This week, I’m up to my armpits in a complicated stencil project that has my eye balls crossing and me wondering why I do this myself. I need a break, so let’s talk about how you can make a custom stencil of your own. Stencil making instructions, stencil tips and tools…
Do you remember me telling you I’m working on a budget makeover (under $100) for the half bathroom in my house? No?
Yes, I’m giving my downstairs bathroom a new look and so far so good. Well, sort of.
I painted the walls, installed a new light fixture and even removed the door to make it easier to work in the space. I was cruising right along when out of nowhere, my house was hit with the Bubonic plague. Okay, that may be an exaggeration but everyone in the house battled the flu this past month.
And of course, we didn’t get it all at once, we politely took turns to make it a nice lasting family experience.
The good news is, we’re all healthy again, but the bad news is, my initial excitement and adrenaline rush to quickly complete the bathroom is long gone. My motivation level has been hovering somewhere around, “zero cares” and “I’ll get to it tomorrow.”
Normally, I would just close the door and ignore the space but I can’t because I removed the stupid DOOR!
No worries, the family is totally cool with this.
Well, except for the fact that my Hubs keeps sweetly reminding me, (in his most irritated voice) there is still no door on the bathroom and I lovingly (in my most irritated voice) remind him, he never closes the door anyway. This buys me about an hour before the glares begin again.
I am slowly getting back to work and this past week, I began creating a stencil to help me transfer a geometric pattern to the wall. The design is a pain to work with but the actual stencil making part is easy and fun.
Would you like to know how to make your own custom stencil? (You don’t need to answer that because I am going to tell you anyway.)
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How to make your own stencil: Start with a Good Pattern
(There are a lot of different artsy ways to use a stencil but to keep this post from becoming a book, I’m going to talk about how I use them to create a wallpaper like pattern )
The first thing is to select the pattern you want to create. The key is to chose a pattern/design that has an easy repeat and is not so intricate that the stencil falls apart. A complicated pattern may require multiple overlays and become too time consuming when covering a large surface.
Of course for my bathroom project, I choose an overly complex pattern to paint on the wall because why take the easy route when you have the opportunity to add extra stress to a project?
I knew going into this that the pattern would be a problem but to be honest, I really liked it so I was determined to make it work anyway. I don’t recommend this if you don’t want to spend a 100 hours on a project that normally could be done in a day.
For this type of stencil work, I prefer to use a clear plastic film such as Dura-lar. I order it by the roll off Amazon but I’ve also gotten it in the art department at my local craft store. .007 is my preferred thickness because it’s thick enough to make the stencil durable but not too thick to make it difficult to cut.
Sometimes I’ll use contact paper or stencil vinyl but because this material is thin and adhesive backed it’s difficult to get more than one use out of your stencil. If you do want to try contact paper, I recommend the Duck Peel N’ Stick Laminate Adhesive Shelf Liner. It’s a little thicker than contact paper and it’s crystal clear.
While you are at the store, pick up a can of Easy Tack Repositionable Spray Adhesive too. This is what I spray on the back of my plastic stencils to temporally stick the stencil to the wall while I work.
X-Acto Knife- The most common and simple way to cut your stencil is to simply lay your clear plastic film over your design, trace the outline with a permanent marker and then use a x-acto knife (or a mat knife) to cut out the outlined shapes.
Stencil Cutter Tool- If you have a lot of cutting to do, you can use a stencil cutter which is tool with a heated tip that melts the plastic to “cut” it. The downside is you don’t always get a crisp smooth edge like you do with a knife. I haven’t used mine in 16 years because I don’t find them to be that great.
Craft/ Vinyl Cutting Machine- Now a days, I import my pattern into my silhouette software and send the plastic film through my Silhouette craft cutter letting the machine do the work for me. This works well with shelf liner (contact paper) but it’s a little tricky with plastic film. .007(thickness) Dura-lar will cut with the Silhouette. The blade settings I use are, blade 10, speed 2, force 33,and passes 3.
Stencil Tools & Brushes
Cutting the stencil is easy, the challenge can be how to apply the paint and how to keep the paint from bleeding under the stencil.
To apply the paint, a small foam roller works well on large stencils or you can opt for a stencil brush. If you opt for a stencil brush invest in a quality brush. A quality brush makes a world of difference. Regardless of whether you use a roller or brush the key is to apply the paint in thin dry coats to keep the paint from bleeding under the stencil.
Occasionally, I will break out my airbrush on stencils but to be honest it doesn’t make a big difference and it’s definitely not a timesaver. The down side to an airbrush is you have to set it up and mask off part of the area around the stencil so no overspray gets in places it’s not meant to be. You also have to take more care in cleaning it each time. A foam roller or brush is often simpler so if you don’t already own a airbrush, I wouldn’t invest in one just to do stenciling.
A Repositionable Spray Adhesive also helps to keep the stencil fixed to the wall and will help prevent bleeding.
Working with a Complex Stencil
When I said that my current stencil pattern is a major pain, I wasn’t kidding. It’s a pain as in, just buy wallpaper because it will be cheaper than the therapy I will need after this.
The challenge is, it’s very detailed and it’s hard to match the repeats. I ended up cutting several stencils and gluing them together to make one giant stencil. This made it easier to match the connecting lines.
The other problem is a lot of the stencil pieces are floating on the inside of the design. You can’t just pick up the stencil or all the pieces will fall out. To solve this, I used contact paper to hold it together. Once the stencil is fixed to the wall I remove the contact paper and apply the paint. When the paint is dry, I put the contact paper back on and pull the stencil off the wall. It’s complicated and often the floating pieces like to stick to the wall and I end up using my fingernails to peel them back.
It’s still doable and I know I will love it when it’s done but till then I have a feeling I’ll be throwing back Tylenol like its candy.
I hope some of these tips are helpful to you. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions. Email me or send me an DM over on Instagram.
For more of my painting and stenciling posts, check out…
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