Best Tattoo Transfer Papers in 2021 (That Simply Do the Trick)

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When you consider the added utility stencils bring to the tattooing process, it is no surprise that they are a common feature in almost every tattoo parlor.

In the days before the invention of the tattoo stencil, the only way for the artist to transfer their concept onto human skin was to draw directly on it. This method presents several problems, chief of which is that tattoos are permanent, and hence, even a slight error can easily mess up your designs and make them unrecoverable.

Enters the tattoo stencil. Tattoo stencil papers form a much-needed intermediary that generates a bridge between the abstract world and your client’s skin. When using stencils, tattoo artists can perfect their drawings and verify their customers’ concepts before placing a single dot of ink on their skin.

Tattoo transfer papers also help make the tattooist’s job faster and more efficient. The artist has guiding lines leading him through the entire process and helps ensure that the image transfers correctly, with all of its tiny details, in the shortest time possible.

Stencils help significantly on the client-side as well. Since you have to place the stencil on the customer before you start drawing on them, this method offers them a last look at how the finished tattoo will appear on their skin while they can still reverse their decisions.

This preview can help customers validate the concepts in their minds or reject them before it’s too late, saving them any potential regrets and saving you the stress of attempting a rescue operation after drawing a significant portion of the design.

Once you are ready to get stenciling, you need to pick up a batch of high-quality papers for use with your tattoo stencil printer or draw your stencil on by hand, if you so prefer.

The good news is there is an abundance of top-notch options available on the market today, and you should have no trouble finding one that works. Here is a selection of our favored options.

Types of Tattoo Transfer Papers

There are two main types of tattoo transfer papers that correspond to this tool’s two main use-cases.

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The first type of tattoo transfer paper is the hectograph paper, a carryover from the days of old typewriters that created words by making indentations (impact transfer) into the form.

These papers work using the same process, making them the ideal paper type for hand-drawing your stencil.

Hectograph papers typically feature three layers:

  • a top layer where you hand-draw your design to imprint it on the lower layers,
  • a second intermediate layer (usually also a carbon paper layer that provides the stencil ink) that helps protect the adhesive property of the bottom layer, and
  • the bottom layer which becomes the stencil.

However, if you are using a tattoo stencil printer (like most artists today), you need thermal paper.

Thermal tattoo transfer papers are 4-layered papers (thermal papers add a protective layer up top) that are heat-sensitive. Hence, they can work with stencil printers to imprint hand-drawn or digitally printed designs onto their stencil layer.

Thermal papers are now the industry standards as they are the only option compatible with modern printers, and you can often use them with both stencil machines and hand-drawing stencils. (artists can also use most thermal paper for impact transfers.)

How to use a Thermal Printer to Make Tattoo Stencils

Our Ultimate Pick: Pirate Face Tattoo Transfer Stencil Paper

Make a top list of any tattooing accessories, and the name “Pirate Face Tattoo” is almost guaranteed to pop up at least once.

Since 2008, the company has made a name for itself, manufacturing the most reliable tattoo product at some of the market’s best prices. Their entry into the paper department is no different.

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This paper set is a common feature in many top tattoo artists’ arsenal because of its dependable performance and extensive cross-compatibility. Pirate Face Tattoo’s offering is also one of the most affordable options from a leading industry player that you will find on the market.

With Pirate Face Tattoo Transfer Stencil Paper, you get a 15-sheet set of transfer paper suitable for both uses with freehand drawing or in a thermal copier machine.

The sheets included in this set are 4-ply options that include a transfer sheet, a removable protective tissue, a purple carbon layer that brings the ink, and a yellow backing sheet that adds some heft to the structure.

Tip

After printing or freehand-drawing the stencil, the usable copy appears on the top sheet’s backside, immediately above the protective tissue. Remove the protective semipermeable layer before applying the stencil to the skin.

