What to Do if Your Tattoo Stencil Rubs Off

One of the biggest problems new tattoo artists face during the tattoo process is accidentally rubbing the stencil off. Because the stencil is the only thing telling you where to put your linework and shading, having the stencil disappear means you’re tattooing blind.

While you’ll learn how to hold your machine and stretch the skin properly to avoid this issue overtime, it’s important to know what to do if your stencil does start to rub off.

In this article, we’ll break down what to do to save your tattoo design (and avoid the stress of tattooing with no stencil). We’ll discuss how to:

  • Avoid losing your stencil in the first place
  • Use a Sharpie to “save” your stencil
  • Pick designs that let you practice protecting your stencil

What to Do if Your Stencil Keeps Disappearing

If you’re new to tattooing and notice that your stencil keeps rubbing off, there’s a few things you can do:


Know How to Avoid Rubbing the Stencil

Obviously, the best way to save your stencil is to avoid rubbing it off in the first place:

Tattoo from the Bottom Corner

Start tattooing from the bottom right corner of your design (bottom left corner if you’re left-handed). Then work your way up to the left top corner (right top corner if you’re left-handed). 

This way, even if you press the side of your hand down onto the skin, you’ll only be touching skin that has already been tattooed. Instead of rubbing away the stencil, you’ll just be resting on linework you’ve already done. 

Dab - Don’t Wipe - the Stencil

When there’s excess ink on the skin, don’t wipe it away with a paper towel, as this can pull up the stencil. Just dab at it with a paper towel, pulling up instead of out.

Stretch the Skin Carefully

When you’re lining, you have to stretch the skin. However, if you stretch right where the stencil is, you can accidentally rub off the stencil. When possible, avoid placing the fingers of your stretching hand on the stencil.

Use Good Stencil Products

Which products you use to apply your stencil will make a huge difference. We recommend using Green Gold as a stencil primer. It takes about 15 minutes to dry (which is about 5 minutes longer than other products), but it does stick better than other primers.

Make Sure Your Stencil is Dry

As mentioned above, you want to allow the stencil to fully dry before you start tattooing. This includes making sure your clients aren’t messing with the stencil. Many clients will tug at their skin to try to get a good look at the stencil. This can smear the stencil. Instead, offer them a mirror to get a better look.

Only Use a Perfect Stencil

You don’t want to use an imperfect stencil and plan to fix things along the way. If pieces didn’t transfer well or a part of the stencil is smeared, it’s better to just go ahead and redo it, even if it’ll take a few extra minutes. 

Trying to “fix” things while you’re actually tattooing makes it way easier to make a mistake.


Use a Sharpie to Correct a Stencil Mid-Tattoo

Even if you do everything right, the client will move or you might accidentally smear a part of the stencil. 

When this happens, fill in all of the linework that you can before wiping the skin clean and going over the design with a Sharpie.  

To do this, make sure you have your actual stencil with you so you know where everything is supposed to go. Then, just “draw in” the parts of the stencil that were rubbed off. Give the Sharpie some time to dry before going back in and tattooing over it.


Use a brand-new Sharpie for every client. Blood, ink, and plasma will get on the Sharpie while you’re drawing on the stencil. You do not want to transfer any of this to the skin of another client. Once you’re done with the Sharpie, throw it away.


Pick Simple Designs

Skull flash design

When you’re first starting out, it will take some time to learn how to avoid rubbing off your stencil. Because of this, it’s best to choose simple tattoo designs. This way, you won’t have to avoid rubbing off a ton of tiny lines, or trying to freehand part of a complicated design with a Sharpie on the skin.

Prepare for a Tattooing Career with the Artist Accelerator Program

examples of students own tattoo

Learning how to save your stencil is an important 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 studios. 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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