How to Make Your Own Stencils

Stencil art

How to Make Your Own Stencils: In this Free Tutorial by you will learn that stencils are for serious artists like Banksy* or Warhol, as well as for absolute beginners like the rest of us. They are a great tool to make larger artworks fast. And, they are a great tool to create, yes, diversity, while sticking to a pattern.

They offer an easy and professional way to decorate furniture, and of course, are excellent for scrapbooking and producing the most intricate handmade gift cards, matching tags, bags and more.

Oh and there are more uses of stencils. There are the pumpkin carving and other Halloween stencils. Stencils are useful for needlepoint work, textile art and kind of on the other end of the spectrum of things for graffiti art! (* I love Banksy’s graffiti artwork so much, I should mention that stencils are a great way to make a good piece, fast!)

What’s in My Stencil Library
Personally, I have a range of store bought stencils, including basic (and not so basic) shapes, and a variety of alphabets. Then I made my own stencils of a pineapple, leaves, words.

Honest to goodness, I wish that I’d made a Buddha stencil as that would have saved me lots of time. (Seating buddhas are a series of mathematical shapes, did you know that?!). Oh, and I have a butterfly stencil. That’s about it, I think.

Need I say more: you need to learn to both make and use a stencil!

copyright 2009 ~

Making Your Stencil from Printed Designs or From Scratch?

If it’s too daunting to create your own stencil to begin with (as it was for me), you can start with store bought versions. Craft shops, craft catalogs, and their online versions sell these in an abundant array of sizes and detail.

If it is the drawing, rather than the cutting that scares you, you can take advantage of the loads of websites that offer free stencils suitable for a range of art applications and craft projects. (A listing free paint stencils is a topic for another article.)

Unless you’re doing a one-off interior design wall painting project using stencils, as an artist or artisan, what you want, or need rather, is to build a stencil ‘library’. Same as with stamps. However, the use of stencils is a bit different to stamps. Yes, they overlap, but their emphasis of use is different. Stamps are for smaller works and detail. Stencils are excellent large scale backgrounders, outlines, line borders.

What stencils can do better than stamps is creating solid color blog design in a large format, and then allow you to shrink that same design (or elements thereof), for a border or accent to be place along side of it.

It is particularly for these unique situations that you will want to be able to make your own stencil.

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How to Make Your Own Stencil – Free Tutorial

Tools & Materials

  1. You will need to print or draw your design. As mentioned, you can print web-found designs, but also magazine found designs or hand drawings. Use a photocopy machine to create larger or smaller versions of your design for consistency. Or, if you have good drawing skills, you can put wide horizontal and vertical support lines on your original, and redraw scaled designs using these guides (simply make narrower or wider support banners)
  2. you will need a firm surface to cut the stencils, such as a double-layer of thick carton, a cutting board or other craft plank.
  3. You’ll need a sharp exacto or craft knife for the cutting. The sharpness of the knife determines the quality of the stencil. It’s easier to be successful if you use a good sharp knife.
  4. You will need a sheet of firm plastic.
  5. Optional: adhesive tape. Tape the plastic and the design to each other and onto your cutting board.
  6. Last but not least, you will need a decisive, firm hand for the cutting. Place the plastic over your drawing and both on your cutting surface. Cut the desired designs into the plastic.
  7. When you’ve cut the entire design, pick it over and smooth curves or edges as needed. Don’t fiddle around with it. One firm adjustment. That’s it.
  8. Dependent on the type of plastic you are using and the nature of the design, you may wish to sand down rough edges.
  9. You are now ready to paint or otherwise use your stencil.

Tips for Success in Stencil Cutting

  1. Start with a simple design. It’s obvious, but it should be mentioned.
  2. For the more advanced stencil painter: try to design something that you can create both as a cut-out and a mask. This allows for more exciting layering.
  3. One line at a time. Your first few cuts will give you a feel for how easy it will be and if you need to make adjustments, i.e. put a new sharp blade in your exacto knife.
  4. Start with the straight and long lines as these are easiest.
  5. Rotate the entire board or move around yourself so that you can cut easily without straining your body.
Stencils :: photo credit Oscar Chavez

Tips for Painting with Stencils

  1. Building up with thin layers is the way to go. Thick layers of paint tend to bleed and generally make a mess of your art.
  2. You can use either a real brush, a thick flat glue brush, a foam brush or a sponge. The effects of them will quite different.
  3. If you use your stencil for painting, rinse it under cold water immediately after use, so it stays a permanently usable tool.
  4. When dry, store your stencils FLAT.

Other Articles on Stencil Craft

How To Make a Sophisticated Stencil
Stencils – Stencil Tips
Inspiring Stencil Projects
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