Interested in stenciling, but not sure where to start? Stenciling 101 removes the overwhelm and walks you through the basics of stenciling. It covers what tools you need, how to get started and how to clean and store your stencils. Get out from under the overwhelm and start stenciling today – I’ll show you how!
What is Stenciling
Let’s start at the very beginning. A stencil is a thin sheet of material, typically plastic, with a design cut out of it. Stencils are used to transfer the design onto another material. Stenciling 101 focuses on how to use plastic stencils with, paper and ink pads for card making, scrapbooking and paper crafting. However, stencils can be used on t-shirts, tiles, coasters, signs, and just about anything else that is flat. They can also be used with paints, stencil pastes and more. Basically, the options are almost endless. But to keep it simple and to get you familiar with how they work, we’re sticking to plastic stencils, ink pads and paper.
Sizes of Stencils
Over the past couple of years, I’ve noticed a drastic increase in not only the number of stencil designs on the market, but also in the sizes and the detail of the stencils. However, as manufacturers release new lines, more and more stencil designs are being introduced to the the market. The sizes are also increasing making them more versatile and easier to use on larger areas, such as 12”x12” scrapbook pages.
- 6”x6” – When I started using stencils a few years ago, there were several designs on the market and they were mainly 6”x6”. This size could completely cover a standard A2 card front either in landscape or portrait orientation.
- Slimline – Long, rectangle stencils, approx 4”x9”, are designed for slimline cards.
- 6”x8” – There are more 6”x8” stencils being introduced to the market. These work well for A2, 5”x7”, slimline, square and most all cards. This size appears to slowly be replacing the 6”x6” size as more companies are switching to this size.
Types of Stencils
- Background stencils – these have an all over design such as stars, bubbles or bricks and are used, well, on the background. They are great for grounding the featured image on the card.
- Featured design stencils have one focal point such as a flower or butterfly. They become the focal point of your project, but can also be used as embellishments to help draw your eye to the feature of your project.
- Stand alone stencils are simply one stencil used to create the design – whether it is a background or featured image. These are easy to use and are great for getting started stenciling.
- Layered stencils – These are a series of two or more stencils which align to each other to create more detailed patterns or designs. With each layer, you can introduce a new color thus adding more depth and interest to your designs. However, these take a bit of practice getting used to as you need to align each layer to your design.
- Coordinating Combos – There are several stencil designs which have coordinating dies for ease of cutting, coordinating stamps to add crisp details and/or coordinating hot foil plates for a really cool glimmered foil look. These are going to fall in the category of featured design stencils. Typically, these coordinating pieces are sold individually so you can pick and choose which pieces you want. But occasionally they are sold as a bundle to make it more convenient. They expand the possibilites of what you can do with your stencils.
Now that we have a good background as to the different types of stencils, lets look at what you need to get started. There are really only a few basic items you need when stenciling.
- Ink Blending Tool – The common blending tools I’ve used for stenciling are blending brushes and ink blending foam pads. Both work well and both give similar, but slightly different looks. Which one is better? That is going to depend on your style and the overall look you are going for. To get started, use what you have. If it works for you, great. If it doesn’t, then try something else. Personally, I gravitate towards the blending brushes when I’m working with inks. With the brushes, you can hold it towards the end of the handle for lighter pressure or grip the brush head or the handle closer to the head and apply more pressure. However, blending brushes handles are very flexible which is something to get used to. On the other hand, I do feel like the ink blending tools with foam pads provide more control. This is all open to debate and comes down to personal preference.
- Ink Pads – Mini ink pads or full-sized ink pads, both work just fine. The type of ink isn’t that important. Note – you don’t need a full color line to get stunning dimensional looks from stenciling. You can repeat the same color on different parts of the stencil. Each layer you add will make the color darker. If you’re just getting started and don’t have a selection of inks, I would suggest starting with a mini ink pack. Typically they come with 4 to 6 coordinating colors in a small cube shape making them more economical than investing in the full-size ink pads.
- Paper – White cardstock with a smooth finish is easiest to work with and provide a great result. Othe cardstock colors work, as well, but it’s easiest to start with white. A couple suggestions that work well are Neenah Classic Crest Solar White #110 and Bristol Cardstock Bright White.
