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How To Start Stencilling

Updated: Feb 16, 2022

Stencilling is a hugely rewarding craft, capable of producing some wildly different results depending on the media you use and the surface you stencil onto.

Stencilling is also a great craft to get your artistic ideas flowing. It doesn't really require any previous experience or skill for a beginner to achieve beautiful and professional results.

You basically apply your stencil, apply your medium, remove your stencil, let it dry, and sometimes cure or seal the artwork. Voila!

You can also mix stencilling with other types of craft. For example, I like really to stencil over decoupage...

However, in spite of stencilling's simplicity, there are some important pieces of advice that we will share with you, to help you get the best results, and avoid the heartache of spoiling your artwork.

Just bear these in mind, whether you've never touched a stencil before, and don't quite know where to start, or whether you're an experienced crafter - because we all make mistakes!

So, in this blog I will cover:

  • the materials you need to start with

  • surfaces you can use them on

  • and some tips on how to use self-adhesive stencils.

PS - I know I sound all loved up over self-adhesive stencils, but there's a good reason! This website only exists because we wanted to find a better way of stencilling than traditional plastic stencils. And if we hadn't discovered our self-adhesive stencils, then you wouldn't be here reading this blog! 😍🎨

What you'll need

What do you need to get started? Not a lot, actually!

In this section I will tell you what essentials you need to get started. The paints, gels and pastes are widely available on websites like Amazon, eBay, Etsy and AliExpress.

Your idea

It sounds corny, but it's important to know what you want to make! This will guide you more quickly towards the materials you need.

Examples might be:

  • I want to etch a glass bottle

  • I want to add a design to some plain tiles

  • I want to create a beautiful storage jar

  • I want to stencil a design onto a cushion cover

  • I want to emboss some plain furniture

Feel free to take inspiration from any of my designs - I post regularly on Facebook and Instagram - and if you ever have any questions about the materials or techniques I use, please get in touch, I'm always happy to help.

Your stencil

You're in the right place! We have hundreds of stencil designs in stock at our studio in Yorkshire, all ready and waiting to send.

Application tools

Many stencilling tools can be reused for different media, however there are some options (such as modelling pastes) and some surfaces (such as glass) that require particular tools and techniques to get the best results.

Time to choose your media! Here's where you can go a little bit wild, if you let yourself!

Modelling/structure paste

These are available in many different colours, but I mostly use just white... because if I need a colour, I simply add acrylic paint into my paste. Here's how...

With a palette knife, take the desired amount of modelling paste from the container, and place it on a plate, palette or other container. I use those small plastic sauce containers that come with takeaways, I just wash and reuse them!

Then add a small amount (1-2 pea size drops at the start) of acrylic paint and mix paste and paint together using the palette knife. I also like to use bamboo chopsticks for mixing and stirring, which I wash and reuse too. Add more pea size drops (bit by bit) if you need a more intense shade, until you reach your desired colour.

Your coloured paste is then ready to use. I normally apply using a palette knife, gently moving the paste around from different angles. This give a really neat and professional finish.

Please wash your stencils straight after use! Don't let modelling paste dry on the stencil, because when it does, it is very hard to remove... from anything, not just stencils!

Acrylic paint

Plain, pearl, metallic, glittery... so many of them around!!! And so hard to choose... I want them all.

So this medium is usually very liquid, and you need to be more careful and controlled when using it. To apply, use a stencil sponge or brush, making sure you don't have too much medium on it.

The sponge or brush needs to be dry(ish) - you can dab excess paint on to a kitchen towel or tissue. Then, gently dab the paint into the stencil design, going around in a circular pattern to apply the paint. Keep building up the colour in layers until you achieve the desired finish.

Sometimes I do just one layer if I need a gentle, transparent hint of the stencil design. If I need to achieve a bold, opaque result, I'll add a few layers to really build up the colour.

As with pastes, don't forget to wash your stencil straight after use, while the paint is still wet. Dry acrylic paint is hard to remove once it starts to cure. If it dries, you'll need to use rubbing alcohol and plenty of time (and elbow grease) to get it off.

Special effect pastes

Glittery pastes and gels (like Cosmic Shimmer pastes) are used in a very similar way to standard modelling paste.

They do contain particles like glitter and mica, but as these are mixed in with the paste, and not dry or loose, you can happily use them with self-adhesive stencils.

Chalk paint

Great for furniture, retro pieces, and bistro/cafe style details. You apply this medium using the same technique as acrylic paint.

Etching cream

Etching cream has a technique all to itself, as it works on the surface in a different way to other media.

Once applied to the surface, the stencil is kept in place until the etching process is complete - usually about 15-20 minutes, depending on the brand of etching cream.

For a tutorial on how to use self-adhesive stencils and etching cream on a glass bottle, you can watch this little video:

Gilding pastes and gels

Here you'll be using a thicker paste or gel-like gilding glue.

I've used a gilding paste from Pebeo called Gedeo Mixtion, and a gel from The Crafters Workshop called Tacky-When-Dry Gel Medium. Both are very good at the job!

