Stencil art is an easy way to accent walls, furniture, and DIY projects. Here’s how to get a flawless transfer that will add interest and detail to your painted projects.
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The Magic of Stencil Art
Then next time your painted project seems to be missing something, there’s a quick and easy fix. You can give it a punch of creative design with stencil art.
Stenciling is incredibly easy. But if you’re new to it, there are a few tips you need to know before you get started.
Everyone wants that flawless finish, and it isn’t hard to get.
If you’re just starting out, you may end up like a lot of beginners though – frustrated because paint seeps under the edge of the stencil, or feathers along the edges.
I’m going to show you just how easy it is. And with a few tips…how flawless it can be too!
Before we get to the details though, you’re going to need some supplies.
Stencil Art Supplies
- Stencils – Stencils come in nearly every imaginable size and design. There are also a few material options, but most are cut from a plastic film (commonly referred to by the brand name, Mylar) available in several degrees of thickness. There are also adhesive-backed stencils available which eliminate the need for a separate physical stabilizer, as well as paper and vinyl stencils.
- Painters Tape or Adhesive Spray – Holding your stencil still while you work is essential for a clean transfer. For small stencils, you can often hold them with your opposite hand, but for anything larger, your work will be made much easier when you have both hands free. Some people swear by adhesive sprays, but I personally prefer using painters tape, which eliminates the hassle of cleaning adhesive from stencils after you’re finished. I also use washi tape when I need a narrow hold.
- Stencil Brushes – If you’re tempted to use a regular craft or sponge brush – just don’t! Stencil brushes are specifically designed for the unique technique of stenciling. Standard brushes simply can’t handle it and produce a great finish.
- Paint – You can stencil with most any kind of acrylic or latex paint. Oil-based paints aren’t a great idea because they take so much longer to dry, and are tough to clean from brushes and stencils.
- Paper plate, paper towel, or stiff paper – Grab something to blot paint onto. I like using paper plates because they conveniently double as a paint palette, but most anything you can smear paint on will work fine. Junk mail, paper grocery bags, even an old rag or t-shirt will work.
- Baby wipes – You can get by without these, but I find them so handy and helpful that I rarely stencil without them.
- Kraft or parchment paper – If you prefer a protected work surface, spread a layer of kraft paper over your table and attach with painter’s tape. Kitchen parchment paper works well too and the advantage of using either is that they can multi-task as paint palettes, blotters, and surface protectors all at once. When you finish, simply untape the edges, roll up, and toss it!
How to Stencil
Are you ready to get started?
Follow these tips for flawless transfers every time.
First, you’ll want to decide where you’ll transfer your design. Lay your stencil on your project surface and move it around until you’re happy with the placement.
If your stencil has several elements, you don’t have to use them all at once – or even at all. Choose the element you want to transfer and focus only on it. Use tape to secure the stencil in place.
If you’re using a stencil that has an intricate design and you don’t want to include all of it, you can put additional pieces of tape over those areas you don’t want to transfer. Later, you can use them in a different area of your project, stencil in a different color – or both!
See how to do it in this tile planter project.
Stenciling is a distinctly dry-brushing process. One sure way to end up with seeps and smears is to stencil with a brush that’s saturated with paint.
This is a common mistake for beginners, so don’t be discouraged if it takes a few tries to get a feel for the small amount of paint you’ll actually need.
It may seem wasteful, but a successful project depends on eliminating nearly all of the paint you put on the brush. You may think you’ll start with only a little paint, but you really need to get enough to fully cover the tip of your brush, then offload the excess.
Keep offloading paint until the brush is nearly dry – then you’re ready to stencil!
Keep this in mind: it’s far better to have too little paint than too much. You can always add later, but you can’t take away.
And a sweet bonus of using so little paint – it dries super fast.
There’s more than one way to stencil, but I personally think pouncing is the best method. It reduces the chances of any paint being pushed under the edge of the stencil.
Some people prefer swirling the brush, but you have to take extra care when getting near the edge. Don’t be afraid to experiment though; use a practice piece of paper or wood and try both techniques to see which you prefer.
Since you’re using a dry brush, you may not get the intensity of color you expect or want. To darken an area or even highlight with a different color, add a second layer before removing the stencil. Since the paint dries so quickly, you won’t have to wait long between layers.
Finishing Your Project:
Carefully remove the stencil from your project after you finish. Depending on how many layers of paint you’ve used, it may already be dry to the touch. Take care not to smear your work, but you definitely won’t have to worry about wet puddles of paint.
Let your project rest for a while and focus on cleaning your stencils and brushes.
Cleaning and Caring for Your Stencil:
Good quality stencils can be a permanent addition to your crafting supplies – with proper care. Clean and protect them, and you’ll never have to replace them.
For crisp transfers, it’s crucial to keep the edges of your stencils clean by removing all the paint from a project.
Don’t put off cleaning!
Use warm water to wash them right after use. If you have a particularly stubborn or delicate area, try using Krud Kutter.
I like to blot stencils with a paper towel, they lay them on a fresh sheet or kitchen towel to fully dry.
Try not to rub too vigorously to prevent bending the cut-outs, especially with delicate or very small cut designs.
Once your stencil is fully dry, store it flat to prevent bent edges. File folders or scrapbook cases work great. It’s also a smart idea to layer a sheet of tissue paper between each stencil to keep them from snagging each other when you handle them.
Where to use Stencil Art
Now that you know the basics, where do you “do” stencil art?
Anywhere you want!
Here are some suggestions to get you started:
- flower pots
- thrift pieces
- holiday projects
- cinder blocks
I have to warn you: once you get the hang of stencil art, learn just how easy it is, and discover all the creative ways you can use stencils, you’ll probably soon have a long list of ideas for using them.
That’s exactly what happened to me. After buying a dozen or so pre-made designs, I began to have trouble finding the perfect stencil I envisioned.
Plus, as a true Creative, it’s incredibly satisfying to not only stencil your own projects but to make your own stencils too!
I’ve customized more than a few. I especially love that I can design them to fit my project dimensions perfectly. It’s a lot easier to position a stencil onto a surface it fits than to have excess hanging over the edges. Plus you won’t have to move it around several times to finish.
If you’re content collecting pre-made stencils, there’s not a thing at all wrong with that. But if you’re interested in learning to make your own, check out my posts on learning to design, and how to cut stencils.
Now you’re all ready to get started with stencil art! It’s one of the easiest and more versatile painting techniques, with plenty of room for creative expression.
I hope you’ll give it a try and see why so many Creatives use it over and over in a wide range of projects.
Check out Bluprint’s inspiring class, Get Started Stenciling for more stencil art creativity.
It’s simply packed with information and tips – from learning to make your own stencils to stenciled projects using paper, canvas, wood, apparel, leather, concrete, glass, and walls.
With over 100 minutes of instruction and project ideas, you just may have a hard time deciding which project to start with!
I’ve enjoyed this class as part of my Bluprint subscription membership so much that I chose it as one of my 12 own-forever classes.
With my annual membership, I can stream any of the over 1,300 classes anytime, from any device, as many times as I want. Plus, I enjoy FREE shipping on any supplies I purchase for the entire year. And if that weren’t enough, my annual membership also includes my choice of 12 classes I can add to my personal library to keep forever!
This class alone is valued at half the price of my annual membership. Added to the other 11 classes I keep, it makes my membership not only enjoyable but economical too!
I’m already planning some fun new stencil art projects from this class that I can’t wait to share with you. Watch out for them coming soon!