Here’s my Brother PJ TATTOO Stencil – Photoshop Workflow. The Brother PJ Stencil printer range has revolutionised the way digital artists make tattoo stencils. In recent years the tattoo industry has adopted iPad and tablets for creating hand-drawn artwork that can then be printed directly to the PJ, Setting the standard for tattoo stencil creation.
I’ve been using my PJ for over a decade now and during that time I’ve learnt a trick or two. I’m going to share some of them here, with you, today. But first, the PJ.
IT’S NOT A STENCIL PRINTER
Just like just about every technological advancement in tattooing the Brother PJ Stencil Printer wasn’t designed to be a stencil machine. In about 2009, I needed to be able to print directly from my mac to a thermal printer and I was looking for a solid solution. I found the Brother PJ printer on the web and ordered one. As it turns out, I was the first tattooist to ever connect these two technologies together. The rest – as they say – is history. You’re Welcome 😉
The Brother PJ Stencil printer isn’t designed for the job we use it for. There is a learning curve to this piece of hardware and you’ll need to engage your brain when using it. Not just blindly stumble along mashing buttons and throwing tantrums when ‘it’ doesn’t work.
BRAIN AIDED TATTOO STENCILS
With our brains engaged and our big boy pants on lets proceed. Your PJ should be running off a 12v 2a PSU as this is the best voltage for tattoo stencil paper. You can buy one here if you haven’t got one already.
You can adjust your print setting on the fly on every machine but the way y do this depends on which model you have.
- PJ723 – USB only
- PJ763 – USB or bluetooth via Print & Scan
- PJ773 – USB or wifi via Print & Scan
PRINT SETTINGS EXPLAINED
I’m going to use the 723 for my examples as the setting can easily be accessed from your graphic softwares print dialog box. All these settings work in exactly the same way from machine to machine.
For the purpose of tattooing there’s really no relevant settings in the basic tab so we’ll just skip it and go to the advanced tab.
The advanced tab is where we might want to make some changes to get the best stencil.
For old school tattoos suit useD the old thermo-fax think of density as heat. The higher the number the hotter the PJ will print. 0 is coldest 10 is hottest.
Print Speed is the one that confuses a lot of people. Mostly because they don’t understand what effect that has on the printing. Let me explain.
We send an image to the PJ and a printhead inside the machine heats up and transfers that heat to the stencil paper. The faster the speed the less time the paper will spend going across the print head. The faster you print it the lighter the stencil, the slower you print see the darker the stencil. The difference between really fast and really slow isn’t exactly massive but it does help if you get a slightly problematic stencil.
The next three options are the the ones that make a big difference to your tattoo stencils. They basically tell the printer how to handle the image it has to print and what to do with ‘grey’ information.
LOGO & TEXT
This first option is the one I use all the time. ‘Logo and text’ tells the printer to print black and ignore grey. Think photocopier. The printer looks at the image and goes ‘if it’s black I’ll print it. If it’s grey I won’t print anything at all.
Dither is an intentionally applied form of noise used to randomise quantisation error preventing large-scale patterns such as colour banding in images .
Basically what all that technobabble means is that the printer is going to take the image that you send it and apply an algorithm to the black and grey values. Turning into something that looks like the image. That’s not going to be any good as a tattoo stencil.
Error Diffusion is a type of half toning in which the quantisation residual is distributed to neighbouring pixels that have not yet been processed.
This essentially means that the printer will apply a different algorithm to the black and grey values for a smoother looking printed image. Fine for faxes but not for stencils.
IMAGES ARE NOT STENCILS
You might be thinking “that’s what I was told the PJ could do when I bought it and that’s why I bought it. Because you can just print any image straight from Google, chuck it on the skin and five minutes later be tattooing?” “It’s supposed to be a huge timesaver”.
GREAT STENCILS SAVE TIME
It may seem like it at first but a quick stencil isn’t actually a timesaver. Anytime that you ‘save’ by printing an image directly from Google will be lost is the stencil becomes unreadable during the tattoo session. It’s almost impossible for any current stencil fluid to ‘hold’ a image on the skin for hours without it blurring and wiping away.
Disappearing stencils make the tattooing process enormously stressful. Let’s be honest, tattooing is stressful enough so why give yourself any more stress? I advise avoiding this workflow in favour of using your favourite graphics software to make a ‘proper’ stencil. Yes, it will take a little longer but it will save you time long term and you’ll get huge gains in the finished quality of your tattoos.
Let’s take a look at a better way to create a stencil. My Brother PJ TATTOO Stencil – Photoshop Workflow uses nothing but Photoshop filters. The result will be a clean, readable stencil that will stay on the skin and massively reduced stress levels for the day!
BROTHER PJ TATTOO STENCIL – PHOTOSHOP WORKFLOW
Brother TATTOO Stencil Workflow – HALFTONE LAYER
Make a copy of the layer and go to the Photoshop filter gallery.
I’m going to halftone the image myself so select halftone. You have to experiment with the contrast and size of the halftone to find the right ‘sweetspot’ for you. No, there isn’t a ‘magic bullet’ setting. You’ll just have to stop crying and find the best settings for you. All by yourself!
Make another copy of the layer and use the photocopy filter. Again, experiment with these setting until you find the best one for you.
Set the ‘photocopy’ layer to multiply and then apply the threshold command to the ‘halftone’ layer
The combination of these two layers gives me two layers that I can work with to make a nice clean readable stencil. By erasing details I don’t need from either layer I can give myself an easily readable shading reference.
I do like readable stencils. I do like to have black areas in the eyes, nose, mouth and sometimes in the hair. You may find that all that purple on the skin is just a bit of a pain for you. So adjust the stencil to suit your needs.
Either way that’s gonna make a much better tattoo stencil than letting the PJ decide for you. At the end of the day we’re the artists and we use in our eyes to decide what we can work on for the next 6 to God knows how many hours.
Brother TATTOO Stencil Workflow – POSTERISE AND FIND EDGES
That’s a perfectly usable stencil but there is another way of doing it. I use this technique a little bit more often as it’s more suitable for realism tattoo stencils.
First, make a couple of copies of the original layer because we’re going to process them in a couple of different ways and combine them.
Convert the layer to a black-and-white image.
TIP: Never just desaturate images. Do a black-and-white conversion using the adjustment filter as this allows you to adjust how each colour is actually converted into black and grey. It gives you much more control over the image in the while converting it.
Adjust the brightness and contrast in the image.
Apply the posterise filter. Posterise simplifies the image into a series of solid grey tones. adjust the posterisation levels until you get a suitable amount of detail.
Then using the levels commands select a white pint of the image. Use the little eyedropper just below the options box and click on the image in grey areas and Photoshop will then decide everything from that tone and above is now going to be white I want you left with is an image that’s got a series of tones with clearly defined borders.
On the posterise layer use the ‘find edges’ command combined with the ‘threshold’ command to make something that looks a little bit like hand stencil.
If the result is to detailed or not detailed enough, just step back and adjust the amount of posterisation levels to suit your needs.
If you use either of these techniques and refine them to suit your own tastes the result is a much better way of getting a really good stencil in just a couple of minutes.