How to Use a Stencil


SPONGES OR BRUSHES? Which is the better choice. …It's a preference really, however many painters prefer using both.

Sponges are great for a larger/ less detailed area (such as a larger circle, or stars or any area with minimal detail and a larger circumference. With a sponge, you can cover a larger area MUCH faster and will have a smooth (non-stippling) finish. Sponges can be a real life saver! Most people just use make-up sponges (triangle shaped) you can buy at a local drug store.

Stenciling Brushes are wonderful as well! They are great for smaller/ more detailed areas and work great for distressing edges. Thoroughly dry, soft bristled stencil brushes with firmly packed bristles will give the most uniform coverage whether stippling or swirling.

Paints Certain surfaces need the use of specific paints. The information below will help you determine what paint you need for your project.

WOOD (interior use) - Interior Acrylics, Exterior Acrylics, Stencil Cremes, Enamels

WOOD (exterior use) - Exterior Acrylics (or you can use an Interior Acrylic paint, then spray a finish on top, to protect from weathering)

FABRIC - Interior Acrylics, Stencil Cremes, Enamels, Fabric Paints

INTERIOR WALLS (example: bedroom wall) - Interior Acrylics, Stencil Cremes

GLASS/TILE - Enamels

Tape Taping your stencil is a preference in different projects. (Some feel they don't need to tape the stencil to a wood plaque they're painting on, while others feel it helps keep it in place). It's totally up to YOU! However, if you're stenciling on a wall, you'll definitely need some adhesive to keep your stencil perfectly placed, while you paint. You don't need fancy spray adhesives to stencil. Not only are they messy to use, (the spray gets everywhere) but they make your stencil extremely hard to work with because it tends to stick to everything. All you really need is masking tape. *TIP* If it's really sticky, remove some of the tack by applying it to your shirt and peeling it off, that way it won't pull off any paint from your project. The painter's blue tape works well too, and it is easier to see.

Foam Brushes - Foam Brushes are perfect for base painting many wood projects (such as plaques, shelves, boxes, etc.). They make base painting quick and smooth looking. They can be found in your local craft store in the painting isle.

Sand Paper- You only need this if you're wanting to 'rough up' the edges. This is a common way to give the edging a 'worn' primitive look.

Paper Plate & Towels - Paper plates are a great place to pour your paint. (Quick clean up and cheap). You also want to have a few paper towels nearby, for dabbing/wiping brushes and easy quick cleaning.


Before beginning any stenciling project, it is important that your surface be prepared properly. It is best to stencil surfaces that are as smooth as possible. If the surface is not smooth the stencil will not produce clean, crisp designs. (If working with wood, the best way to smooth a surface is with fine sand paper).

If the back ground of your project needs a base coat, simply pick your background color and paint with a foam brush. Foam brushes cover a lot of area quickly and smoothly. They are also washable, so you can use them over and over.

Pour a small amount of paint on a plate or palette, about the size of a quarter. Dip just the tip of your brush or sponge into the paint. If using a brush, with a circular/swirling motion, remove excess paint on a different paper plate or paper towel until the brush is "dry". Too much paint on the brush causes blotchy designs. If using a sponge, start dabbing and 'pushing/working' the paint into the sponge until the sponge feels almost 'dry'/moist (NOT WET!)

*Remember - stenciling is a "dry" brush technique. The most common mistake is overloading your brush. It is far better to stencil a few layers gradually, instead of one thick paint application. If paint begins to 'bleed' behind your stencil or if your designs do not have crisp defined edges, YOU ARE USING TOO MUCH PAINT.

Once brush is loaded, test (practice) on an area of your paper plate to test the imprint. The brush/sponge is properly loaded when there is a uniform (almost powdery) looking imprint on the plate. There should be nothing wet or sloppy.

