How to Stop Tattoo Stencils From Smearing

  • Written By Dan Hunter on October 1, 2021
    Last Updated: March 12, 2022

It can be a big decision and commitment to get a tattoo and you need to be sure about the design and the placement before getting it done. Once you’ve done this, the hard part for you, apart from the actual pain of the tattoo, is over.

For the tattoo artist, it’s a much longer process. Finalizing the placement and the design is only part of the process needed to get the tattoo onto your skin. Most tattoo artists will use stencils to transfer the tattoo design from a drawing on a piece of paper to an actual permanent tattoo on your skin.

This involves lots of detail and intricate drawings to get the design right and ready for transfer. The last thing that you want happening once you get the stencil onto your skin is for it to start smearing. This will make it difficult to see where the ink should be and could have disastrous results on your final tattoo design. 

We’ll let you know just how a tattoo stencil should be used and what you can do to get the best results.

A tattoo artist will initially draw the tattoo design on paper following your consultation. The design will then be finalized with you before even thinking of getting it on your skin. Once the final design has been agreed the drawing will be put onto stencil paper or tracing paper. 

Once the tattoo design is on the tracing paper the paper will be turned over and the design drawn over with a stencil pen or stencil fluid.

The stencil is then ready to transfer to your skin. Your skin should be fully prepared for this as once the design is on there your tattoo procedure will begin. You don’t want any issues with the stencil not sticking or the ink smearing at this point.

How Do I Stop My Tattoo Stencils From Smearing?

The tattoo process is an art form that requires lots of skill and expertise. This is needed from the design, to getting the stencil right, to the actual tattoo procedure and the final result.

Using the right materials for your stencil will help to stop any smearing. You should also be aware of just how much pressure to put onto the skin when transferring the stencil ink from the tracing paper to the skin. 

Preparation of the skin is equally as important. There’s no point in getting the stencil right if your skin is not prepared, the stencil and the ink won’t stick to unprepared skin.

Preparing Your Skin for the Tattoo

Many tattoo artists want you to shave the area where you’ll be getting the tattoo beforehand. This is especially so if the location is known to be hairy, such as your arms or a man’s chest. If you don’t want to do this before arriving at the tattoo studio, the tattoo artist will do it for you, but it’s good to be prepared. 

The skin should be cleaned with antibacterial soap and dried completely before starting the tattoo process. The tattoo artist will then rub stencil lotion or a stick deodorant onto the area so that the stencil sticks to your skin. 

How To Use a Stencil 

The tattoo design should be transferred from the paper drawing onto tracing paper for the tattoo stencil. This will then be overdrawn, remembering that the design will be reversed when placed on the skin. Make sure that the tattoo will be the right way round on your skin, it may look completely wrong if the design is flipped incorrectly. 

Once the skin is fully prepared the stencil should be placed onto the skin with the stencil ink or fluid facing the skin. This should then be patted gently, being careful to not smear the design on the skin. Leave it to set for a few minutes without rubbing it.

You should then carefully remove the tracing paper stencil, peeling it away gently so as to not smear or blur the design. You will then be left with the perfect stencil of your tattoo design on the skin.

Now all you’re waiting for is the needle, and then the fun begins.  


A tattoo is a permanent piece of art on your skin and as such this should be as perfect as possible. The tattoo starts with the stencil so it’s important to get this right.

An experienced tattoo artist should know exactly how to handle a tattoo stencil so that it doesn’t smear but we all make mistakes. If the smearing is bad, they will be able to wipe the ink away and start again. 

We hope that we helped to answer your question and you now understand the details of stenciling tattoos and the issues that can arise.

Related Tattooing Articles