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A How To Guide to Stenciling

Jan 26th 2011 at 2:36 PM

Making Your Own Stencils

Craft / hobby shops and home supply stores carry a wide variety of ready-cut stencils to fit any taste and price range. But if you prefer to make your own, you can design a custom stencil on a sheet of Mylar or acetate.

  1. Draw or trace your design on paper. Lay the Mylar on top of the paper and carefully trace the design with a pencil (so you can erase or correct it if necessary).
  2. Once you're satisfied with the design, go over the pencil lines with a waterproof felt-tip pen. If you prefer to use separate stencils for different colors, be sure to differentiate between those sections of the stencil you will be cutting out and those you will be leaving in for reference on each separate sheet.
  3. For a repeating pattern, always carry over part of the pattern from motif to motif to ensure that you can place the stencil properly when repositioning.
  4. Place the Mylar on a cutting surface and cut the sections out carefully with a utility knife with a SHARP blade (dull blades will tear the Mylar). Cut towards you, turning the stencil rather than the knife. This helps keep your cuts smooth and gives you better control over handling the knife.

Using the Stencil

You've got your stencil, now you're ready to give it a go. Just follow these steps to achieve stencil greatness!

  1. Get your materials ready first. You will need a flat stencil brush (or several if you're doing a large area), and stencil paints (stencil crayons if you're doing wood or fabric). For other surfaces you can use acrylics. Talk to the person in the paint department - they can answer your questions about the right paint to use. If necessary, prepare your surface before you start (e.g. cleaning, priming).
  2. Position your stencil so that it aligns properly. Use some low-tack masking tape to hold it in place.
  3. Dip the tips of the stencil brush bristles into the paint and dab off the excess on a paper towel or drip cloth. Apply paint to the stencil with a light dabbing movement. DON'T BRUSH IT ON AS YOU WOULD IF YOU WERE PAINTING. Be sure the edges of the design are well covered to outline the stencil shapes, but don't use too much paint or it will seep or run under the stencil.
  4. You can stencil with a sponge instead of a brush. Moisten the sponge and squeeze out the water. Dip sponge in paint, dabb off excess and sponge over the stencil by lightly dabbing it.
  5. Paint one color at a time. Allow paint to dry completely before moving on to the next color. Clean brushes and sponges WELL between colors, or use a different one for each color.
  6. Spray paints also work well for stencil painting, but be sure to mask or cover all areas not being painted to avoid any stray droplets from the spray hitting those areas. You will also need to use a much lighter and more careful hand while painting, as it is very easy to saturate the edges of the stencil which will cause drips.
  7. Check your work occasionally as you go along to make sure you're getting sufficient coverage.
  8. Clean the paint off the stencil if it gets too thick, with a cleaner or solvent appropriate for the type of paint you're using.
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