stencil painting

Wait! Hold the Paint!

Getting to Know Your Stencil – “Hello Stencil!”

In order to make the most of your stenciling time, take a moment to become familiar with your stencil. Is it a single layer stencil or does it have multiple overlays? Can it be completed as a one-color paint stencil or do you need several colors? Is it a pre-cut stencil ready to have paint applied to it or do you need to cut out the stencil? I know it sounds silly, but stencils come in many different ways. So, the first step of your project is to know the procedures you must follow for the particular stencil you have chosen.

Practice and Experiment

If you are new to stenciling, I would recommend practicing on a thick sheet of paper before painting on your wall or T-Shirt. This will help you develop a few techniques and make you aware of what can go wrong (Do you know Murphy’s Law: what can go wrong will go wrong). Do this and when you get to your real project, you’ll be a pro.

Choosing The Right Paint Colors

Paint Colors? What about paint colors? The most important part of getting your stencil to look right is color. Think about this carefully. What is going to match your background color? Will the colors stand out making your image clearly visible or will the colors you choose make your image blend into the background? Which image of the Dragon below appeals to you?

If you have a multi-color paint stencil, which colors will work well together and stand out from the background color? If you are using a Multi-Layer Stencil, be aware of what items come in contact with each other. Make sure that touching islands (stencil openings) don’t use the same color causing them to blend together.

Blending Colors Next to Each Other

Also, you want the colors to work well together and offer a finished painting that is pleasing to the eye. The pinks in the dragon below (top) are too far in contrast while the pinks in the other dragon give a more shadowed look at least in the wings.

You want each item to be clearly visible yet sometimes just a subtle difference is best. There is no fool proof rule of thumb that I can give you so you will just have to put your own eye to it and find what pleases you.

Creating Subtle Contrast for Shadows

Notice how the pinks of the piggy (top) are more appealing than the one on the bottom.

Once you have your color choices, label the stencil overlays with the names of the paint color.

Multiple Overlay Stencils

If you are working with a Multiple Overlay stencil, get familiar with the design. Multiple Overlay stencils use registration points to align your stencil overlays and build the image. Get to know how they work and of course read all instructions that come with it.

The time spent practicing and experimenting will help you develop your plan and skills, and the job will go much more smoothly. When you feel comfortable, begin the application on your wall or object.

Aligning a Multiple Overlay Stencil

If you are working with a multi-layer stencil, align the first overlay as described above and use a pencil to mark the registration holes (they can be erased or painted over when your project is finished). Hint: to avoid marking the surface, place pieces of low-tack tape on the surface area of the registration holes and place the marks on the tape.

Preparing the Surface

Make sure the surface that you are stenciling onto is ready. It’s best to have a surface that is as smooth as possible. For instance, a flat wall without any or much texture is going to produce an image with cleaner lines than a brick wall. Make sure any cracks or holes have been filled in and smoothed down.

If the surface needs painting, make sure you allow the paint to dry thoroughly before applying the stencil image. A flat base paint is best. Stencil paint will adhere more readily to a flat paint versus a semi- or high-gloss finish. If your stencil paints are not sticking to the surface, you may need to sand the area lightly until you can achieve better results.

Preparations for Cut and Paint Stencils

Cut-and-Paint Stencils require you to cut the openings where paint is applied. However, for the extra work, they provide some great rewards.

A cut-and-paint stencil design can be reduced or enlarged to fit almost any project size. This is a big deal. Let’s say you like a Plastic Pre-Cut Stencil and it comes in two sizes -small at 2’ and large at 4’- and the area you have for an image is 1’ then the plastic stencil will not work for you. If you take a cut-and-paint design (with each of the overlays) to a copy machine and resize it to whatever your project area requires. Flexibility is great!

Also, cut-and-paint stencils are less expensive. You are not paying for the manufacture, warehousing and shipping of a product. If you can find downloadable stencil designs you can have your stencil immediately and no delay to your project.

Well on to the one disadvantage: Cutting your stencil.

If your cut and paint stencils are in a book, I would recommend making a copy of each stencil overlay for the project you have chosen. By using these copies to produce your picture, your book and originals are preserved for future use. When you make copies, don’t forget that you can reduce or enlarge the size to fit the area you want to place the picture.

Using a craft-knife cut out the objects on the stencil. Make sure your blade is sharp at all times. Dull blades may cause the paper stencil to tear. The goal is to cut along each line only once with a firm, smooth motion. With your free hand, hold the stencil firmly and rotate the stencil so that you are always cutting at a comfortable angle. When cutting past a thin bridge area carefully use a firm finger to hold down the paper. Always keep your fingers well away from where you are cutting. If you are working with a multi-layer stencil don’t forget to cut out the registration holes in each of the four corners, which will be used for the alignment of the stencil overlays.

Line Up and Secure Your Stencil

Determine the area where you want your picture using the level and ruler or tape measure if your area is large. If you are stenciling a wall or very large area, begin in the least noticeable corner. Tape your stencil to the wall or object to be stenciled using a low-tack tape across each corner. If you are stenciling on a flat horizontal surface, you may find it easier to use weights instead of tape. Another option for securing your stencil is to spray the back side with spray adhesive (follow the directions for the product you are using). Always test your surface and decide which method works best for you.

It’s time! Time to paint! You should know all there is to know about your stencil (like: Is it a one-color paint stencil or do you need several colors?). You should have it in place and secure right where you want your painted image (centered or off to one side?). Well, you get the idea. Enough of all this, so, let’s get painting! Just go to Stenciling Instructions.

​If you want to continue your Stencil Education then click here to go back to How To Stencil.

Happy Stenciling!