Tattoo Design: From Idea to Ink

So you’ve decided to get a new tattoo. You browse the web, looking for ideas and inspiration. Maybe you make a folder on your phone to store images for the big day. When you show up and start developing a tattoo design with your artist, you have to try and verbalize what’s in your head and get those points across.

They’ll want to know what you like from each reference photo. Customers often get reference images from sites like Pinterest or Google Images.

The artist will also need to see where you want the piece and how large; we sometimes recommend that adjustments are made if a size or location is against our better judgment. If you’re wanting a color piece, those details are discussed as well.

After a few minutes of chatting, you both feel that you have everything sorted out. Both you and the artist know the artwork, the size, and the placement. At that point, you should be able to get a rough price estimate from the artist and book your appointment!

So what happens next?


Historically, there have always been a few different methods of getting a tattoo design from the artist and clients’ heads to the skin. 

Freehand Tattoo Design

For starters, there is always the freehand method. An artist will simply take a pen or marker and draw directly on the skin. Often starting with a lighter color or highlighter to get a rough sketch, the artist will then go back with a darker line, making it more accurate and suitable to use as the tattoo stencil.

In fact, one of our seasoned artists, Alex, specializes in freehand tattoos. Be sure to keep an eye out for our upcoming blog post! Alex goes in depth into the freehand process!

Hand Stencil

For a long time, hand-traced stencils were the gold standard. Artists place reference photos over top of the stencil paper and then trace the outline with a pen. Due to the carbon-copy nature of the stencil, the pressure from the pen transfers the image onto the stencil paper. The stencil is then applied to the skin, leaving the outline on the skin when removed. 

The Digital Age

Nowadays, modern shops like The Mad Tatter use tablets and iPads. It’s common for us to draw something up from scratch, or we can still trace your reference images in a similar fashion to the previous methods of hand stenciling or using a light table.

We are able to import images sent to us by our customers in a design app. We then use a digital pencil to trace any reference images and make necessary modifications.  

Using an iPad to Make a Tattoo Stencil

Since the tracing is on a separate layer from the reference image, it is able to be easily resized or re-positioned if needed. The outline is then printed onto plain, old copy paper and ran through our stencil machine. Through this process, the image is transferred to a carbon copy style paper.

The result is a stencil just like you would have in the past, the only difference being that the lines were created digitally rather than manually with a writing utensil. The stencil is transferred to the skin just the same, and you’re off!

Regardless of how the design gets from your head to your skin, The Mad Tatter will help you turn it into a beautiful, lasting tattoo that will keep you smiling for years to come!

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