- Stencil Mat (optional, but nice) – OK, you need something to cover your work surface. I’ve stenciled on copy paper (when I’m in a pinch), the Tim Holtz glass media mat and the Waffle Flower Stencil Mat. There are also magnetic boards you can use for stenciling. The key is that it should be easily cleanable. The nice thing about the Waffle Flower Stencil Mat is that there is an edge on the top and right edges which will hold your paper in place. There is also some grip to the material making the mat stay in place and it helps your paper and stencils to also stay in place while working with them.
- Tape or Pixie Spray – You do need something to secure the paper and the stencil to the surface. A light tac tape, such as Post-It tape, Pixie Tape or Best Ever Craft Tape all work well. There is also Pixie Spray. This is a light tac spray adhesive. Simply spray it to the side of the stencil that will be face down on the paper. Wait about a minute for it to get tacky. Place the stencil on the paper and it will stay in place. I still recommend holding the stencil down with one hand as I apply the ink to the stencil as the stencil only has a light grip on the paper. There are a couple words of caution about the Pixie Spray – it doesn’t work well on really intricate designs. For instance, if the stencil has thin lines, there just isn’t enough material for the adhesive to stick to. Also, it’s very difficult to remove the Pixie Spray from your stencil so your stencils will stay slightly tacky. However, this is not a bad thing. I’ve talked to several people about this and the general consensus is to store the stencil in a plastic pouch and, because it’s tacky, it’s ready the next time you want to use it. I just wanted to point out the pros and cons. When I started stenciling, I did prefer using Pixie Spray as it does a great job of holding the full stencil to the paper, including the middle section.
Adhere Paper to Work Surface
The most important part of stenciling is to secure your paper to your work surface. A couple pieces of low tack tape will do the trick. If you are working on the Waffle Flower Stencil Mat, place the paper in the top left corner – no tape is necessary. There are also magnetic boards that work well for stenciling. When using these, place the magnet on top of the stencil and paper to hold them both in place.
Once the paper has been secured to your work surface, place the stencil over the paper and adhere to your work surface with the low tack tape or apply Pixie Spray to the stencil and apply to the paper.
Now, you are ready to begin!
The first couple times you do anything, it’s a little rough. Stenciling is no different. So please, do not start on some masterpiece project you’ve been working on for hours! Instead, grab some smooth white cardstock, a template and ink pads and practice.
When stenciling, I like to start on the solid part of the stencil or off the edge of the stencil on my work surface and make circular patterns going inward. Do not start directly on the paper as this could create unwanted dark blobs on your project.
Start with a light hand. You can always make it darker and add more pressure as you go. But starting with a light hand will give you a good feel for the template and how delicate or sturdy it is. It will also let you know how juicy or dry your ink pad is.
Go over the area multiple times until you’ve achieved the coverage and darkness you want.
Once you are happy with the coverage, carefully remove the stencil.
Working with Layered Stencils
When working with layered stencils, they are typically etched with its number sequence. Start with template #1 and progress to 2 and 3, etc. Also, as a general rule, the lightest color should be applied to the first stencil. The color should get darker as you progress through the stencils.
Also, look closely at the template for its alignment guides. For instance, Pink Fresh Studio has corners etched on its templates. If you cut your paper to 4 1/4” x 5 1/2”, or whatever the dimensions of the etched corners are, and align the etched corners to your paper, you can easily align each template as you go.
Once you have completed adding ink to the first stencil, carefully lift it off. Take the second stencil and align it to the design and tape down.
Continue with all layers until you have completed your design.
Here are just a few quick tips and tricks to keep in mind.
- If the stencil has intricate or designs close to each other that you want to be different colors, use post it notes or the low tack tape to cover the areas on the stencil you don’t want to touch with the color you are currently using. In the photo above, there are leaves close to the flower center. Those have been masked off. When the leaves are being color, remove the tape from the leaves and add some to the flower center.
- If your design covers the whole paper, or a good portion of it, place a post it note on the stencil and place your fingers on the Post-It Note. Move the Post It Note around, but keep placing your fingers on the Post It Note. This will prevent you from getting finger prints or oils from your fingers on your project.
- Use your ink blending tool and a circular motiion to pick up the ink that is on the template and move it to your paper.
- Not all manufacturers make their stencils align the same way. Look at the stencil to see if it has alignment guides or look at packaging to see if there are instructions.
