Tips and Tricks on Creating Stencils


Hi everyone, today we're going to go back in time and continue a series of Quick Tips more focused on techniques and less on results. We already featured wheatpaste and spray paint techniques, so today I though about teaching you some cool tips and tricks on making stencils.

I hope you guys join us on this exercise, even though most of you are more keen to do digital work please take a look at this as a way expand your graphic abilities and to recognize new ways of thinking.

So, what are we going to learn today?

Stencils are basically any sheet of material with cut-out holes that are applied pigment instruments, most commonly spray paint. The cut-out holes work as a template for previous designed graphics be placed on a underlying surface. More malleable materials as paper, cardboard, plastic are better to use on this technique, but depending on the number of times you might want to use it, a stronger material such as wood and metal sheets may be more handy. This may sound as a really complex explanation, so I decided to make this more visual and posted some artists that use and abuse of this technique:



Blek Le Rat



So before we can start it out, here are some materials you may need:


1- Cardboard pieces;

2- Razor rather than a scissor (will be explained further);

3- Pencil, eraser and a little notebook;

4- Rulers;

5- A black and white printer;

Parts of the stencil:


Safety Border

I call it safety border because it's minimum distance you should have from the cut-out hole and the border, this it's not specific in terms of measure, it's more about a distance you should calculate in order to avoid any leak outside of the cut-out hole.



As the name already says, Islands are independent parts inside of a cut-out hole, as you may notice shapes can't float, so that's why they need bridges.



This are the ligatures that make the island possible to exist on the cut-out hole, knowing where to make this connection may seen a bit hard at the beginning.


Cut-out hole

This is the place where we place the pigment, it should be stretched and pushed hard against the wall or surface to avoid leaks and blurs.

How to make a basic stencil:

So,now your probably wondering how to make your first stencil. Let's start by designing some simple and solid shapes, I decided to make some sketches of the basic shapes (triangle, square and ellipse). Notice that I did solid shapes, only silhouettes, this might be boring, but before you get the practice of making cut-out holes, you will rather do this kind of stencil. Let's say this is "Level 1".


Now with your razor and a ruler, make the cut-out holes on the shapes you designed. Try not to use a scissor, as they are not precise for this kind of work and you probably may have to cut outside the design, what will screw everything.

How to make lines using stencils:

After praticing some other basic shapes you probably will get bored of it at some point, it's time to go to "Level 2". So, do you remember the stencil parts I explained before? More specifically the bridge and the islands, this will be necessary in order to create more complex shapes.


So, how would you do the basic shapes with only lines? The answer would be probably this:


As you probably notice, in order to make the line just transform the inside of the shapes in big islands, this can vary depending on the size of the outline you want to get.

Making letters:

The same logic goes for making letters, you can make more solid and square shapes in the beginning like the sample bellow:


With time and patient, you will understand how to apply the bridge/island technique on the letters too, it's like rendering but on paper.

Applying the stencils:

I supposed most of you guys never used spray paint, so here some tips before getting your hands dirty:

First of all: don't get your hands dirty, you can use gloves as you will have to use one of your hands to stretch and push the stencil.


Just a glimpse of how your hand will look like If you don't use any gloves.


I also advise you to use a 3M gas mask with a niosh filter (with a black stripe) as spray paint always have some toxic fumes that can't be prevented with regular paper masks. Please take care of your health, you will thank me later.


Talking about spray brands: My two favorites brands are Spanish Montana (the MTN 94 line more specifically) and Ironlak. These are paint created specially for aerosol art, so they have a really good drying, coverage and pressure. Both these cans are middle/low pressure, what I think it's better when dealing with stencils.


A New York Fat Cap it's the most recommended spray cap for this technique, as it can range from thin to thick lines. Also the coverage of this cap is quite uniform, the one displayed on the picture is a Ironlak New York Fat Cap.


Now this is really important: Your spray trace is determined by factors as type of cap, distance from the wall, pressure applied on the cap and speed of the spray. So here's a example that show the most common traces:

1- This usually happens when you put your spray can too close to the wall, please notice that it makes a solid trace without any blurring. This kind of trace is good when you're making a Graffiti piece trying to fill letters, but it's not that good for stencils, as If you cross the trace on the same point more than one time, you will probably make it drip and that's not cool.

2- This one is actually what I think it's the best for using stencils, not too solid and not too blurry. With a low pressure spray can you can do it without much hurry and worries about drips.

3- You should avoid this one, unless you're working with gradients as on a realist painting. This trace happens when you put your can far from the wall, even If you push the cap harder you will see that it takes more time to fuel the circular trace. Not recommended for stencils as they usually blur outside the safety border.


This is actually what I think is the best distance to get the second type of trace, don't forget to measure the strenght you put on the cap as it's one of the factor that will influence on making a stencil.


Now for some instruction on placing the stencil: you can't just grab it with your fingers and try to fill thru the holes, this way you will only get some really blurred shapes, even If you spray correctly.


You should stretch and push it against the wall, try to minimize at maximum the space between the stencil and the wall.


Lot of artists use stencil for creating patterns on their paintings, it's actually the best way when it comes to traditional methods as you can reuse the stencil many times. At first I would recommend you to create a more geometric stencil, as it's easier to create and have a good result.


I decided to do this arrows as used on some street signs.


Now just apply the spray, there's not great deal about it, just make sure you're not spraying over where you already made the stencil.

But Marcos, I don't know how to draw - Making stencil with photos and drawings:

That's funny but most person who create stencils are not virtuose artists, most of them don't even know how to draw actually. So here's some tricks you can do If you're one this persons. First grab a magazine cover with a picture on the front.


Using a Sharpie or other atomic pen, mark all the shade of the figure.


Later just cut the shades you marked, you will notice that they will give a volume to your stencil.


Another way is to get a drawing on the internet, open it on Photoshop and turn it to black and white (command + shift + U / ctrl + shift + U).


I decided to get this classic Mickey and cut only the head, as we should start with a simple shape.


Later, with help of a white brush, I created the bridges for a future stencil. This is quite easy, later I just had to print and to cut the black areas with the razor. also can draw it, the Mickey head is basically three circles (one for the head and two for the ears). This is quite logic for anyone who already have experience in drawing characters.


Don't matter If you drawed it or printed it, the important it's to define the parts you're going to make the cut-out holes.


And here it is:



I hope you guys had a great time on experimenting these simple stencil techniques. On the next tutorial we will explore some more complex tricks involving this technique, that's it folks!