Tuesday, May 21, 2013

DIY Wall Stencil How To

Yesterday I shared a few photos of our new bedroom, which I started in a haze of post-wisdom-tooth extraction painkillers and finished over the course of a weekend.  I first saw a photo of a similar wall on Pinterest but was waffling for weeks about whether or not to take the plunge.  Turns out a weekend on painkillers seemed to be the perfect opportunity.  Having never done a wall stencil before, I learned as much about what doesn't work as what does during my project.  I think they call that a learning experience.  I call it burning my fingers on a 450 degree hot knife.


What You'll Need:

- your desired pattern printed or drawn on paper
- stencil film (I used Martha Stewart stencil film, which you can buy for about $10 here.)
- a board you can cut on (I used a scrap piece of MDF left over from making my headboard)
- an exacto knife

What I Learned:

- If possible, print your image on a paper size that's as close in size to your stencil film as possible. I was able to print my pattern on a sheet of 11"x17" paper, which was a happy accident when lined up with the stencil film I bought, which measured 11"x18".  Then I didn't have to worry about aligning more than one sheet of paper in order to create my stencil, a step I was happy to render unnecessary.

- Leave a small margin around each edge of you stencil film when you cut out your pattern. It will make placing and painting your stencil much easier.

- Save yourself the hassle of tracing your pattern onto your stencil film with a sharpie.  Just tape the two together securely and cut right through the stencil film and paper in one fell swoop.  Another step bites the dust.

- Don't use a hot knife.  Having never made or painted a stencil before, I did a good amount of research ahead of time.  A few people suggested using a hot knife, claiming it was quicker than an exacto.  Here's what happened when I tried to use my hot knife.

That's a blister. Sad finger, sad me.  I now know that 450 degree hot knives are not my jam.

Maybe it was the style of hot knife I purchased, but I found it really hard to use because the non-hot handle area was so far from the actual knife, that I couldn't use my fine motor skills to cut out the circles.

What You'll Do:

1. Print, draw or scan your desired pattern onto a piece of paper (aka your template paper).
2. Tape your stencil film atop your template paper securely, and place on your cutting-safe board.
3. Using your exacto knife, carefully cut out your pattern using your template paper as a guide as you cut through the stencil film.
4. Give yourself a high five.


What You'll Need:

- your newly created stencil
- something to affix your stencil to the wall while painting (I used blue painter's tape, but they also sell a spray adhesive, which I've never tried)
- your desired paint color (I used Martha Stewart Living in Francesca, the black, and the existing wall color was Martha Stewart Living Bone Folder, both from Home Depot)
- a 2" foam roller (of course you can use a different size, this is just what I had on hand)
- a foam brush for filling in dots by hand
- an old cookie sheet that's seen better days (this is my secret ingredient, more details below)
- paper towels

What I Learned:

- A lot of people said to wipe your roller with a paper towel before rolling it on the wall so as to avoid paint getting under the stencil and smudging on the wall.  Because my stencil pattern is pretty ornate, I was getting lots of paint bleeding under the stencil and smudging, which you can see below.  Some of the circles bled together in the upper left quadrant.

But all the stopping to wipe the roller and wipe the stencil made for lots of wasted time (not to mention paper towels).  The second day, in my search of the basement for a paint tray, I came across a grody old cookie sheet (so grody you wouldn't want to eat cookies that were baked on it).  It ended up being the perfect paint tray.  I poured a little pool at one end and then rolled the excess paint on the large remaining surface area of the tray. I really think the small change shaved hours and hours off of my second and final day of painting.

- Because my pattern is meant to be random, rotating the stencil in different directions really added to the authenticity of its randomness.

- Don't be afraid of your artistic abilities.  I'm not a good painter, but on day two I learned that I made dots almost as good as my stencil using the right tools (the corner of a foam brush).  This enabled me to not be so precious when lining up the stencils each time I painted, because I could easily fill in on my own later, which was much faster.

What You'll Do:

- Pour a small pool of your stencil paint color in one corner of your cookie sheet.
- Starting in one corner of the wall, affix your stencil to the wall.
- Roll your foam roller in the paint, and then remove excess paint by rolling the roller at the opposite (non-paint) end of your cookie sheet.
- Using light, even strokes, roll over your stencil, covering evenly and thoroughly.
- If you need to check the stencil, you can lightly peel back one corner.
- Reposition the stencil in the next empty space on the wall.  If needed, refill your roller, removing excess paint as discussed earlier.
- Repeat rolling and repositioning as you cover the wall.

A little more about filling in between the stenciled sheets...

Here's a photo of the end of day one.

The above took me 2 1/2 hours, which is about 1 1/2 hours longer than I expected or wanted it to take.  Once I got over the fear of filling in sections by hand, things started going really quickly.  Here's a comparison showing how far apart I was spacing the stencils on day two, filling in the empty space later using the corner of my foam brush.

Once I shifted my thinking to be using the stencil to cover the large spaces and using a foam brush to fill in, the painting went really quickly.  Of course this is all possible because my pattern is random.  If you were doing a geometric pattern that required a seamless flow from one to the other, this wouldn't be as feasible.

I also had an audience on day two.

Don't worry, birdie.  I got this.  You just lay there and look pretty.  What's it like being queen of the universe, by the way?

Cost breakdown:

stencil film: $9.99 for three sheets. I only used one, so I still have two for future (free) projects.
Exacto knife: owned (they run about $6)
Board to cut on: owned
Quart of paint: $16.95
Foam brush, blue tape, roller and cookie sheet (paint tray): owned, but all in will run you about $12 from your favorite paint/hardware store

This cost me $27. But even if you had to but everything above you could still come in under $45.

I already have my next stencil project picked out.  Have you ever stenciled?


  1. Where did you get the 'print' for the pattern you used? I am in love with it and need this in a guest bath!!!

  2. I am totally doing this in my master bedroom. May I ask where you found the pattern?

    1. Hi! I suggest looking online at different fabrics, prints and even the "real thing" (i.e. photos of animal prints) until you see something you like. I customized the scale and repeat of one that I liked. I didn't want the dots too big or too small, so after I fiddled with it a bit, I literally printed it out and taped it on my wall for a few days to "live" with it first.

    2. Thanks! Did you use a fabric or animal print for inspiration?


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