Stamping and Stenciling
Stamping adds fun detail to stenciled designs. The easiest way to achieve this is by first stamping the image on to your paper. If you have a stamp positioner, such as a MISTI, place your paper in one corner, stamp and leave the stamp in place. Do not move it.
Next, align the stencils to the stamped image.
When finished with the first stencil, align the second stencil to the stamped image and so on until your image is complete.
Once you are finished stenciling, re-stamp the image for a crip, bold look. If you have a stamp positioner and have not moved the stamp, you can easily place your paper in the same corner as the first stamp and re-stamp.
Hot Foiling and Stenciling
When using a hot foil plate and stencil combination, apply the hot foil design first.
Once the hot foil design is applied to the paper, align the stencils to the design.
Align the second stencil to the design and ink.
Continue layering stencils until your design is complete.
The foil will resist the ink, but if it seems dull, do a gentle shine with a paper towel or micro fiber cloth to remove any extra ink.
Stenciling over Larger Areas
Yep, even though stencils keep getting bigger and bigger, there are times your project is larger than your stencil. Don’t fret – we can still make this work.
This is easiest if your stencil has a repeating pattern, start at one end or one corner of your project. The stencils in this image have been taped together to get the overall look in the background.
Start with coloring in one area. For this one, I used 3 different colors, alternating colors as I moved down the stencil. Once you get one area covered with ink, gently remove the stencil, re-align it with the pattern and move on to the next area.
Continue this process until the area is covered. Tip – using different ink colors throughout the pattern will help the stenciling blend together.
Cleaning your Stencils
I keep a travel-sized spray bottle filled with 91%-99% Isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol, found at a drug store) with my craft supplies. When I’m done using my stencils with ink, I will spritz the alcohol on them and wipe clean with a paper towel or micro fiber cloth. Stamp cleaner also works great on templates. I have also washed them in the kitchen sink with Dawn soap and water and set them in the dish rack to dry. (My husband no longer questions why we have stencils and plates drying together!)
One note, when wiping them with a cloth, be careful of any loose or delicate pieces of stencil that might get caught in the cloth.
Also, if working with a media, such as stencil paste or glitter gel, keep a bowl or hot, soapy water by your crafting area so you can put your stencils in the water when you have finished with them.
A couple key points to keep in mind when storing stencils is that you want to store them so they are flat and so they don’t get tangled and damaged by other stencils or items. While there are many ways to store stencils, I have found two storage methods that work well for me – pockets and binders.
First, I want to mention that I try to keep my organization system simple – a place for everything and everything in its place. Yes, that loud laugh was from my husband. Let’s just say that it’s a goal of mine. But the waters get muddy when you talk about stamp / die / stencil combos. So here is my general rule – if the stamp is the main item, all coordinating items are stored together with the stamp including the die and stencil. If I have a stencil / die combo and the die is simply there to make it easier to cut the design, the die is stored with the stencil and the combo set are storeds with the rest of my stencils.
- Pouches & Envelopes – Several manufacturers make different sized plastic pouches or envelopes. Some are open at the top and some have a flap closure. I prefer things to be easy to access and easy to put away. Therefore, the majority of the time, if it has a flap closure, I’ll tuck it inside the pouch so I can slide the stencils in and out from the top. Baskets or bins work well for keeping the stencils and pouches contained. If I have a couple stencils with a similar theme – clouds or grass, for instance, I’ll store them together in the same pouch.
- Binders – The other method is to store the stencils in page protectors and keep the page protectors in a 3-ring binder. If you have large, 12”x12” stencils, they can be stored in the same page protectors and albums that you use for scrapping. To get extra room for the stencils, place a piece of cardstock in each protector and you can easily slip a template on each side of the cardstock. If your stencils are mainly smaller ones, you can use a 3-ring binder and 8 1/2”x11” page sheets found at an office supply store. There are also 6”x8” albums available that work well, too. With the binder option, it’s easy to flip through to see exactly what you have.
Stenciling 101 Wrap Up
I think we did it and got through all of the basics of stenciling and then some! You should now feel comfortable with what stencils are, the tools you need for stenciling, some basic tips and tricks, and how to clean and store them. Now it’s your turn. Happy stenciling!