How to Make a Tattoo Stencil Without Carbon Paper

Written by michelle renee
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How to Make a Tattoo Stencil Without Carbon Paper
Custom tattoo artists prefer hectograph pens to carbon paper (tattoo image by Carlos-bcn from

Many tattoo artists choose to make tattoo stencils without carbon paper for a variety of reasons. The main reason is because using a stencil creates a mirror effect of the image that is to be tattooed. Tattoo artists use a light table, or light box, to trace photos and drawings in reverse in order to produce a stencil that represents the drawing in it's original form. In addition, using a light box with tracing paper and hectograph pens or pencils is far more cost effective than using carbon paper.

Skill level:
Moderately Easy

Things you need

  • Photo or drawing
  • Tracing paper
  • Light table
  • Hectograph pen or pencil
  • Sellotape

Show MoreHide


    Making You Hand Drawn Stencil

  1. 1

    Assemble a light box or light table. A light box or table is little more than a clear piece of Plexiglas or plastic with a light bulb beneath it. This allows the artist to clearly view the photo or drawing to be traced by providing bright and even lighting underneath it. This can be done by making a square hole in a desk and installing Plexiglas over it and a lamp underneath, or by placing a lamp underneath a glass table. Portable tabletop light boxes may be purchased from tattoo supply retailers.

    How to Make a Tattoo Stencil Without Carbon Paper
    Makeshift light boxes are helpful when making tattoo stencils (holding lighting bulb image by Stasys Eidiejus from
  2. 2

    Place the photo or drawing to be traced on top of the light box. Be sure to place it face down as the objective is to trace it in reverse (mirror image). When the stencil is applied to the skin it appears in reverse of what it looks like on paper. Essentially, tracing the drawing in reverse counteracts this action and the stencil will duplicate the original drawing once applied to the skin.

    How to Make a Tattoo Stencil Without Carbon Paper
    Placing the drawing face down on the light box creates a mirrored image (phoenix image by Liu Xiang from
  3. 3

    Place tracing paper over the chosen photo or drawing. Select an appropriately sized sheet of tracing paper. Trim to size if necessary and place it directly on top of your drawing. Make sure your drawing is face down to create a mirror image before covering with tracing paper.

    How to Make a Tattoo Stencil Without Carbon Paper
    Tracing paper--commonly used for tattoo stencils (paper image by musk from
  4. 4

    Tape the tracing paper and original drawing down. To help avoid mistakes and ensure neat, clean lines you must keep the papers from sliding against one another or off of the light box. Gently secure them in place with a few small pieces of Sellotape.

    How to Make a Tattoo Stencil Without Carbon Paper
    A few small strips of tape will keep your drawing intact (scotch tape image by Adkok from
  5. 5

    Trace the drawing onto the tracing paper with the hectograph pen or pencil. A hectograph pencil is a popular tattoo stencilling tool because its gelatin base contains violet dye that does not smear, yet is neatly and easily transferred to moistened skin. Use a hectograph pen or pencil to trace the drawing over your light box or table. The mirror image tattoo stencil is now ready to apply.

    How to Make a Tattoo Stencil Without Carbon Paper
    Number 2 pencils are also good for tracing tattoo stencils (heart - drawing image by Bartlomiej Nowak from

Tips and warnings

  • Remember that drawings will appear on the skin in reverse of how they appear on the stencil. Always provide a clean and sterile area, equipment, and supplies when giving or receiving tattoos.
  • Do not attempt to tattoo yourself or anyone else without the proper training and state required certification.

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