STENCILING BASICS--For quickest response text 414-425-5381 with questions.
Welcome to American Home Stencils! By sharing some of the basic knowledge and experience that we have gathered about stenciling, we hope to encourage you and to invite you to try this simple yet attractive form of decorative painting.
Stenciling is an art form that has been around for hundreds of years. It became popular in the United States during the 18th and 19th centuries but then began to decline and was not revived again until the latter half of the 20th century. You can purchase historical reproductions that reflect those bygone eras. Today, stencils continue to regain popularity and can be found in almost any style to match your decorating needs.
What Are Stencils Made Of?
Stencils are made from a variety of materials. You can find stencils of paper, plastic, tin, brass and mylar. The type of material used will be reflected in the price. To get perfect results, we suggest that you use a good quality stencil made from 5mm mylar. American Home Stencils are manufactured with 5 mm mylar and are very flexible and durable. This type of mylar will allow your stencils to lay very flat and close up against your surface preventing the paint from seeping under the edges. A stencil made from thicker plastic is generally less expensive but also a bit more difficult with which to work. You have to press a little harder around the design edges to get the paint to fill in and that’s where you might run into some problems with paint seepage. Stencils are manufactured in several ways. They can be die cut, laser cut or hand cut. American Home Stencils are cut on computer programmed laser machines. Choosing Paint
Choosing the right paint for your project is very important. There are many different paints on the market such as cremes, acrylics, gels and crayons. You can find specialty paints for doing metal, glass, ceramics, fabric and concrete. Paints can be either oil based or water based. Oil based paints are generally more expensive, require special clean up, take longer to dry and aren’t as safe for the environment as water based paints. Water based paints are relatively less expensive, can be cleaned up with soap and water, dry very quickly and are environmentally safe. We do carry the oil based creme paints which are often preferred by people who stencil with brushes. We also have the gels, acrylics and patio paints, all of which are water based. The gels contain some glaze which makes the paint glide smoothly on walls. They are wonderful to work with on a surface painted with a flat latex paint and more difficult to work with, if not impossible, if your walls are painted with any type of sheen ranging from satin to gloss. We really do not recommend them for this type of application. One more thing to note about the gels is that they do produce a more translucent effect so that if you want a darker color, you will have to build it up in light layers. The acrylics are a good all purpose type of paint and can be used on any type of sheen. The range of colors is almost endless and the drying time is instantaneous. If you’re going to be doing a project that will be subjected to Mother Nature and the elements, then we suggest using the patio paints. This paint can be used either indoors or outdoors and is wonderfully suited for doing concrete, masonry, terra cotta, etc. No sealer is required to protect your stenciling job.
After you have chosen your stencil and your paints, it is a good idea to make a color sample on paper before you start on your walls.
Brushes Or Sponges?
Besides choosing the paint, you will have to decide whether you will be using a brush or a sponge for application. Using a sponge is very quick, easy and requires no clean up. Purchase at least one sponge for every color that you will be using. You might want a few extra for practice. Sponges should be thrown out when they are torn (this happens sometimes when stenciling on a sandy surface) or if the paint has been allowed to dry up on the sponge. Sponges are very inexpensive, produce beautiful results and can be thrown away when finished. However, some people find it easier to hold and to work with a brush. We encourage you to use whatever works best for you. Remember, the end results are what count! Brushes are more expensive and do require clean up. Generally, you would purchase a brush for each color that you will be using. If you’ll be using the same brush for several colors then you must thoroughly clean the brush between each color using a special brush cleaner. Work the cleaner into the bristles and rub it off on paper toweling. Do this until no more color rubs off onto the paper toweling. Your bristles will be permanently stained but that will not affect your stenciling. You have to be careful not to let your brush soak in the cleaner for too long or the glue that’s used to hold the bristles together will soften.and your bristles will fall out. Let your brush dry thoroughly after cleaning before using it again. Always purchase a good quality stencil brush, one that is dense and stiff and doesn’t lose bristles when stenciling. The brush size will depend upon the open areas of your design. Use a brush that is at least ½ the size of your opening. Large open areas will require the largest brush that you can find, usually about 1 ¼ to 1 ½ inch in size. Some stencils might require multiple sizes of brushes.
