If you’re in the mood to redecorate, stenciling with paint is a simple and inexpensive way to give your walls a new look.
You can either buy a stencil, download one, or make one yourself — and the things you can do with stenciling are as limitless as your imagination.
Step 1: Get a stencil & paints
Choose from some free downloadable stencils here, and get step-by-step instructions on how to create your own custom stencil in this article.
Though it depends on the size of your design and how much area you plan to cover, you probably won’t need an entire gallon of paint. You can start by using up some old paint that you already have, and/or buy a few small cans (quarts) or sample sizes. Be sure to also pick up some paint for the background so you have a clean surface for stenciling.
Tip: Bring along a dimensioned sketch and/or some fabric samples as you shop for stencils and paints. This will keep your interior design consistent, and make sure your new stenciling complements your existing décor.
Step 2: Draw a guideline
You’ll want to make sure that your stencil design will stay consistently spaced and level as you move across the wall. By aligning your stencil on a guideline, you’ll keep your lines straight and parallel to ceilings and trim.
If, for example, you want the bottom of the stencil to be 12″ below the ceiling line, measure down 12″ from each corner and make a mark. Make additional marks on the wall as needed, and use a pencil to very lightly make a guideline using a long straightedge.
Be safe! If the area being stenciled is out of easy reach, use a sturdy ladder, stepstool or low scaffold. Do not use chairs or other potentially wobbly structures.
Step 3: Mask cutouts
While it’s faster to apply several colors at a time, doing so increases your chance for error. It’s a good idea to mask the cutouts for all of the colors except the one you’re using with masking tape, especially if you’re a beginner.
You want to cover nearby cutouts as you work on one color so you don’t accidentally get the wrong color of paint in them and mess up your work. You don’t have to worry about masking if there is one stencil for each specific color.
Step 4: Stick it to the wall
Spray mounting adhesive onto the back of the stencil and carefully align it with your guideline or use low-tack painter’s masking tape to attach your stencil to the wall. Place a small piece of masking tape on the surface under the registration marks.
With continuous designs, you can start in any corner. If you’re using a non-continuous design, plan each wall separately so the pattern stops equidistant from the ends. Center the first stencil or place it to the left or right of the centerline, whichever produces the best result.
You need to plan carefully if you are bordering a window or door. The design will need to be mitered (cut at a 45-degree angle), just like the corner of a picture frame. You want this “cut” to be made in a relatively open area in the design so any mismatch is less noticeable. Test your plan by tracing it on paper.
Step 5: Start stenciling
When you’re stenciling, you probably won’t use much paint but you’ll likely need several colors. Choose colors that coordinate with your furnishings.
Using a brush with firm bristles, hold your stencil brush close to the head. You don’t want to overload your brush, so use minimal paint. Dip the brush bristles in paint and then dab or swirl it on a paper towel to evenly distribute the paint across the tips of the bristles.
Start from the outside and work in toward the center of the design. Do not paint outward, as this could cause your brush to catch the edge and push paint underneath the stencil.
Stay vigilant about keeping the stencil’s bottom side clean. Clean your stencils between placements with a damp cloth so you don’t mess up your design.
- If you live in an apartment and are not supposed to paint the walls, you might try crushing colored chalk, adding a little water, and you have a removable “paint.” (Check how well it washes away in an inconspicuous area first.)
- If you want solid colors, consider using a mini foam paint roller, rolling out a little of the paint on paper before you roll the surface.
- Shade or accent the edges of a stencil by swirling the brush around the edge, but not in the center.
- If paint gets under the stencil edge, move the stencil to cover it and paint that area again to get a sharp edge.
Step 6: Reposition the stencil
Carefully peel the stencil off the wall and clean off any paint. Reposition the stencil on your guideline so that the registration mark aligns with the previous registration mark. If you move to the left, the right-hand registration marks will align with the left-hand registration marks.
Repeat Steps 4, 5, and 6 until you finish one color across the wall.
Let the first color dry completely, then apply subsequent colors.
- To wrap an inside corner, measure the distance to the corner and transfer the measurement to the back of the stencil. Using a utility knife, score a vertical line at that point on the back of the stencil and it will bend nicely. If you’re wrapping an outside corner, score the front face of the stencil. When scoring, be sure not to cut through the stencil.
- To miter a corner (around a window, for example) run a horizontal stencil past the corner and apply masking tape at a 45-degree angle. Paint up to the tape. (If your stencil is 8″ tall the top edge will be 8″ longer than the bottom point.) When that paint is dry, reposition the stencil vertically, aligning the patterns a best as you can, and again apply tape diagonally to protect the already stenciled area.
Well done! Step back and admire your work. With a little creativity, you’ve added some color and a personal touch to your walls.