Highlights

  • 15-sheet set of transfer paper
  • Suitable for both freehand drawing and thermal copying
  • Compatible with most tattoo stencil printer brands
  • A4 thermal sheets
  • Super affordable
How To Make A Tattoo Stencil At Home (hand-drawing a Stencil)

Best Tattoo Papers

Whether with digital printers for your office or tattoo stencil printers, the issue is the same.

Finding the right paper for your machine is a delicate business. Some devices will reject some forms for no apparent reason, while the best thermal paper for your machine may not even be the best overall option on the market.

If our top pick does serve you correctly for some reason, you can opt for any of the following top-quality options that we all found during our research.

1. Top Pick 1: Spirit Master Classic Thermal Transfer Paper

The thermal paper offerings from Spirit Master are some of the oldest that are still in production, which says a lot about their products’ quality.

This set brings a 25-piece pack of the Classic Spirit Master thermal paper that started it all and is still the preferred choice of many artists worldwide.

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This paper features a 4-ply setup identical to what you get with Pirate Face Tattoo’s piece. Spirit Master Classic also works with both thermal machines and for use with the freehand drawing of stencils.

The manufacturer guarantees compatibility with the 3M thermal fax machine, Pockjet thermal machine, and Copier tattoo stencil printer on the product page for this offering.

However, this paper also works with a host of other standard devices, so you shouldn’t have any issues pairing it with your pre-existing unit.

All Spirit Master papers are made here in the U.S.A with vegan values.

Highlights

  • 25-sheet set of transfer paper
  • Works with both freehand drawing and thermal copying
  • Compatible with Pockjet, Copier, 3M, and other major thermal printer brands
  • A4 (8.5x 11) thermal sheets

2. Top Pick 2: Stencil Pro Tattoo Transfer Paper

The Stencil Pro Tattoo Transfer Paper by Numbskin is the renowned manufacturer’s premier offering in the stencil paper space that promises some of that high-end quality that the brand represents.

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Like with most other top offerings, here, you get a four-ply paper that includes a master sheet, a semipermeable removable tissue layer, a navy blue carbon page, and a yellow back sheet.

Furthermore, like with most modern thermal paper options, this 50-set thermal paper offering also lets you create stencils with either a thermal copier stencil machine or with a ballpoint pen by hand.

Numbskin is also one of the only companies that offer any warranty with their thermal paper offering. It backs each package with a full lifetime money-back guarantee that gives you a full refund if the product performs subpar.

Highlights

  • 50-sheet set of transfer paper
  • Suitable for both freehand drawing and thermal copying
  • Compatible with most tattoo stencil printer brands
  • Full lifetime money-back guarantee
  • A4 thermal sheets
  • Value pack

3: BoChang Tattoo Stencil Paper

With this set of thermal papers from BoChang, you get everything you would want in a reliable pack of tattoo stencil papers designed to handle all of your tattooing projects.

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The pack includes a set of 30 sheets of 4-ply stencil paper cut to a standard A4 notebook sizing.

Elsewhere, the BoChang paper set is as conventional as it gets, featuring a regular carbon sheet that produces those familiar dark blue stencils that every artist recognizes.

This paper set also features a high-end construction with quality paper and dyes combined with its standard 4-ply design to ensure compatibility with most industry stencil printers currently in production.

Like most other thermal papers in its class, this stencil paper set works with both thermal and impact transfers, so you can draw on them by hand once you take off the protective tissue layer.

BoChang Tattoo Stencil Paper is an excellent bet for tattoo parlors, tattoo artists, and hobbyists everywhere. Plus, if they don’t work for you correctly, you can always take advantage of the company’s 100% satisfaction guarantee coverage. BoChang will send you a new set of papers or refund your money on the receipt of product complaints, no questions asked.

Highlights

  • 30-sheet set of transfer paper
  • Suitable for both thermal and impact transfers
  • Works with most tattoo stencil printer brands
  • 100% satisfaction guarantee coverage

4. Budget Option: Nykkola Stencil Transfer Paper

Tattoo transfer papers are already some of the cheapest equipment you need when tattooing a customer.