The other tools that might be of help with your stenciling project are a stenciling tool and a dauber which both have a small bit of sponge mounted on one of their ends. These allow you to easily stencil very tiny areas and are also helpful for shading. They are great for craft projects but do not last very long if doing a wall border. Overlays Stencils are comprised of one or more overlays. An overlay is a piece of mylar (plastic) on which part of the design is cut. When you align all of the overlays with each other, you will end up with the complete stencil pattern. Each overlay is numbered, always in the same corner to ensure proper alignment. Also, on each overlay you will find a small hole in each of the 4 corners. This is called a registration mark and is also used for easy alignment of your stencil overlays. To use the registration holes, position the 1st overlay on your wall. Use masking tape at the ends and or top and bottom to hold the stencil in place. Make a very light pencil mark in the center of each of your 4 holes. Keeping the pencil marks light will ensure that they will hardly be noticeable after finishing stenciling and that they will not need to be erased. If you do have to do any erasing, a gum eraser works best. You will be working solely with overlay #1 until you have finished stenciling wherever you want your pattern. For instance, if you are stenciling a border from left to right, begin by penciling in your registration marks, stencil the pattern, then move the overlay along, positioning the holes on its left side over the marks that were previously made on its right side. Fill in the two right side registration marks and repeat the above steps. After you’ve finished stenciling overlay #1 then move on to #2. You will not have to make any new registration marks on overlays #2 and up. Always stencil the overlays in the correct numbered sequence. Another tip concerning proper alignment is do not rely solely on the registration marks. If you ever see anything out of alignment, please “eyeball” it in to make sure that your stencil design lines up nicely.
Sponge/Brush Preparation First, you must learn how to hold a sponge. Put your index finger in the middle of the sponge and gather the corners up around it, holding them with the rest of your hand. You may also place a rubber band around the gathered sponge making it easier to hold. To prepare your sponge or brush for stenciling, you must learn how to properly load and unload the paint. Pour some paint (about the size of a quarter) onto a paper plate, piece of paper or cardboard and dip your sponge or brush into it. If you are using a brush with a creme paint, peel the skin off of the top of the paint and then rub your brush into it with a swirling motion. This is called LOADING. Then, on a clean piece of paper, rub out the excess paint with a swirling motion until your brush or sponge is almost dry to the touch. This is called UNLOADING. This step is very important! Applying The Paint
Holding your sponge or brush perpendicular to the wall or surface, use a swirling circular motion to follow along the edges of the design and to fill in the center areas. Use a light touch, keeping in mind that less is more! You can always darken a color by going over it. A dry sponge or brush plus a light touch will almost guarantee perfect results without bleeding under the edges.
Another method is to use a rocking motion. This is done with a sponge and is used on delicate areas or areas that tend to move. With the sponge, you would “rock” back and forth until the area is filled in with paint. For example, leaf veins sometimes require this method. Stencil spray adhesive is a good product to use on “wiggly” areas. It helps to hold these areas down but should be used sparingly due to health concerns. Please follow the directions on the can. Note that this product works best on a smooth surface.
Pouncing or dabbing with a sponge or brush can also be used to stencil. This method is best used to build up color or achieve a darker color, especially on semi-gloss.
Whenever stenciling areas that jut or are pointy, be careful not to bend back that area. Stencil in the direction that the pieces point. For example, when doing veins, stencil from the outer areas of the veins towards the inner areas. Once a stencil is bent, it is hard to keep flat.