Application is the same as normal modelling pastes, with a palette knife and/or spatula. Remove the stencil carefully to avoid smudging or stretching out the gel, and make sure you can leave the gel somewhere safe to dry,

Wash the stencil and wait until your paste or gel has dried to a tacky finish - usually between 1-2 hours depending on the brand.

Now it's ready to apply the gilding foil - you have many options here, with gold, silver, copper, brass, bronze being the obvious finished. You could add amazing details using corner stencils, borders or frame stencils from our range.

Fabric paint

The technique and application tools are the same as acrylic. The difference is that after you finish the workpiece, you wait for it to dry then iron your item to cure the paint and make it washable.

You can stencil on t-shirts, jeans (any clothes really), cotton bags, jute bags, cushion covers, throws, tablecloths, runners...!

Glass paint

I use a couple of different types, depending on the effect I want.

Pebeo Vitrea 160 is brilliant for a transparent stained glass effect, while Plaid Folkart Multi-Surface Paint or Plaid Folkart Enamel are perfect for a solid, opaque result.

The technique and application tools are the same as acrylic, however after you finish the workpiece, you need to cure it by baking in the oven - it's really simple, just follow the manufacturer's instructions (here are Plaid's curing instructions, for example) and keep an eye on temperature and time.

You can stencil floral patterns, birds and butterflies, geometric patterns, and more to make beautiful, colourful designs for vases, glasses, jars, jugs.

This is a good alternative for people who aren't yet confident in hand painting objects. Also, by stencilling you can make multiple matching items with designs that will look perfectly consistent - something that is really hard to do with hand painting!

Sprays and airbrush

Here you need to apply the stencil to the item you want to spray, then create an additional mask around the workpiece to avoid any overspray. Use a small amount, and always build colour up in layers to avoid drips, runs and possible bleeding by using too much media.

Always aim to use water based paints with self-adhesive stencils - not only are they easier to work with and clean up, they're also less likely to cause potential problems with solvents or oils reaching the self-adhesive layer.

Homemade pastes

Before too long you'll be wanting to create some extra-special, super-personalised media. Homemade pastes and gels are just perfect for stencilling.

All you need is a standard white modelling gel - you can choose a matt or gloss gel as your base - then mix in a blend of acrylic paint, mica powder and glitter to create something dazzling and truly unique.

Plus, you can easily make just what you need, and even jot down your own favourite 'recipes' so you can make it again in future!

Self-adhesive stencils vs traditional plastic stencils

Self-adhesive stencils are made from silicone-coated vinyl making them extremely flexible. They have a (very special) removable, hard-wearing and reusable adhesive side that will stick firmly to many different surfaces. This keeps the design in position, ensures sharp edges, and leaves your hands free to apply the medium.

This combination of flexibility and stickiness has extra benefits too, the chances of your medium bleeding and smudging are reduced significantly. And the stencils allows you to stencil on curved surfaces, how cool is that?!!!!

We've heard stories of many crafters wanting to stencil onto their painted or decoupaged jars, bottles and vases, but they've struggled. This is because traditional plastic stencils are not flexible enough to follow a curved surface, and it's difficult to secure them tightly enough to apply medium without bleeding and with sharp edges.

Self-adhesive stencils do this really well - and very easily too. You have to bear in mind that the curvature of the surface should ideally be in two dimensions, not three. So, imagine the straight sides of a jar or bottle, but they still curved around, that's a good surface. But a spherical object like some vases aren't really suitable.

I have done stencilling on slightly spherical surfaces, there is technique to help make it work, but it can't guarantee the same result, and it needs the vinyl to fold, creating a risk of bleeding under the design's edges. I will make a short video soon on how I do stencilling on a 3-dimensional curved surface.

So, the key differences between self-adhesive vinyl and regular plastic stencils are:

  • They are adhesive, removing the need for additional tape or stencil glues

  • They are flexible, and fit tightly even to curved surfaces

  • They reduce chance of bleeding and smudging

  • They stay in place, keeping your hands free to apply the medium

Self-adhesive stencils can be washed and reused, but it's important to know that the adhesive side can't be expected to be immortal! The manufacturer states that it will lose its stickiness around after 20 times of use - but I have stencils that I've used for nearly a year on both big and small projects, and it's not lost any stickiness. I do care for them well though, washing them straight after use and avoiding solvent-based media where possible.

So, if you care about your stencil too, it will last far longer than 20 uses. And when I have stencils that lose their stickiness, I apply stencil glue where it's needed, extending the life of your flexible stencil.

Another thing to be careful of with self-adhesive stencils is that you can't use them with any greasy media (waxes, oil paints, crayons etc) or powdery substances (loose glitter, pastels, chalk) as these will coat the adhesive side of the stencil, reducing its stickiness.

Phew! That's quite a lot of words. Hopefully you've found a few little nuggets of advice that will help you on your way. Do let us know!

And why not send us some photos so we can share with our followers what you've created?

Bye for now, and as always, happy crafting 😍🎨

1 comment

1 Comment

Thank you so much for all the hints and tips ❤️

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