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However, whether you are facing tighter constraints or in your mass-experimenting amateur phase and need as much paper as possible for your dollar, Nykkola Stencil Transfer Paper represents one of the deals on the market that you can get.

Here, you get a 25-piece pack of decent quality tattoo transfer paper at sub ten bucks levels, a deal that is too good to pass up. This offering is an excellent choice for tattoo beginners seeking practice gear or tattoo parlor owners search for the best bang for their buck on the market.

These sheets feature a standard 4-layer thermal paper setup that works with both freehand drawing and electronic stencil printers.

Highlights

  • Super attractive value proposition, with 25 thermal papers for around eight bucks
  • Works with both thermal copying and freehand drawing
  • Compatible with several stencil machines
  • A4-size thermal transfer paper

5. Best Freehand Drawing Option: Spirit Classic Tattoo Transfer Paper

While most thermal papers now also work with freehand drawing, if you are a tattooist who likes to keep things traditional, you may want to do the same with your tools too.

What brand to go with than with Spirit, arguably the foremost transfer paper manufacturer in the business?

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With this 25-piece set of Spirit classic tattoo transfer papers, you get a batch of high-quality papers designed exclusively for drawing by hand. These papers will not work with a thermal stencil printer.

With this set, you get papers infused with extra visible ink that creates extremely legible designs even with light strokes of your pen. There are no processes with using this paper, and you can start drawing with any ballpoint pen to begin creating your design.

The paper is also tough enough to prevent tracing tears, a common issue with lightweight pieces designed exclusively for freehand designs.

Highlights

  • 25-piece set of Spirit classic tattoo transfer papers
  • Exclusively for freehand drawing
  • Works with any ballpoint pen
  • A4-size transfer paper
  • Stencil Pro Tattoo Transfer Paper

6. Best Thermal Roll: Spirit Classic Thermal Roll

Imagine stenciling an enormous dragon down the full length of a client’s back. That’s a lot of A4 stencil paper pieces, a lot of paper lining up to do, and the recipe of a precarious situation that is likely to end in chaos.

That’s if you are using regular transfer papers.

Thermal rolls offer a more convenient way to handle elaborate stenciling designs as they provide a continuous sheet of thermal stencil material that is perfect for more extensive jobs like sleeves, half-sleeves, and full-bodies pieces.

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What better way to get an introduction to thermal roll than with this kit from arguably the best manufacturer in the business?

With the Spirit Classic Thermal Roll offering, you get 100 feet of continuous 3-ply thermal paper that works with all standard tattoo stencil printers. This extensive expanse of stencil paper is excellent for larger tattoo pieces and a perfect value proposition for multiple smaller tattoos, as you can easily cut small portions from the whole.

Plus, the product is shelf-stable and won’t degrade over time, so you can store it for extended periods, enjoying some of the best price-to-value ratios on the market.

Highlights

  • 100 feet of continuous 3-ply thermal paper
  • Compatible with most tattoo stencil printer brands
  • Shelf-stable over extended periods
  • Supreme value pack

7. Best For Dark Skin: Spirit ReproFX Thermal Sheet

At first glance, getting new tattoos done right can appear to be treacherous terrain for darker-skinned folks.

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Whether it’s the shortage of Instagram eye-candy that feature folks with higher melatonin, or the abundance of myths about tattooing dark skin, you are almost guaranteed to have caught wind of some discouraging information.

Info:  Tattooing Black Skin Myths

Some common disproven myths about tattooing dark skin include:

  • Dark skin isn’t fit for colored tattoos.
  • It is more likely to scar or keloid.
  • Detailed styling won’t look good on dark skin.
  • The artist has to dig deeper into the dermis with the needles or rework the skin multiple times for fine lines and other intricate details to show up correctly.

While most of this hearsay is racism or ignorance-fueled falsehoods or exaggerations, it is still a fact that due to how our skins react to light, tattoo works on darker skins will often have slightly lower visibility.

