All You Need To Know About Stencils

15 minute read

Stencils have long been used in crafting and for many of us they have become a staple in our crafting stash. They are easy to use and there is so much you can do with them. Before we dive into how to use these super crafty tools, let’s take a little look at how they come about and what they are.

Brief History of Stencils

For many years, stencils have been used to print onto cloth, woodcuts, and even used to mass-produce prints. They were used to save time as the images would be the same without having to hand paint or write by hand. The word “stencil” means “outline of an image”. Stenciling is a method wherein a design is repeated through a cut-out shape. The history of stencils dates back as early as 30,000 BC to 9,000 BC where stenciling examples were found in Paleolithic cave paintings. From cutting shapes and holes out of bamboo and banana leaves to decorating Egyptian tombs, stenciling has evolved so much. The old stenciling technique led to the inception of stencils art and today you can find several ways to practice this art.

What are Stencils?

A stencil is a device that helps you apply a particular design onto a surface. The design can be in any form - letters, words, and patterns being the most popular. Stencils tend to work best onto a flat surface, and depending on the ink or paint you use, and can be used on metal, cardboard, or any other material.

There are two parts to a stencil: the spaces that allow the color to seep through to the material below are known as ‘islands’, and the areas that connect the stencil together are referred to as ‘bridges’.

  • For Home

As well as paper crafting, stencils pattern can be used to decorate your home in many ways. Stencil sets are perfect for adding a pop of color and interest to walls, floors, furniture, and even fabrics.

Simply take your chosen stencil kit and temporarily adhere it to the surface. A simple masking tape or repositionable adhesive spray will do. Depending on the surface, you may apply paint or ink through the surface using a brush or sponge. Remove the stencil to reveal your chosen design. You can use any color you wish to fit the decor of the room.

Many of Altenew’s stencil designs would work perfectly for this. If you want to start out small, try adding a design to a plant pot or small decor piece. To see how easy this is to do you can check out Sveta’s blog post here to see how she used stencils to create a super cute plant pot. 

Flower pot decorated with flower stencils

You could also use this fabulous design to add pretty floral designs to pillow covers, bedsheets, curtains, t-shirts, and many other fabrics.

  • For Children

Lettering stencils are a great crafting tool for children to use too. They can quickly and easily replicate intricate designs using stencils. Try using Altenew’s Alphabet Stencil with your little ones, we are sure they will love adding their names to their art or even creating a nameplate for their bedroom door.

Different Types of Stencils

Stencils art is broadly distinguished based on its purpose, stencil design, and the type of material used as a surface.

Based on the purpose

Kids and adults use stencils for craft at home to either create art, decorate a surface, or simply as a hobby. There is a wide variety of stencils to buy online including stencil leaves, alphabets, numbers, etc. that can be used for art and home decor. 

Stencils for crafts are further categorized into different types as discussed here:

  • Hobby

Most individuals who are interested in art stencils pursue this as a mere hobby. Stencils have long been used in paper crafting projects such as cardmaking, scrapbooking, journaling, and other mixed media art. Compared to stamps, stencils are relatively easier to use, especially for beginners. In card making and scrapbooking, all you need is your favorite stencils pattern, some ink sprays, mixed media inks, or embossing paste, and you’re good to go.

  • Quilting

For those who are into quilting, there are a variety of quilting stencils readily available in crafts stores. Made of lightweight and opaque plastic, these types of stencils are great if you want to personalize your quilts. Depending on how dark or light the fabric is, you can either use a chalk pencil, a water-soluble pen, or a pounce pad.

Altenew stencil art set bundle


It’s always fun to experiment with stencils when you do mixed media art or scrapbooking. With customized stencils, you can be as creative as you want with your scrapbook pages and cover. Fonts or alphabet stencils are also must-haves so you can write your favorite words, phrases, or quotes on your scrapbook page. Altenew has a wide range of stencils for sale for your scrapbooking projects.

Stock Up On Art Stencils Now!

Based on the stencil design

Stand-Alone Stencils

These are ideal if you are new to the world of arts and crafts. Most crafters prefer a simple shape like stripes, cubes, dots, or flowers stencil as they are easy to work with. The design is simple yet stunning. As the name suggests, standalone stencils can be used on their own. If you’re looking to create a quick handmade card or paper crafting project, you can simply grab a stand-alone stencil and some ink sprays. You will have something classy and beautiful in no time.    

Layered Stencils

Layered stencils are a bit more difficult to use because it takes some additional practice and finesse. Make sure to adhere it correctly onto the surface using a painter’s tape, washi tape, or any repositionable adhesive. Using the right color combinations is also vital. Before adding another color, let the first color dry completely. This way the two colors won’t mix and the design will definitely pop off the page.

