABS material that forms the chassis and features an uncluttered button layout that is sure to impress. Yet, this printer gives you all the buttons that you need.
The manufacturer labels every button clearly and assigns them a dedicated purpose to significantly enhance your workflow and guarantee a seamless experience.
However, this printer is not all aesthetics. The Dragonhawk stencil machine maxes out on functionality, too, as it packs features like mirror mode, wireless or ethernet printing, thermal paper support, and A4 paper compatibility.
Plus, this printer ships at a pocket-friendly price point that is an excellent addition for a product from a company of such repute. Buying this unit also affords you the backing of Dragonhawk’s reliable customer service.
With its clean aesthetics and lightweight profile (the device weighs 1.67kg), this stencil machine is also a perfect choice for a portable printer. Plus, since the engine supports both dual voltage of both 110V and 220V, you never have to worry about the type of current you will get on the road.
- Stencil machine from a bonafide tattoo industry player known for producing high-quality tattoo supplies
- Superior minimalist aesthetics with uncluttered button layout and portable, lightweight profile
- Added functionality with mirror mode, wireless or ethernet printing, thermal paper support
- Included access to a video instruction manual
- Dual voltage support
- A4 paper compatibility
- pocket-friendly price
- Reliable customer service
2. BMX Tattoo Transfer Stencil Machine
If you want a transfer stencil machine that you can bring with you wherever you go, you should opt for one with a reliable, sturdy build that can take all the knocks that going on the road throws at it.
No option on the market right now fits the bill better than this tattoo transfer stencil machine from BMX.
We take it that this company gets its name from the ruggedness of those popular offroad bikes because that is what you get with their premier stencil printer.
The BMX thermal printer sports a seamless ABS material construction that creates a sturdy, well-made unit that can hold its own against the elements. The manufacturer also excludes standard extra components like bulbs to limit power consumption, and this inadvertently helps bolster the physical resilience of the produce.
Plus, you don’t have to trust our word on the sturdiness of this piece. BMX offers a 12-month warranty coverage with each product, with free returns, which essentially makes your purchase entirely risk-free.
Furthermore, this stencil machine only weighs 1.6kg, making it the ideal size for moving around with and printing designs on the go.
With this offering, you also get some of the fastest printing speeds paired with an extra-low noise output, which makes this piece perfect for all of the strangest places you visit on your journey.
However, BMX also delivers on the features side of things.
With their Tattoo Transfer Stencil Machine, you get all of the features you get with other top offerings. It features mirror printing support, printing over Wi-Fi or ethernet, indicator lights for power, error, printing modes, support for A4 and A5, and thermal paper compatibility.
- Sturdy ABS plastic construction will handle all the rough handling that comes with its extreme portability
- Stencil machine only weight 1.6kg for enhanced portability
- Superfast printing speeds and low noise output
- Indicator lights for power, error, and printing modes
- 12-month warranty coverage, with free return
- Dual voltage support
- A4 and A5 paper compatibility
3. Atomus Tattoo Transfer Stencil Machine
Atomus Tattoo Transfer Stencil Machine is another entry from a top industry manufacturer that promises to be one of the best stencil printers you have tried yet.
This company is the brand behind the famous Atomus tattoo machine, so it is no surprise that their stencil printer brings the same high-end build quality, superior performance, and unrivaled reliability.
This brand also differs from most of its competitors in its product presentation. On their product pages, you will find more information about their machine than most other manufacturers provide.
Plus, this brand also offers its stencil printer in two colors: white and black, which is a unique addition that you will be hardpressed to find anywhere else. With color options, you can pick the printer shade that matches the rest of your gear, suits your personal aesthetic, or slots in nicely into your tattoo parlor.
Aesthetic aside, the Atomus Stencil Machine packs every functionality you would expect from a printer of its caliber. This printer pack features like mirror mode, wireless or ethernet printing, thermal paper support, and A4 paper compatibility.
The Atomus also scores max points for efficiency as the printer sports some of the fastest transfer speeds while remaining stable and emitting low heat and noise.
Another central selling point of this device is its incorporation of dedicated control buttons with extended functionality that lets you tweak everything from the copy method to the design’s deepness and the print resolution.
On its ABS chassis, you will also find a slew of functional indicators, including a special overheating warning signal that alerts you when the machine performs at an abnormally high temperature, risking a wiring short circuit.
This machine has everything you would want in a portable stencil printer. Plus, inside the package, you also get an instruction book that guides you through the process of using the device effectively.
- Mirror mode, wireless or ethernet printing, and thermal paper support
- Available in 2 color options: white and black
- Indicator lights for power, error, and overheating
- Sturdy ABS plastic construction
- The U.S. Standard power cable
- With an included instruction manual
- One year warranty coverage