This issue can also pop up during the stenciling process. Using a dark stencil on heavy melatonin can cause visibility problems for the artist, especially when working in a poorly lit studio.

While there is an abundance of stencil papers on the market that produce more visible, colored finishes, no one does it better than the green-ink ReproFX Thermal paper from Spirit.

This tattoo transfer paper brings a glossy high-visibility green ink that is sure to be the most legible option you’ve tried. Even in the most shadowy tattoo parlors, you can rest assured that this unique set is up to the task.

Plus, the Spirit ReproFX Thermal Sheet is made by Spirit Paper—arguably the most renowned name in the business—here in the U.S.A. So, you can rest assured of the best quality you will find anywhere.

Highlights

  • High visibility paper is excellent for darker skin tones and works for light skin too
  • 100 A4-sized thermal sheets
  • Suitable for both freehand drawing and thermal copying
  • Compatible with most tattoo stencil printer brands
  • Vegan

8. Best For Light Skin: S8 Red Tattoo Stencil Paper

Tattooists rarely encounter any stencil visibility problems when working with lighter skin shades.

However, even here, the best artists always seek to optimize all conditions, especially lighting, to ensure the best possible result.

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The best way to guarantee maximum visibility is to opt for deep yet brilliant colors with lighter skins.

Red is one of the best options for this task. This color is clearly visible against lighter tones while simultaneously providing decent contrast against the tattooist’s black ink during the outlining process. This combination makes the perfect accessory for completing error-free stencil traces.

However, until recently, there was no commercially-available approved red stencil paper.

Info

Although thermal transfer paper has been the industry standard for several decades, the production papers have been reasonably one-dimensional, only producing dark purple outlines as you would get with any regular carbon copying paper. While this color works great on lighter skin, it can be quite poorly visible on darker skin tones.

However, in recent times, some manufacturers have begun producing red thermal papers and other color options that increase visibility on varying skin types.

This pack of red stencil papers for S8 R.E.D. is the first entry on the market that features red thermal sheets made with FD&C-approved red colorants.

While enjoying this unique color, you don’t have to fear encountering any irritants. The formula is 100% vegan and made here in the U.S.A.

Plus, these papers use a unique mix of vegetable waxes and minerals in the top layers, enhancing stencil performance by eliminating accidental smearing and smudges.

Highlights

  • Highly visible on lighter skin tones and other skin types
  • FD&C-approved red colorants
  • Compatible with most tattoo stencil printer brands
  • Vegan
  • Made in the U.S.A.

FAQs

How do you transfer a tattoo from stencil paper to the skin?

Once you have imprinted your design on the underside of the master sheet of your tattoo transfer paper (by hand to stencil machine), it’s time to transfer the stencil to your client’s skin.

  • First, ensure that the skin is clean, micro-free, and hairless. For best results, clean the skin with some form of organic antimicrobial agent.
  • Dry the skin by patting it down
  • Next, apply a stencil gel like this one from Illusionist Tattoo onto the skin to give the stencil more staying power.
  • Now, place the sheet on the patch of skin and press it down firmly, without rubbing it or shifting the paper around.
  • Leave the stencil on there for a couple of minutes to ensure the stencil transfers correctly.
  • Peel the stencil off gradually, checking to ensure that the transfer is complete
  • Allow the stencil dry completely before touching it to enhance longevity

You are now ready to begin tracing the tattoo out with a tattoo machine.

Why does my tattoo stencil keep wiping after I apply it?

Every tattoo artist has experienced the pain that comes with a stencil that won’t stay on for the tracing process’s duration. This issue typically stems from some obstruction like hair and grime or the canvas being too dry and unsuitable for making the stencil stick.

You can solve the first problem by shaving the area to be tattooed and properly cleaning and disinfecting it with antiseptic soap and rubbing alcohol.

Once you complete this process, apply the stencil before the skin dries completely, or use a stencil transfer gel like this one from Supvox to guarantee enough moisture for a long-lasting stencil.

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