Learning how to paint with stencils is a simple way to get your creative juices flowing, immediately beautify whatever you are decorating, and draw immense personal satisfaction! That is, of course, if the final result is what you were hoping for: stark lines, clear shape, no bleeding, etc.
This isn’t always guaranteed! Keep reading if you’ve ever wondered how to paint with stencils and achieve a perfect result.
Tools and Supplies
First of all, let’s start out with the tools you’re going to need.
This might seem like an obvious one, but I promise it really isn’t. When learning how to paint with stencils, the choice is really up to you. From a traditional brush, to a sponge, to a roller, and even to spray paint, the choices are seemingly endless.
There are even specialty brushes out there called stencil brushes! The truth is that the best kind of brush is the one that you are most comfortable using, and the one that produces the best results. You might have to run some trial and error to determine your personal winner.
Here’s another obvious one! Paint, obviously, is essential in stencil painting. Though there seems to be a general consensus that acrylic paint is the best kind of stencil paint, you should also take into consideration the surface you are painting on.
The truth is that you can use stencils on just about anything—from your bedroom wall to your bathroom mirror to your fabric upholstery—and though acrylic is generally a good choice for most surfaces, you could also consider chalk paint, latex paint, or stencil cream.
Some stencils do come with adhesive backgrounds. If these are the stencils you plan on using, you won’t need tape or spray adhesive.
A paint tray is always a good tool to have, no matter what art project you’re working on. It helps keeps your art space tidier and your colors organized, which in turn keeps your mind decluttered so you can focus on the task ahead!
If you don’t have a paint tray at hand, a paper plate large enough to accommodate all the colors you want to use can also do the trick!
A towel is perhaps an unexpected yet necessary tool when learning how to paint with stencils. It’s also true when you’re a stencil painting pro!
A towel is important because you use it to offload paint off your paintbrush. Just make sure you use an old towel that you don’t mind getting dirty!
If you don’t have a towel you’re comfortable getting dirty, then you can also blot out some of the paint on a different paper plate or paper towel.
More on offloading paint later in the post.
Last but not least, you’ll need stencils to learn how to paint with them! You can find a lot of great free stencils online to print at home.
But if you’re looking for something to reuse (it’s more sustainable that way!), visit your local art store or search for stencils online for some sturdier ones!
How to Paint with Stencils
Now for the fun part! Learning how to paint with stencils isn’t hard at all. As long as you’re patient and detail-oriented, you’ll have beautiful stenciled art before you know it.
As with most creative DIY projects, the secret to success lies in prepping! If you’re learning how to stencil on clean paper or on an art canvas, then you can go ahead and skip to the next section. But if you’re learning how to stencil to decorate a wall or furniture, then this part is hugely important.
Prepping a surface involves cleaning it, and sometimes sanding it down. No paint will fare well on a rough and dirty surface, but stencil painting is especially problematic in these situations. It will lead to bleeding and an uneven, smudged design; no one wants that!
Prepping looks a bit different depending on, once again, the kind of material you’re decorating.
If you’re painting on drywall, make sure there isn’t any previous peeling or chipping. Consider using a primer to create a sealed, smooth layer upon which to stencil. Make sure it’s completely dry before working on top of it!
Any wooden surface should be washed with a wood cleaner, air-dried completely, and then sanded down with fine-grit sandpaper to smooth out any ridges.
If you’re working on glass, clean it thoroughly with a glass cleaner, and wait for it to dry.
If you’re painting on metal, we suggest cleaning it with a metal cleaner – really scrubbing at it if there are any extra pieces of rust – and then wiping it dry.
If you’re working on ceramic, follow the same instructions as glass but with a ceramic cleaner.
If you’re painting on fabric, wash and dry it first so that you don’t have to do it down the line and risk ruining the paint job!
Use a Sample Test
If this is truly your first time painting with stencils, or even your first time using a new stencil, we always recommend doing a test run on another surface to check out what the design really looks like. If you like the look, then proceed!
If you don’t like it, test new stencils until you find the perfect one!
Stabilize the Stencil
Now that your surface is clean, smooth, and dry, it’s time to fix the stencil onto it! Place the stencil onto your surface of choice, angle it until it is in the correct position, and then fix it firmly to its spot by taping each corner.
If you’re using the stencil on a canvas, consider putting a wooden block beneath it to create a firm surface to stencil upon.
Make sure none of the tape trespasses onto the surface you will paint, or it’ll leave strange shapes in the middle of your design!
Be careful if you’re using adhesive spray, because once the stencil is flat on the surface you want to paint, there’s no more moving it without a mess!
Told you we’d come back to this!
Though dabbing your brush into a bright wad of paint and streaking it across a canvas in stark, bright stripes might seem immediately satisfying at first, this is certainly not the way to go when learning how to paint with stencils—or painting with stencils at any stage, period.
