Thermal Copiers & Thermal Printers: Which Do You Choose?
Thermal Copiers & Thermal Printers: Which Do You Choose?

Thermal Copiers & Thermal Printers: Which Do You Choose?

We know that stencil printers and copiers are a pretty big investment for a tattooer or shop. That’s why we asked our Customer Service team for the questions that most frequently come up about thermal copiers and thermal printers.

Thermal Copiers & Thermal Printers: Which Do You Choose?


In this post we’ll answer most of your questions about thermal copiers and printers, and hopefully provide a guide that can help you make a decision whether you’re shopping for your first stencil making machine, or you’re replacing your “Old-Faithful”

You’ll also find links to more specific info on the TIM Thermal Copier, and S8 Red Line Stencil Printers we carry.

Tattoo Stencil

What’s The Difference Between Thermal Copiers & Stencil Machines?

Thermal Copiers - A Tattoo Shop Staple

Before thermal copiers, tattoo artists had to draw their image on tracing paper first and then trace it onto the top layer of hectograph paper to create a stencil. TIME.CONSUMING…Right?

When they showed up in busy tattoo shops 15 years or so ago, thermal copiers greatly reduced the time artists needed to produce a stencil, leaving them more time to actually tattoo. (We hear stories all the time from tattooers who love their Panenka A3 and A4 copiers. Still have one? How old is it?)

Thermal copiers use a combination of heat and pressure to transfer your tattoo design onto thermal transfer paper, a special type of paper that's coated with a heat-sensitive layer.

TIM Thermal Copier
TIM Thermal Copier by 3K

Benefits of Using Thermal Copiers

Accuracy & Consistency

One of the main benefits of using a thermal copier is its accuracy. The transfer process is incredibly precise, allowing you to create a stencil that’s an exact copy of the original design. This is especially important when you’re working with complex designs or intricate details.

Durable, Speedy & Efficient (Time Is Money…)

Thermal copiers are incredibly efficient. They save time and effort, allowing you to focus on the actual tattooing process. They are also versatile and can be used with a variety of different design methods; hand-drawn and/or printed.

As the name suggests, you can also reproduce the same design multiple times. This is really useful if you work in a busy street shop where you mostly tattoo flash designs. Thermal copiers were designed to handle repeated use all day long.

Other Stuff to Consider…

Thermal copiers generally have a larger footprint and are bulkier than a thermal stencil printer. They also need to be plugged in, making them a less portable option. If you do want to lug your thermal copier on the road with you, you’ll need a special set of travel locks to protect the glass inside.

If you work in a busy shop where your thermal copier gets a lot of use, it may be prone to overheating. There are ways to address this, like raising your copier to allow air to flow freely underneath. Our thermal copier tech Brad also “MacGyvered” a cool hack for this problem, stay tuned for that one…

Lastly, your design will need to be drawn by hand or printed out on regular paper, and placed in a carrier sheet before you feed it into the thermal copier. This creates an extra step in the process compared to a stencil printer.

Thermal Tattoo Stencil Printers - The “New Kids”

As digital art became more popular in tattooing, the stencil making process naturally needed to evolve. Artists needed to be able to create tattoo stencils directly from their laptops and tablets.

A few years back, tattooers began working with printer manufacturers to fine tune their thermal printing technology to work specifically for tattooing. The new technology introduced a level of flexibility that’s made tattoo stencil printers increasingly popular with artists.

S8 8 Series Thermal Stencil Printer
S8 8 Series Tattoo Stencil Printer

Benefits Of Using a Thermal Tattoo Stencil Printer

Print Directly from Your Computer or Tablet

A major advantage of thermal tattoo stencil printers is that you can use your favourite software to create, modify or edit your art on your computer or tablet. You can then send your finished design directly to the stencil printer to be printed on heat transfer paper.

You do need to make sure your image has the right contrast and you feed the thermal paper at the right speed BUT that’s a topic for another post!

By eliminating the need for additional printing or copying (and the need for carrier sheets), thermal stencil printers are actually more cost efficient because they save on time, materials, and labour costs.

Easy Customization and Design Flexibility

The beauty of thermal tattoo stencil printers is that you can print your tattoo designs in various sizes at 300dpi resolution, allowing you to create highly detailed or intricate designs, consistently - no sweat.


Thermal stencil printers, like the S8 Series, are now pretty compact, so they’ll fit nicely in your luggage, making them super-portable and travel friendly. They’ll also take up less space in your tattoo studio.

The additional option to use a battery, means you can print your stencils literally anywhere.

Which One Is Right for You?

Thermal Copier

  • Works with any design style (freehand, flash art)
  • Handle High Volume
  • Easy to Clean
  • Must be plugged in
  • Design needs to be printed on plain paper first
  • Carrier Sheets Needed
  • Travel Locks required for Travel

Your Work Style

  • You work mostly in the shop, or a private tattoo studio.
  • You prefer to draw your stencils freehand
  • You tattoo a lot of flash designs
  • You own a busy shop

Thermal Stencil Printer

  • Optimized for digital art
  • Lightweight
  • Smaller footprint
  • Portable
  • Wireless capability
  • Edit Designs on your Computer Before Printing
  • Print direct from computer or mobile
  • No Carrier Sheet Required

Your Work Style

  • You travel often, working conventions, doing guest spots
  • Portability is a priority
  • You’re a digital artist

Think A Thermal Copier Is for You?

Check out The TIM Thermal Copier from 3K

Made in Germany, the TIM Thermal Copier was designed by 3K Instruments with the support of Panenka (makers of the A3 and A4 copiers). Combining their extensive knowledge of thermal imaging, with tried and true technology, they’ve built a thermal copier that will stand up to life in your shop. You can learn more in our earlier blog post about the TIM Thermal Copier.


Is Space a Premium?

Check out the TIMmy from 3K

With a 27% smaller footprint, and weighing 50% less than its ``big brother” the TIM, and with a smaller price tag, the new TIMmy Thermal Copier from 3K Instruments is a perfect fit for small to medium shops. TIMmy produces the same crisp, clear tattoo stencils as the larger “TIM”. In addition to size, the feature set has been scaled down too, by removing any options that weren’t necessary for producing a perfect tattoo stencil.


Think A Thermal Stencil Printer Is for You?

Check out The S8 Series of Printers

The 8 Series stencil printer from S8 delivers crisp, clean stencils at a faster rate, thanks to the hardware and configuration upgrades designed specifically for tattooers. You can learn more about printing your stencils with the 8 Series printer in our recent blog post.



Which Thermal Copier Is Right for You? TIM vs TIMmy...


A Thermal Copier Built For Life In Your Shop