Once brush/sponge is loaded. …You are ready to stencil! There are different ways to stencil. The most common is either the 'stippling' or 'swirling' technique. Stippling is a straight up and down motion. Swirling is in a circular motion. Here is what we recommend:

LARGER AREAS - In larger areas we suggest using a sponge. With a sponge, you can cover a larger area MUCH faster and will have a smooth (non-stippling) finish. It covers fast and evenly distributes the paint.... then a second layer with the swirling technique (to give it a sharp/crisp edge)

SMALL/DETAILED AREAS - For the smaller areas we suggest using a swirling technique with a stencil brush. The reason this is the best technique for a tiny detailed area, is when you're swirling it really gets those tiny edges and corners that are hard to evenly distribute when just stippling or sponging. Swirling is the BEST choice for detailed or sharp areas. *Important: …when using this technique, your brush needs to be very 'Dry/Damp' …if it's too wet, it will look sloppy and leak. Be patient, even if it takes a few coats, it will look just beautiful and crisp in the end!

When finished stenciling, carefully peel off the stencil. ….You're not finished yet! ….Remember to connect those bridges! Especially when stencil with letters. Just because you stenciled something, doesn't mean it needs to LOOK like a stencil when you're finished! Bridges are needed in stencils, so the middles don't fall out (example: the letter 'B') …if there were no bridges, the middle of the B would fall out. SO, after stenciling, take a small paintbrush and dip the tip into the same color as the letter/image. Then lightly connect the letters. The finishing product is SO much more professional. Take the time to connect the bridges to give your project that final touch, you'll be happy you did!

Want to give your project that 'worn' primitive look? You can 'rough up' your edges with some sand paper. Just rip off a piece and (I usually wrap it around one of my small bottles of paint), then scuff up the edging and sides. The rougher the sand paper, the more scuffed up it will look. When choosing the grit size ...the lower the number, the rougher it is. To rough up your sign even more, you can use a meat tenderizer or any household items that 'bang/mark up' a surface well.

Once your project is dry, (and edging finished if you choose), you can spray or paint a protective coat. I usually use the spray can. There are different finishing sprays you can use, that are all available in your local craft store (paint isle). I like to put a finishing spray on my projects, as it gives it that 'professional/finishing' look and it also helps protect your product for years and years of enjoyment.

CLEAN UP TIME! After you're finished, simply toss out your paper plate. Your stencils and brushes/sponges can all be cleaned with soap and warm water. Household cleaners such as Windex, Oven Cleaner, Clorox Kitchen cleaner and Isopropyl Alcohol (higher percentage the better) work very well to clean your stencils and get rid of dry layers of paint. You can spray down or soak your dry stencil in a basin with the cleaner of your choice. For soaking it is best to find a basin that can accommodate your entire stencil so it can lay flat. You only need enough cleaner to submerge the stencil. Depending on how much paint is built up, different amounts of time are required to loosen the pain. When the paint is loose enough, you can GENTLY rub the more stubborn parts with an old tooth brush to assist in removal. It is very important not to scrub hard as you can damage your stencil. When scrubbing, try to pay attention to the area and make sure you are not putting pressure on a fragile section. Examples would be the points on the letter “M”, any filigree swirls or thin areas that move easily. When you are satisfied with the results the stencil can then be sprayed off with your sink sprayer. The basin of cleaning solution can also be strained and re used several times over. Take care not to allow dried paint chips to go down your drain. Careful cleaning of your stencils and brushes will enable them to be uses again and again.


Since our larger stencils have to be rolled/shipped in a box… sometimes when they are shipped during a hot season (summer) or to a warmer area, they may have a slight curl to them. There are a few things you can do to flatten your stencil. You can lay your stencil under some books or even under an area rug (leave it overnight). If there a just a small area/letter curled, you try gently curling it in the opposite direction with your fingers. OR…. lay your stencil flat on the table and put paper on top (tissue paper, newspaper, etc.), then roll it in the opposite direction of the curl, then place it back in the box (or tube, etc.) and blow a hairdryer into it for a minute or two, then quickly take it out of the box and lay it flat under books for 1-2 hours. ……If you are trying to flatten your stencil after you have painted with it multiple times, make sure to clean all the paint off your stencil… multiple layers of paint collected on a stencil (especially in delicate/skinny areas) can cause a warped/curl look.