Offloading is wiping excess paint off your paintbrush after dipping it into the color and before applying it to the canvas. Though it might feel wrong, your brush should feel almost dry—absolutely not soggy.
This way, it’s easier to work in layers, and harder to bleed through the stencil.
Remember that offloading paint, of course, isn’t relevant if you’re using spray paint!
Work in Layers
As mentioned above, the best way to learn how to paint with stencils is by applying many thin layers instead of one large sloppy one! This will result in the buildup of a starker, more precise, and professional-looking artwork.
Start dabbing lightly around the edges of every blank space in your canvas, and slowly work your way inwards. This produces marvelous results!
Pay Attention to the Small Cuts
Depending on how intricate your stencil design is, it might have more or less very small cuts that won’t get covered with a simple brush stroke. Make sure you’re intentional about where you put your paint!
Using More Than One Color
Using just one color is the easiest way to learn how to paint with stencils. But if you’re ambitious, you could use more than one. Just make sure you let each dry and use a new, clean brush for the next color—this helps avoid unwanted mixing.
That is if you don’t want mixing! Some people go for the blended or shaded look, which requires using multiple colors per cut section. In that case, unleash your creativity!
After Removing Stencil
Thought you were done? Not yet! Peeling away the stencil is probably the most satisfying thing about painting with stencils, but the work isn’t quite over yet at this stage.
Even the best stencil painters sometimes make mistakes, and the design that’s revealed when the stencil is taken away is a bit slopier than they expected. Painting within the lines isn’t as easy as everyone makes it out to be, right?
It happens to the best of us! So what can we do?
This is where your creativity comes back in again. Why not expand on the free-form stencil design to cover up any bleeding or smudges? Not only does this make the artwork even more original and unique, but it quickly solves your problem!
True, the elements added free-form might not be as sharp as the rest of the design, but we think this makes the artwork even more dynamic and unique.
Fill In Bridges
Because of the nature of stencils, some designs might have pretty obvious “bridges.” Bridges are part of a stencil’s design that helps keep various complex elements in place, but aren’t meant to be in the final product.
For example, you couldn’t have a concentric heart-shaped stencil without bridges. The smaller hearts would fall out!
So when you remove your stencil, it’s normal to see a couple of white lines that might look like they don’t belong there. Carefully reconnect those areas with the same color you used over the stencil.
Chances are that unless your stencil was damaged during the painting process, you’ll be able to use it several more times. So don’t head straight for the trash!
If your stencil is made of paper, let the paint dry completely before storing it in a cool and dry place.
If your stencil is made of plastic, consider rinsing the paint off before it hardens completely. This helps prevent the building up of dry paint on your stencil.
Stencil Painting FAQs
Learning how to paint with stencils and still have some questions? We probably have answers to them here:
Why Paint with Stencils?
Learning how to paint with stencils is a great artistic endeavor for the following reasons:
Stencil painting helps unlock the creative side in just about anyone because the design is already there for you! You don’t need to be an artistic genius to enjoy some paint and pretty designs.
In fact, when it comes to accessibility, painting with stencils is our go-to recommendation!
The truth is that besides the stencils, you don’t need anything too fancy to learn how to paint with them. And even the stencils can be a free design you print out at home!
Learning how to paint with stencils is also a great way to engage with some DIY fun at home. Rather than throwing away that old wooden chair, give it a fresh new look with your favorite stencils. In the long run, this turns out to be an economical process because you avoid buying new furniture!
Stencils are great because most of them are reusable. If you like a design, you can use it again and again. This can be useful if you’re decorating multiple pieces of furniture and want to keep a common design theme among all of them.
Can I lift the Stencil Before I’m Finished?
Resist the temptation to peek at your design before you’re completely done! Though you might think you can peel back a corner and then place it back down without moving the stencil too much, chances are that it will budge a bit, and that could ruin your entire design.
You should, however, peel the stencil off after you’ve finished painting, when the paint is still wet.
What Can I Use Stencils On?
The truth is that you can paint with stencils on basically anything! From traditional canvas to furniture, walls, mirrors, and even ceramic. As long as you have a clean, smooth surface, stenciling is a great go-to.
If you want to stencil on a curved surface, it might be hard to fix the stencil flatly against it, which could lead to the paint bleeding or the final design looking warped. Try using a small stencil or switching to a bigger surface with gentler curves.
Paint With Stencils!
We hope this post has inspired you to continue learning how to paint with stencils. As you can see, the process is simple and hugely rewarding.
With a bit of patience, you’ll have a beautiful design on your choice of surface in no time!
Interested in reading more inspiring DIY content? Then check out all of our guides and posts on furniture painting!