How to Apply Tattoo Stencils

Stencils are your roadmap while you’re tattooing. If you don’t know how to place a tattoo stencil correctly - or how to make the stencil last for the whole tattoo - then you could end up with your stencil rubbing off while you’re working, leaving you to tattoo blind.

In this article, we’ll break down:

  • Exactly how to properly place a stencil for a tattoo on actual human skin
  • Which products we recommend 
  • How to make sure your stencil stays on for the entire tattoo

Materials You Need: 


Tattoo Stencil Primer

We like Green Gold, especially if you’re making a stencil using thicker printer paper. Anchored and Stencil Stuff are also popular brands.


Alcohol or Hand Sanitizer

You’ll use this to prep the skin before putting the stencil primer down on the skin. Alcohol cleans the skin from all the oils, which helps the stencil stay longer throughout a tattoo. 


Your Stencil

You can make a stencil of your tattoo design using a pen and paper or you can design stencils digitally and then print it off with a stencil machine. This application process works for both. Whether you’re drawing by hand or using a thermal printer, remove the brown sheet so that the carbon ink can transfer to the tracing paper. 

We recommend Spirit thermal transfer paper. Make sure your tattoo stencil paper uses carbon paper to create dark lines.



You will also need razors, paper towels, and gloves. You want to make sure you are wearing gloves at all times.

How to Place a Stencil:


Clean the Area

Grab your soap bottle and clean the area that you're about to lay the stencil on.


Shave the Area

Use your razor to shave the area. When you're shaving, you want to make sure you're shaving enough that you can get a good picture when the tattoo is done. You don’t want a ton of hair hanging out in the background, because it really takes away from the actual tattoo.

If you are tattooing on fake skin, you can skip this part.


Wipe Down With Alcohol

Spray down the area with hand sanitizer or alcohol. What that's going to do is get rid of all of the oils on the skin to help the stencil stay better through the time of the tattoo.


Mark Your Stencil

Place your stencil paper on the skin to make sure you have the appropriate room.

Make three or four little marks so you can get it all matched up perfectly to where you want to put the tattoo on the body

Sometimes, you’ll have a little bit of residual stencil transfer onto the skin. If this happens, just grab a little bit of alcohol again and wipe that clean.


Apply Stencil Primer

After you wipe down with alcohol, grab your stencil solution or your stencil primer. Most of the time, we recommend Green Gold. It works great for Neo Traditional designs. However, if there's a ton of really tiny lines in your stencil, we would recommend using Anchored.

You don't want to use a thick layer. You want a thin layer that gets sticky enough without it being overpowering, because it'll smear everywhere.

Rub the primer in a little bit, making sure it gets to that sticky consistency.


Apply the Stencil

When you put your stencil down, match up your lines and lay it down on the skin. Lightly press down on it and hold it there for a couple of seconds to make sure the full stencil is down on the skin.

From there, carefully peel the stencil off. The stencil lines should be a dark purple color.


Dry the Area

Once you apply a tattoo stencil, you can use a paper towel to pat down on the area to get all the residual stencil primer and the transfer ink off so it’s not clumped together, which would cause it to smear. 

Wait 15 minutes before you start tattooing so the stencil has time to dry completely. After that, you will have a perfect tattoo stencil that should not easily rub off while you’re working with your tattoo machine.

Learn to Tattoo From Professional Tattoo Artists

Learning to pack color is an exciting step in your journey, but it can also be pretty eye-opening to how difficult tattooing can be. Without the right knowledge, it’s impossible to level up your skills and become a professional tattoo artist. 

However, finding the straight-forward information you need to progress is difficult. And with so much out there online, it’s hard to avoid picking up bad habits from incorrect and outdated resources.

This is one of the biggest struggles new tattooers face, and too many talented artists have given up their goal of getting into tattooing because of the years it would take to unlearn their bad habits. 

That’s why aspiring artists are learning to tattoo with the Artist Accelerator Program’s structured course. As a student, you learn every step of the tattooing process from professional artists with the experience and advice you need to build your skills and create incredible tattoos. 

With the Artist Accelerator, you can stop wasting time searching through incorrect information. You just get the clear, easy-to-understand lessons you need to start improving fast… along with support and personalized feedback from professional artists in our online Mastermind group.

Over 2500 students have already gone through the course, with many of them opening up their own tattoo shops. If you want to join them and learn the skills you need to start tattooing full time faster…

Click here to learn more about the Artist Accelerator Program.

Looking for a tattoo apprenticeship?

Tattooing 101's Artist Accelerator 90 day program is the closest thing to a real apprenticeship

  • 500 video modules
  • Professional tattoo artist coaches
  • Private mastermind community
Nathan Molenaar

Nathan is a licensed professional tattoo artist with over 8 years’ experience working at studios across the globe, including Celebrity Ink, the world's largest tattoo studio chain.

When he's not tattooing, he spends his free time sharing his experience and knowledge with aspiring artists who dream of pursuing a career in the tattooing industry.

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