Sponges vs Brushes for Stenciling

When it comes to stenciling, having the right tools can really make or break the final result of your project. However, most stenciling connoisseurs alternate from using a brush and a sponge depending on the specific project. There are many factors that can play into which tool will work best such as time, texture, and size. If you’re not quite sure which tool would work best for your project, here are some general guidelines:

Using a stencil brush

When people think of painting, stencil or no stencil, one of the first things that comes to mind is undoubtedly a brush. Brushes are one of the most traditional paint applicators and there’s not much question why. Stencil brushes typically have a flat top and are particularly dense yet flexible. A good stencil brush should not shed easily or sneak under the stencil.

Pros of using brushes

They allow more precision and accuracy
When you’re working with an intricate lettering stencil or a stencil with thin lines, it’s almost always better to use a brush. Brushes allow for more control over sharp corners while sponges may cause you to get more paint on the stencil itself. With a brush, you’re able to get into each small crevice, which makes it great for filling in the gaps. Afterwards, when you’re connecting bridges (gaps in the artwork left due to the stencil connections), using a brush will make it much easier to keep within the lines.

They are great for complex shading/shadowing
If you’re looking for a more realistic look, using a brush is your best bet. Brushes are great for creating complex shading and shadowing because they give you more control and precision when shading edges or tips. With a brush, you’re able to pinpoint and outline edges easily without having to worry about creating unwanted texture.

They are reusable and much easier to clean
Although they don’t absorb as well as sponges, brushes do allow you to easily wipe off paint to dip into other colors. With stencil brushes, keeping a paper towel handy to wipe off excess paint is an absolute necessity. However, it’s important to make sure not to rinse it off with water because the excess moisture could cause the paint to drip underneath the stencil.

Cons of using brushes

Projects may take a bit longer
While brushes are great for smaller, more detailed projects, they take time. Since the brushes are not as absorbent as sponges or as wide as rollers, they’re not the most effective means of covering a large surface area.

The possibility of shedding, brush marks, or painting under stencil
With a sponge, there’s not much concern for shedding or leaving residue on the surface, however, when using a lower quality brushes, you’re more likely to end up with bristles or unwanted brush marks on the painted surface. When choosing a brush, make sure to choose a dense, flexible, and non-shedding brush to avoid bristles lagging behind or slipping under the stencil. Test out your new brush on a piece of scrap paper before starting your project.

Using a sponge for stenciling

Although it may not be the first thing you think of when you think of stenciling, using sponges for stenciling is becoming more and more popular. Not only are they inexpensive to work with, but they’re also great for adding a unique texture to your finished product. In addition, if you’re not quite sure which texture you’re going for, you can always experiment with different types of sponges and see which one gives you the look you want!

Pros of using sponges

They can cover a wider area much faster
Because they’re able to retain more paint than a regular bristle brush, a sponge allows you to cover a wider area much faster. Although you still want to monitor the amount of paint that’s on your sponge (more paint is not always good for stenciling), sponges are great because they hold a good amount of paint within rather than collecting on the surface.

They allow you to experiment with different textures
One big advantage to sponges is that the surface texture of the sponges can allow for a unique texture to transfer over onto your surface. This is great for creating textures such a faux stone or brick because it gives a more natural, imperfect look. Sponges are great to experiment because each sponge can give you a different texture. For example, a cosmetic sponge that has smaller pores and deviations, providing a different result than a sea sponge with larger pores might.

They are easy to shape/size
Since sponges are relatively inexpensive, they’re easy to cut and shape to your personal preference. Whether you want a pointier edge or an overall smaller sponge to work with, all you need is a pair of scissors to form the perfect paint applicator.

Cons of using sponges

They are not ideal for smaller stencils
With sponges, getting into the smaller, sharper corners of the stencils is not as easy as it is with a brush applicator. If you’re wanting a seamless finish, a sponge is not the best option. While it’s great for speed and larger surface areas, it’s hard to get a smooth, opaque look free of gaps in small corners without multiple layers.

They are not the best for complex shading/shadowing
If you’re looking to create some amazing shading or shadowing effects with your stencil, a sponge is also not your best bet. While you’re still able to blend colors with a sponge, there is not much control with a sponge. Therefore, more complex shadowing and shading that require more precision and attention to detail may not be ideal for a sponge applicator.

Need to use a different sponge for each color/not as easy to clean
Since sponges are great at retaining paint, they are often quite tricky to clean. One of the big disadvantages of sponges is that you won’t be able to simply wipe off the excess paint and dip into a new color like you can with most brushes. With sponges, it’s usually safer to have a separate sponge for each color.

Whether you end up using a sponge or a brush, at the end of the day, it’s all up to your personal preference. Experimenting with both sponges and brushes will give you more insight into which projects work best with each of these handy tools! Don’t know where to get started? Check out our selection of new stencils!