How to Make a Stencil
It's fun to make a stencil from a picture you love and have the ability to reproduce it again and again. It's easy too!
So, you found a picture that you want to make into a stencil. Maybe it's a favorite from a magazine or an old card someone special gave you or maybe even a logo design.
Well, the best way to make a stencil from a picture depends on the image your've chosen. So, let's explore a couple of options.
Depending on the detail in your picture and the amount of work you are willing to put into it, you'll need to decide if you want to make a Single Overlay Stencil or a Multiple Overlay Stencil. (For more information about these two options go to this article on Stencil Patterns to help you decide which one best suits your needs.)
How much detail is in the image and how much detail do you want to keep for your stencil? Try and visualize your image as if it were broken down into layers – maybe by colors or maybe by shadows versus light areas. Of course, the fewer the details the better the image for creating a stencil. At least, when you are just starting out.
Conjure up an image in your mind of how you want your painted stencil to look and ask yourself some questions. Is your image simple enough with little detail that a common stencil pattern having breaks and lines between painted sections satisfy you? Can you get by with just a couple of different colors?
Look at this single layer frog stencil. Can you break down your picture to make a stencil that looks like this? Are there distinct parts or sections that can be isolated to make them stand out?
Remember that for a single layer stencil you must have enough bridges (that's the white lines between the painted parts which actually make up the stencil) to hold the stencil together. So, design your bridges to be the defining breaks between the painted parts (called islands on your stencil). This will add clarity to your painted image and strength to your stencil.
The best images for making stencils have high contrast with few variations. What does that mean? Well, in order to create a stencil you need to break it down into sections and the more color variations and shaded areas the more complex your job.
To create a single overlay stencil (like the frog above), start by tracing the outline of the image with just a single line stroke and lines to separate the parts just like in the picture. Then, using your tracing, start to widen the lines that will separate areas to create the bridges and give your image distinctive features.
I should tell you this, Single Overlay Stencils are less work when it comes to stencil painting but can be a little harder when it comes to designing. Take a good look at both options before deciding and then take another look at your image.
Maybe your image has more detail and requires several different colors? Maybe you want a hand painted look without the white lines between painted parts?
So, you've taken a good look at your image and decided that you want to keep the detail and you really desire the hand painted look. Great! A Multiple Overlay Stencil will get your where you want to be. You'll be making stencils with Multiple Layers which is the next step of learning how to make a stencil.
Pssst! Want to see a furniture re-do project using the Frog Stencil?
I know I'm a little crazy about my passion for stenciling but learning how to make a stencil added a lot of excitement to this craft for me. I hope it does the same for you!
Here's how to make a stencil step-by-step plan that might help simplify making a multiple overlay stencil.
I chose this image because it makes a stencil pretty easy. You can see how it can break down into two layers by color (light and dark gray).
First, I outlined the entire image and decided that this layer would be painted in the light gray.
Second, I traced out the shadows and marked the second overlay for a darker gray.
Easy enough right?
Now, I am guessing you can see just how to make a stencil with the image you have in front of you. It's all a matter of getting the mind to perceive an image in a different way.
Well, here is what the two layer stencil looks like.
Notice the little triangles in the corners? Those are registration marks to help you line up your stencils so that each layer falls exactly on top of the other and the shaded areas are in place. These are crucial for any multiple layer stencil so don't forget to put them on each layer and make sure they line up exactly.
If you want to study more about getting the hand painted look, read this article on Stenciling Techniques.
You'll want to get your hands on some special materials. For instance, you may want to use sheets of mylar or acetate instead of paper for multiple use or permanent stencils.
When looking for a material to make stencils you’ll want a product that can accept ink without smudging or pooling. Remember that a glossy finish will not accept ink and will cause paint to run (and seep under your stencil). So I would highly recommend a product that has a matte finish on both sides.
For all of its usefulness, acetate does cause a few headaches — ink that won't stay, a yellow or grayish cast as it ages, edges that curl.
Grafix Dura-Lar is the acetate alternative. It combines the best features of Mylar® and acetate, and offers a variety of products so that you can purchase the film that suits your needs precisely. It is always consistent in color and overall clarity, and won't discolor with age. Dura-Lar is archival quality, safe for overlaying artwork, and it lays flat. It will remain dimensionally stable for as long as you need.
Of course, there are many cheap materials you might have around the house such as report cover sheets or clear overlays. I've even heard of some people using old X-rays. But cheapest and easiest of all is just plain paper. cover it with a clear coating like shelf liner or strips of packing tape before cutting out the islands and your stencil will last for many uses.
While cutting out the islands of a stencil, I find it easier to rotate the stencil with one hand while you continue to cut along the lines, steadily and gently pulling the blade towards you. This will keep your wrist in a more comfortable and natural position and give you more control so you don't make mistake cuts. Twisting your wrist to cut along a winding line is more difficult.
So, now you know how to make a stencil. You've just entered a whole new exciting world of creating!