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Stenciling Tips

Video Instructions

Planning your stenciling project

Before beginning any stenciling project, it is important that the wall surface be prepared properly. It is best to stencil walls that are as smooth as possible. If the wall is not smooth the stencil will not produce clean, crisp designs.

Repair minor and major cracks, and other damaged areas. Cover with a fresh coat of either latex or oil-base paint. I strongly recommend flat paint. Stencil paints will adhere more readily to flat paint versus a semi-gloss paint. In high traffic areas, such as kitchens and bathrooms, a semi-gloss is acceptable. If you experience difficulty with your stencil paint sticking to your base coat, lightly sand the area you will be stenciling. I do not recommend using high-gloss paint.

Supply checklist

stenciling supplies

Before you begin stenciling, be sure your supplies include the following:

  • marking pencil
  • low-tack masking tape or stencil adhesive
  • level
  • ruler
  • stencil brushes
  • stencil paint
  • a saucer, plate or palette
  • paper towels (preferably lint free)

All of the above supplies can be found in your local hardware or craft store.

Stenciling brushes

stencil brushes

The most common stencil brushes are flat tipped and domed brushes. Flat tipped brushes contain bristles that are all one length. Domed brushes have bristles that are slightly tapered near the ends. If you are a beginner, either one will do. For those of you that are more advanced, you will find that domed brushes can be used to produce a larger variety of shaded effects, adding more depth and appeal to your stenciled designs.

Positioning your stencils

Begin stenciling in the least noticeable corner of your room. Position your stencil and secure firmly in place, using either spray adhesive or masking tape. If you are using spray adhesive, apply a light layer of adhesive to the back of the stencil, allow to dry until the surface becomes tacky, then position your stencil. If you are using masking tape, two small pieces are usually sufficient depending on the size of the stencil.

Do not overload brush with paint

Pour a small amount of paint on a plate or palette, about the size of a quarter. Dip just the tips of your bristles into the paint. With a circular motion, remove excess paint on a paper towel until the brush is "dry". Too much paint on the brush causes blotchy designs. Remember - stenciling is a "dry" brush technique. The most common mistake is overloading your brush. It is far better to build up the color gradually, layer by layer, instead of one thick paint application. If paint begins to seep behind your stencil or if your designs do not have crisp defined edges, you are using too much paint.

Methods of stenciling

applying paint to through a stencil

I will discuss two basic methods of stenciling. Both are very simple. The first method is called stippling, which is simply tapping or dabbing the loaded brush against the stencil openings. This method tends to produce more even tones and less depth. The second method, swirling, consists of simple circular, swirling brush motions against the stencil openings. Varying the amount of pressure or paint you apply with your brush, affects the final look of your design. Shading can add depth and interest to your stenciled designs. I recommend practicing on paper before you begin on your wall. A tiny bit of experience, even if it is on paper, can do wonders for your confidence. Experiment! Create! Have fun!

stenciling techniques example

You can use just about anything to apply paint. I have used cotton balls, sponges and foam rubber. Experiment! You will be amazed at the variety of effects that can be achieved by altering your paint applicators or even the paint itself. Adding water or a glaze to your paint can also produce dazzling translucent effects that are simply breathtaking. The possibilities are limited only by you! The Picket Fence stencil to the right is an example I stenciled using five different techniques.

Stencil materials

My stencils are cut from mylar (polyethylene). They are extremely durable and with proper care and handling they will last years. I recommend using soap and water, with a gently scrubbing if necessary.

You will find stencils cut from a variety of materials. Most are cut from mylar, plastics, and acetate compounds. Some are very thin, which is great for going around corners, but do not withstand repeated uses. Some can be torn quite easily.

I have cut many of my own stencils. I normally use mylar, but have used craft foam and poster board. A simple craft knife or Xacto knife is all you need. Cutting stencils, once you have had a bit of practice, is relatively simple. If you plan to cut stencils from poster board or any material that is somewhat absorbent, use a sealant or waterproofing chemical. This additional step lends durability to your homemade stencil.

Clean up

After your stenciling project, your paint palette, stencils and brushes can all be cleaned with soap and warm water. Careful cleaning and drying of your stencil brushes will enable them to be used again and again.

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