There are many different ways to achieve shading. The most basic is to stencil around the edges of the design with 1 color leaving the middle area open., letting the background color show through. Another way is to stencil an entire area with 1 color, mix that color with some black, then go back and stencil around the edges only, with the mixed color. This looks particular nice with greens when stenciling leaves. You can shade with 2 colors in the same hue such as a lighter and darker blue. Or you might want to use entirely different colors. An example would be to stencil a leaf with buttercrunch (a pale yellow) and then highlight the edges with green giving a sunlight effect. The color paynes grey can also be used for shading. It is a blue/black color and looks particularly nice with burgundies. Black is sometimes used to highlight colors such as brown, but at times the paynes grey would be a better choice because it produces a more subtle, softer, less harsh effect. Here are some shading suggestions. Use a little bit of black on the tips of stems or randomly along the length of a vine. Do some shading around the centers or edges of flowers to highlight and give a richer look. Use a darker color, such as black or paynes grey, to separate parts that fit together tightly, so as to distinguish the parts from each other. An example would be a flower with petals that touch or border each other. You want to be able to see each petal individually.
Stenciling On Different Surfaces
The easiest surface on which to stencil is a smooth wall freshly painted with flat latex paint. Always wait at least a day, though, before stenciling. If you choose to use a satin, eggshell, semi-gloss or gloss finish, stenciling will become increasingly more difficult as the sheen increases. Shading will be hard to achieve. The stencil paint slides around and is not readily absorbed on a shiny surface. On semi-gloss walls, color has to be built up in light layers, usually with the pouncing or dabbing method. To do this, stencil your design, wait 20 seconds, then stencil over it again before moving the overlay. Have patience when stenciling on semi-gloss walls! Also, let your paint “harden” on the walls before attempting to wash over your stenciling.
Textured walls also require different handling. The less texture, the easier the stenciling. For example, on a wall with a sand finish, you will not be able to get as clean and crisp stenciled edges as on a smooth wall. The little sand particles prevent the stencil from lying completely flat, tight up against the wall. A good product to use on sandy walls is extender. Extender is added to stencil paint to increase the flow of the paint without changing the color. It will help the paint flow between the sand particles without having to press hard. Also, some brands of paint are thicker than others and benefit from adding extender. It will make it easier to stencil the color on evenly. You can also dilute paint with water but this sometimes changes its color a bit. On plaster finishes such as knock-down or stucco, it is impossible to get the same stenciled look as on a smooth wall. Keep in mind that you will not be able to fill in all of the crevices. Stencil over the surface and then stand back to view. You will see the pattern but not as detailed as on a smooth wall. Patterns with small designs or detail don’t work as well on such surfaces as you will probably “lose” some of the design. Another surface that you might want to stencil on is a dark color. To retain the true color of the stencil paints that you are using, all of the parts of the design need to be undercoated in white first. Stencil the entire room in white, then clean your stencil and go back to the beginning to start stenciling your colors.
Where To Stencil There really are no rules about where you should stencil. You can stencil a border along the ceiling line, chair rail, baseboard or at any height along your wall. Be creative and stencil around windows, above doorways or around picture frames. Do some free styling and stencil an ivy pattern that climbs and trails down your wall. If you are stenciling a border, start in the most prominent corner of your room. This is usually the corner that you will see first when you enter. Stencil in one direction half way around the room then return to the starting point and stencil around in the opposite direction. Do some measuring to plan where to start on your wall. You should not attempt to stencil in the corners. Stop at least 1 inch away. Also, you would not want to reach the end of the wall and discover that you have only enough room to stencil part of a “football” or a “house”! Generally, vine and floral patterns are very forgiving, allowing you to stop almost anywhere along the pattern. Usually, they do not require too much measuring or planning.
Cleaning A Stencil Stencils do not need to be cleaned routinely unless the paint build up starts to compromise the design. Small areas might start to close up and then the stencil should be cleaned. American Home Stencils can be cleaned with rubbing alcohol. Always read the package directions for other stencil brands. To clean, lay paper toweling on top of each stencil overlay and saturate with rubbing alcohol. Let this soak for a while and then rub off the paint. Be careful not to bend any pieces. Pieces are very hard to keep flat once they are bent. Also, rubbing alcohol might remove the milky coating on some stencils, leaving them clear. However, this does not affect the integrity of the stencil. If you should happen to tear a stencil while using or cleaning it, you can repair it with scotch tape.
One last thing to remember about stenciling – HAVE FUN! Don’t worry too much about following “rules” but rather be creative and do whatever it takes to produce beautiful results. You’ll be sure to enjoy your “stencil art” for many years to come!