Design techniques for stencilling like a pro

Stencilling designs are always on-trend and adding them to your décor ads personality to your decorating. Here are some tips you can follow to get a professional look for your stencilled designs.

Design techniques for stencilling like a pro

What you'll need

To create a professional look, you'll need professional tools. Here's a list of what you'll need to get started.

  • Chalked string
  • Contact adhesive
  • Draughting film, 5 cm (2 in) larger all round than your design
  • A cutting mat or piece of very thick cardboard
  • A thick marker
  • A hair dryer
  • An industrial mask
  • A leather punch (optional)
  • Newspaper
  • Oil or acrylic paints, oil crayons (stencilling oil crayons optional), spray paint
  • Clean paper
  • A plumb line
  • Rags, old towels and cotton buds
  • A clean white eraser
  • Dish gloves
  • Satin-finish spray varnish
  • A sharp cutter or scalpel
  • Small rollers
  • Large rollers (optional)
  • Sponges
  • Squared paper for design repeats on borders
  • Stencil brushes
  • Clear sticky tape and masking tape
  • A swivel-headed cutter (optional)
  • A few old toothbrushes
  • Turpentine or methylated spirits
  • Wax polish or white French polish
  • Small sponge rollers

Designing a stencil

  1. Find a suitable photograph or drawing.
  2. Using a thick marker, outline the shape of your subject and divide it into smaller shapes that follow its main contours. The shaded areas form the stencil.
  3. Cut out the shaded areas, being careful not to cut through the outlines which are the "ties" or "bridges" that hold the stencil together.
  4. Enlarge or reduce the design to the correct size by photocopying it.

More stenciling tricks

  • Place the draughting film on top of your design, which should be on the cutting mat.
  • Fix the film and design together with sticky tape so that the two can be moved as one.
  • When you need to cut difficult parts, such as small circles, you can then swivel your design around the cutting blade to create smooth curves and circles.
  • Work from the smallest area of the design to the largest.
  • Practice swivelling your stencil and design around the cutting tip or buy a swivel-headed cutter.Alternatively, you may prefer to use a leather punch.
  • When all of the areas of the design have been cut out, your stencil is ready. Check for slips or untidy corners. Use sticky tape, on both sides of the stencil, for repairing accidental tears, re-cutting wherever it is necessary.

Add a blast of colour

  • You can colour your design with oil or acrylic paint, oil crayons or spray paint.
  • Apply coloured paints with stencil brushes, small rollers or sponges.
  • Even if you rinse brushes or rollers between colours, there may still be blots, so use a separate brush or roller for applying each colour.
  • Fast drying matt oil paint (Japan paint or signwriting oils) has been traditionally used for stencils because of its intense colour and durability.
  • Modern craft paints are excellent; you could also use special stencilling oil crayons.
  • For a smooth, gleaming surface use spray cans of metallic paint.
  • Always wear an industrial mask when spraying and mask off the surrounding area with newspaper.
  • A stencil brush is held like a pen between thumb, index and second finger and is tapped through the stencil. It is not moved from side to side like an ordinary paintbrush.
  • Work from the edges to the centre, shading or blending colours as you go.
  • Use as little paint as possible and practise on clean paper.
  • Use a hair dryer to dry the paint quickly if you think the stencil is going to pick up colour as you move it from position to position. This helps you make faster progress, especially on floors.
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