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Published Jan 16, 2023

tattoo paper image transfer finished cups

Though the forms are simple, the surfaces of Horacio Casillas' pots pay homage to Gothic cathedrals with their ornate designs. Horacio creates his designs using computer software and needed a way to transfer the designs to his pots. He found that tattoo paper worked the best for this process.

In today's post, an excerpt from the January/February 2023 issue of Pottery Making Illustrated, Horacio shares how to use the tattoo paper for this purpose, and also how he carves into the designs to add depth. –Jennifer Poellot Harnetty, editor

Ps. To learn the full process for making Horacio's mug forms, including how he adds color at the end, check out the January/February 2023 issue of Pottery Making Illustrated. 

Image Transfer with Tattoo Paper

To date, the best tool I have found for transferring designs is tattoo-transfer paper, which is typically used by tattoo artists. It works similar to carbon paper. You trace a design on top of the tattoo paper with a ballpoint pen or a metal ball stylus and the ink transfers to the paper. When I first started this process, I traced my designs by hand, but it was very time consuming. To expedite the process, I purchased a thermal printer (also used in tattoo studios) (1) that uses the same tattoo paper and printer paper. 

1 Use a thermal printer to make a transfer with cleaner, crisper lines in the design. 2 Peel away the transfer paper from the ink-paper backing.

After tracing or printing your designs, cut out the portion of the design that you want to use and position it on the mug. Be sure to let your piece dry to leather hard before applying the transfers. After tracing or printing your designs, peel the paper backing from the ink-transfer sheet (2). The paper will have the imprint of the line drawing you made that can now be transferred to your cup. Cut out the portion of the design that you want to use, and position it on the mug where you want it transferred. Be sure to let the piece dry to leather hard before applying the transfers. Use a fine-misting spray bottle to wet the clay, and then place the transfer paper on the mug and compress with a flexible rubber rib (3). Continue this process all the way around the mug. Sometimes a single sheet of transfer paper isn’t enough, so I cut and splice as needed to fill in spots. After you peel away the transfer paper (4), the ink is left on the surface of the mug. Being an organic material, any traces of the ink will burn away during the firing. 

3 Compress the transfer paper onto the mug with a soft rubber rib.4 Peel away the transfer paper, leaving the ink on the clay.

Carving for Definition

The carving process begins right after transferring the image. I use the P1 Curved V Tip Carving Tool from Diamond Core Tools to do all the line carvings (5) and the P5 Curved Square Tip 9 mm Carving Tool (aka the Relief Carver) for the relief carving (6). I carve about 1/16 of an inch deep and the tools cut so clean that there is no post cleanup of the carvings necessary.

5 Carve the contour lines using a V-tipped carving tool.6 Carve the relief areas with a curved square-tipped carving tool.

Horacio Casillas is from San Angelo, Texas, and received his MFA from the University of North Texas. He is currently a resident artist at Companion Gallery in Humboldt, Tennessee. To see more of his work, visit and follow him on Instagram @horacio_casillas_jr.