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Stencilling has been around for years, and is still as popular as ever! Rooms around your home can be transformed from being plain and simple to being enchanting and creating a unique atmosphere. According to the Illustrated Oxford Dictionary, the word "stencilling" is derived from the Old French word estanceler which means "to sparkle, cover with stars". From cake decorating to gift wrapping paper, the uses of stencils are endless!

Over the past year we have had a number of visitors have requesting information on stencilling, and advice on how to do good quality stencilling work. We have thus decided to include a "Helpful Hints" section to help beginners get a good starting point.

Step 1 - Masking: When stencilling, use pieces of masking tape to cover stencil areas you do not want to colour in the first colour you are painting (image 2). Then once you have completed painting all the areas with the first colour and have allowed it to dry properly, remove the masking tape from the next areas you want to paint, and cover the areas you have just finished. It is always best to use a low-tack masking tape to prevent surface damage to the painted object you wish to stencil.

Tip: If you feel that the tape is a little too tacky, stick it to your hand a few times. This will help to remove some of the stickiness from the tape.

Step 2 - Measuring: Use a ruler or tape measure to measure the length of the surface you want to stencil. Using a pencil, lightly mark the mid-point (image 3). The mid-point of the object (e.g. wall, table cloth) is the best place to start stencilling. Calculate the amount of times the pattern will fit into the surface and lightly mark each stencil position.

Step 3 - Practice: Use a scrap piece of paper to practice your stencilling technique. It is always best to test your work first, before starting on the final surface. The most common mistake made when stencilling is to put too much paint on the brush. Use very little paint on the brush, and build up the colour slowly. The paint should never be brushed on, as the paint will collect on the edges of the stencil holes and seep under the stencil, causing a mess!

Tip: Once you have dipped the brush in the paint, dab it on a piece of paper towel to work off the excess paint (the brush should be almost dry). This will help to prevent paint seeping under the stencil and messing up your project.

Step 4 - Starting: Use masking tape to tape the stencil down to the surface firmly (image 4). The last thing you want is for the stencil to move once you start stencilling. Gradually build up the paint, from the edges of the holes, inwards (image 5).

Stipple brushes are the best type of paint brushes to use, and can be bought at most Art and Craft stores


What do you need before you start a project ?

Assorted stencilling brushes

There are a variety of brushes that can be used to complete a stencilling project.

Artist brushes are used to add fine detail and finishing touches e.g. highlights and leaf details.

Stipple brushes are most commonly used to apply the stencil paint to the desired object.

A decorating paint brush is used to apply base coats and varnish to finished surface.



 Note: Many people prefer to use a seperate brush for each colour to avoid colours from mixing and resulting in undesired colours.

Masking tape

It is always best to use a low-tack masking tape to prevent surface damage to the painted object you wish to stencil.

Tip: If you feel that the tape is a little too tacky, stick it to your hand a few times. This will help to remove some of the stickiness from the tape.

Mixing dishes

Most art stores sell plastic artist mixing trays and pallets that are ideal for holding and mixing paints.

Tip: Using an egg tray covered with tin foil is a cost-effective way of making a paint pallet.

Paper towel

Disposable kitchen paper towel is used to dab off excess paint before starting to stencil.

Tip: Practice your stencilling on a piece of paper to get the desired paint density before starting to paint  on the item that is to be stencilled on.

Pencil & Eraser

Pencils are used to help with measurements and can be easily erased.

Tip: Use an HB pencil for marking measurements. The H-range of pencil is a harder pencil and may damage the surface of the item that is to be stencilled on if you press too hard. The B-range of  pencil is softer, but smudges easier and is more difficult to erase once the project is complete.


Use a natural sea sponge to create a smoother, softer look to your work. Use synthetic sponges or foam rubber to create a more textured look.

Tip: Use a pair of tweezers to pinch out small pieces of the sponge, to create you own unique textures.

Spray adhesives

Spray adhesives are sprayed onto the stencil, and hold it in position. Use a non-permanent, low-tack spray, as this will allow you to easily remove the stencil and reposition it. It is always best to spray stencils outdoors, as the adhesive over-spray can cause damage to carpets etc.

Tape Measure / Ruler

Using a ruler to measure with, is good for small stencil jobs, but may become difficult to use when measuring long repeat designs. A two or five metre retractable tape measure will prove invaluable when starting bigger projects.

What do you need to cut a stencil template?

Acetate or plastic sheeting

Acetate / transparency film or plastic sheeting can be purchased at most art and stationery stores. Clear acetate will enable you to cut out a stencil design very easily, and is also soft enough to cut through without much effort. Many people make use of old X-ray sheets, but due to their colour, they may not be very easy to trace through. Plastic sheeting is also used to make stencils, and can be traced onto using carbon paper.

Tip: Use old x-rays to cut your own stencils. Place the x-rays in Jik (bleach) for a while, and use a nailbrush / toothbrush to remove the black colour. You can then use the clear plastic to cut your own stencils.- Linda Smit

Cutting blade

A very sharp blade is the key to cutting a professional looking stencil. If you use a blunt blade, you will find yourself cutting along template lines over and over again. This will result in jagged edges that don't normally stencil very well. Use snap-off blades to ensure your blade is always sharp.

Cutting mat

Most art stores sell specialised "self-heal" cutting mats that have been designed to withstand blade cuts.

Tip: A plastic floor tile can be used as a more cost-effective alternative.

Carbon paper

Carbon paper facilitates the transfer of a design onto certain types of plastic sheets if you are using a tracing method of making stencils.

Clear adhesive tape

Clear adhesive tape can be used to fix any cutting mistakes by taping up the error on both sides of the material and then recutting the design. This can also be done to fix broken stencils.

Non-permanent Transparency pens

We prefer to trace and cut stencils with the aid of transparency pens. Ensure that when purchasing these pens, you buy the non-permanent type. Once you have finished cutting the stencil, you should clean the ink off the stencil so that it does not mix with the paint once you start your project.


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