How To Stencil a Wall with Paint

How To Stencil a Wall with Paint

If you crave a change in your house but don’t have a ton of cash to spend on redecorating, wall stenciling just might be what you need. You don’t need a lot of money, just some time! Furthermore, with wall stencils, you aren’t stuck with what everyone else has—you can design and make your very own stencils for a one-of-a-kind decor that is uniquely you.

The Stencil

You can find selections of stencils in craft/hobby stores, or search online for greater variety. If you aren’t happy with available stencils, don’t fret—just make your own! You will need the following supplies to make your own stencil:

  • A sheet of clear plastic (like acetate)
  • Craft knife
  • Cutting mat
  • Fine-tip permanent marker
  • Masking tape
  • Ruler
  • A pattern

You can find stencil patterns online, and practically any existing picture can be used as a pattern. You can draw your own, or you can search in books and magazines for a picture. You might need to enlarge or reduce the image to the appropriate size, and complex images will need to simplified to make a good stencil. Remember that stencils feature positive and negative space, that is, areas that are painted and areas that are left unpainted, which form the lines of the object. When designing your stencil, make sure you leave spaces between each open area to create the lines. Look at existing stencils to get a better idea of how this should work.

When you have designed a pattern, tape it firmly to the back of the sheet of plastic. Trace the image with the fine-tip permanent marker onto the plastic. Then, remove the image and set it aside. Tape the plastic to the cutting mat, and begin cutting out the stencil using the craft knife. Press the entire blade of the knife firmly into the plastic, and move the knife and the stencil at the same time while cutting, but do not lift the knife from the stencil until you are finished cutting the individual area. Remove each cut section, and use a file to smooth any rough edges.

The Paint

Two types of paintwork best for stenciling: acrylic and dry-brush oil. However, these two paints have very different properties, and the one you pick will depend upon your individual needs. Dry-brush oil paint, for example, sticks to any surface, including fabric, wood, metal, tiles, and plastic. Because it is dry, there is less mess than with liquid paints like acrylics, and the paint doesn’t bleed under the stencil. Acrylic paints, on the other hand, stick very well to most walls but often not so well to tile, metal, or plastic (test the paint first). However, acrylic paint dries very quickly. You can easily paint over mistakes with acrylics once dry, whereas oils take a long time to dry and it is tricky to add layers. In addition, acrylics require only soap and water for clean-up; you will need turpentine to clean your brushes if using dry-brush oil paint.

Additional Supplies

In addition to paint and a stencil, you will need the following supplies:

  • Measuring tape
  • Level
  • Chalk that contrasts with existing wall color
  • Repositionable spray adhesive


First, decide where you want your stencil to go. Stenciling can be used around doors and windows, flush against the ceiling as a border, at chair rail height as a faux wainscoting, against the floor board, or in any other place that you can think of. You can, even, use the stencil all over the wall or a section of a wall, like wallpaper.

Next, mark guidelines. If, for example, you plan to stencil a border at chair rail height, which is approximately 4 feet from the floor, then begin in a corner, measure 4 feet from the floor, and mark that spot with chalk. Move over a foot or two and measure again, making another mark. Continue all around the area to be stenciled. Then, connect the marks with chalk, and use the level to make sure that the guideline is even.

Now, lightly spray the back of the stencil with the repositionable spray adhesive and position it in place (it is advisable to begin in a corner, not in the middle of a wall). Then, begin to apply the paint. If you are using liquid acrylic paint, note that this paint bleeds under the stencil easily, so only use a little paint on your brush or sponge at a time. You can always add more paint. If the paint does still bleed under, you might be able to wipe it off of the wall with a damp sponge before it dries, or touch it up with paint that matches the wall.

When finished with one design, carefully peel off the stencil, being careful not to smudge the paint. Then, reposition the stencil—you should be able to reposition the stencil six or seven times before you will need to coat it again with the contact adhesive. Line up the stencil along with the guidelines and make sure that there isn’t too much space between the designs. Repeat your pattern all along the desired area. Finally, after you have finished the entire pattern and it has dried, you can go back and add extra touches by hand, such as shading, outlining, and details.

When finished

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