Painting Effects: Stencilling

Stencilling is an extremely versatile technique and, with careful planning and a little practice, is quick and easy to do. Almost any surface, as long as it is not glossy or shiny, can be stencilled, including walls, floors, furniture and fabric.

A huge range of effects can be created, depending on the scale and design of the motif —from fresh and charming floral prints or traditional patterns to crisp, geometric designs. Stencilled borders or friezes can stand in for architectural detail where this is lacking; all-over stencilling adds a richness of pattern; handmade designs give interiors a personal touch.



Stencil Motifs

Pre-cut stencil kits are widely available and come in a variety of designs, but it is easy and satisfying to make your own. Inspiration can come from the patterns that already exist in the room — you can borrow motifs from curtain or upholstery fabric, repeat a detail of a cornice (crown moulding), or copy a pattern from a ceramic or rug. Geometric motifs are easier for the beginner, but with practice you can attain to simple freehand shapes.

After you have drawn out your design, experiment with different colour combinations, taking into account the colour of the background. Pin up colour sketches where you intend to stencil to assess how the tones work together.

Planning Patterns

The basic motif can be displayed on its own, as the central feature of a surface such as a table top or cupboard door, or it can be repeated in a continuous pattern, or in a line as a border or frieze. All of these applications require thorough planning to get the spacing right and you may need to make adjustments to the scale of the stencil for it to be effective.


The traditional method is to cut stencils from oiled stencil card, but using modern transparent acetate can make life easier. Because acetate is see-through, registration is much less necessary; also it can be wiped clean and keeps for longer. But film is more expensive than card and is sometimes fiddly to use.

There is a wide range of stencil paints available. Japan paints (oil-based) or acrylic paints (water-based) are the best, as they are very fast-drying, but emulsion (latex) is also a good choice for walls. Spray painting is a reasonable but inferior alternative to painting with a paint brush.

For furniture and floors use gloss or coloured wood stain, and then varnish to seal; for fabric use special fast-drying fabric paints.

Registration Marks

Because you will need to cut separate stencils for each colour, you must ensure that all of the overlays 1ine up.

On acetate, it is a good idea to draw in the key elements of the rest of the design in dotted lines on each overlay, as an aid to registration. Alternatively, draw crosses at the four corners of each overlay. If you are using stencil card, lay the cut-outs over each other and punch through them with a nail to give a registration hole at each corner.

Equipment Checklist

• tracing paper for sketching or tracing outlines drawing paper or graph paper

• pencils, drawing pens, markers

• ruler, compass, setsquare (T-square), plumb line

• acetate or oiled stencil card

• cutting knife

• cutting mat

• masking tape

• stencil brushes

• stencil paint

• solvent

varnish, if stencilling floor or furniture

• cleaning rags and paper towel

• old saucers or foil containers

Making a Stencil

1. Draw or trace your design, then break down the pattern to incorporate bridges — uncut areas linking the openings to prevent the stencil from collapsing. Scale the pattern up or down if necessary, using either a photocopier or a grid system.

2. If using acetate, place the drawing under the film, secure with masking tape over the top. If using card, turn the drawing over and transfer to the card using carbon paper

3. Cut out small areas before larger ones, so that you do not find yourself trying to cut fiddly details out of an intolerably weakened stencil. Use a scalpel or craft knife, and cut towards you; for curves, turn the stencil, not the knife. Mistakes can be repaired using transparent adhesive tape.

4. Cut a separate stencil for each colour. Using dotted lines, sketch in the key elements of the rest of the design on each overlay. Make registration marks at the edges or corners.

5. Use paint sparingly to prevent seepage. Work most of the paint off onto dry paper towel, then dab brush on scrap paper until no blotches appear and the brush is almost dry.

6. Apply paint gradually, working inward from the outer edges. Use the brush lightly in circular movements. To check progress, gently lift the stencil. Complete one colour at a time and allow to dry before proceeding.

Eliminating Bridges

To eliminate bridges, break down the pattern into two or more stencils which can be superimposed to form a complete design.

Work as cleanly as possible. Avoid getting paint under the stencil or on your hands. Drips can be mopped up with tissue moistened with solvent. Keep background colour on hand to touch up any mistakes.

Turning Corners

You can adapt a pattern so that the corner appears as an intentional part of the design.

The simplest method, if you cannot adapt the pattern, is to block the corner. Stop where the inside edge of the new border will go. Mask with acetate what you have just stencilled, then continue stencilling at right angles.


Using a spirit level (carpenter’s level), draw a horizontal chalk line on the wall. Make a corresponding line on the stencil for registration. Fix the stencil in the right position with masking tape while you apply the colour.

To turn a corner, gently bend the stencil round, using acetate to mask off where it meets the other wall.

For a professional result, mitre the corner. Draw a diagonal line into the corner. Mask along the line on the side at right angles to the one that you are stencilling. Stencil up to the line and then, when the paint is dry, move the mask to the other side of the line and stencil down the other side.

Fabric Stencilling

The best fabric for stencilling is flat and even-weaved, such as pure cotton; avoid fabric with a pile, such as velvet or knitted jersey. Wash and iron the fabric first and then pin it to a smooth surface. Apply the paint through the stencil to the straight grain of the fabric, working in manageable sections. Once dry, heat-seal with a warm iron.

02. June 2011 by admin
Categories: Decorating, Painting | Tags: , | Comments Off on Painting Effects: Stencilling


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