A great layered stencil to practice with is our Sweet Spring Stencil. This is a fan favorite and will always produce fantastic results. The beauty of layered stencils is that you can choose to use just one layer or use both. The designs you create will definitely be unique. 

Altenew Geo Dreams Stencils and Ink Sprays Bundle

Learn More here!

Mask Stencils

Mask stencils are very handy when adding dimension to your design. Made out of a thinner material than regular stencils, you can easily stamp over them, or use them with your favorite coloring mediums. Altenew has a range of coordinating mask stencils that are designed to work perfectly with our stamp sets! 

To use mask stencils, you need to position the positive cut pieces over their coordinating images with a bit of temporary adhesive, then stamp them over with another image. When you remove the stencil, it will look like the second image is behind the first. Easy peasy!

Based on the type of surface used

The beauty of stenciling is that anyone can do it! With the right tools and surface, you can start stenciling now. There is something naturally beautiful about the hand-painted finish of a stenciling project, whether it’s on paper, a wall, a canvas, or fabric. The one thing you need to take note of is that stenciling can be done on ALMOST every surface - except for rough, textured, and uneven ones. You will need a flat and smooth surface to apply a stencil design. 

  • Paper

Paper is the most commonly used surface for art stencils. Paper crafting projects such as handmade cards, scrapbook pages, journals, and mixed media pages often incorporate stenciling. It is important to choose the correct stencil paper to avoid ruining your creation. Applying ink spray or embossing paste to a thin and flimsy printer paper will warp it. Cardstock is the best choice, particularly something that is between 50lb to 110lb. Typically, cardstock paper is thicker than a standard printer paper but it is thinner than cardboard. Watercolor paper is also a great choice for stencils art since it is around 140lb, high-quality, and designed to absorb watercolor without warping. 

Altenew Geometry and Nature Stencils Set
  • Wall

Stenciling an entire wall might seem like a daunting task, especially for art stencils beginners. It will take more time and effort compared to stenciling on paper (or any smaller surface), but it’s not impossible. When searching for stencils online it is advisable to look for larger ones. You can choose to use a 6” x 6” stencil but it will definitely take longer.     

To apply stencils on your wall, follow these simple steps:

    • Clean your walls before using a stencil on them. We cannot stress how important this is. Preparing the surface before stenciling is akin to washing your face before applying makeup. You don’t want any loose paint, dust, or dirt on the wall. Using a cleaning solution on the wall is also highly recommended.   
    • Once clean, carefully adhere the stencil to the spot where you want your design. Use a temporary adhesive such as painter’s tape or spray adhesive for this. These will ensure that your stencil won’t come off while you’re applying paint but are also easy to remove once your work is done.
    • Next, apply paint using a stencil brush or foam roller. For wood, wall, or furniture, you’d want to use acrylic paint or latex paint. There are a few affordable craft acrylics paint available online or in craft stores.
    • PRO TIP! The most important thing to remember when applying stencils art on your wall is to offload! This means removing the excess paint on your stencil brush by wiping it onto a rag or a paper towel. Also known as dry brushing, this technique will ensure that the first layer won’t be too thick or clumpy and you can apply several layers afterward.
    • Always use a clean towel to get rid of the excess paint from your chosen stencil. It’s also important to clean the stencil before applying the next layer.
    • Let the first layer of paint dry and then apply a second layer.
    • PRO TIP! To avoid bleeding, avoid doing a side-to-side motion when painting. Always start from the edges and work your way towards the center of the stencil. Use a tapping or stippling motion instead.

  • Fabric

Working on a wall or any other hard surface is comparatively easier than working on fabric. This is definitely not ideal for stencil beginners. Working with fabric is problematic because the colors may seep through it and get mixed, ruining your stencils pattern. The smart way to use art stencils on fabric is to place a piece of cardboard beneath the fabric. This way, you don’t need to stress about the design getting ruined. 

Clean the fabric before you tape your stencil on it, and apply multiple light coats instead of a few thick coats. Your fabric is less likely to get patchy with light coats. Make sure that you allow each coat to dry for at least 48 hours. This will ensure that the paint has completely dried off and the fabric is ready for another coat.

  • Canvas

Canvas is a modern surface for stenciling. This is ideal if you have some old canvas lying around the house. Repurposing canvas by adding stencil designs to it is a fun and inexpensive crafting project that you can do alone or with family and friends. The process of stenciling on canvas is somewhat similar to how you do it on walls, with a couple of new steps.

  • Clean the surface. Mild soap and water will do, but you can use a cleaning solution for more thorough cleaning.
  • When using an old canvas, you’re going to need to paint over the old image on the canvas. Using black acrylic or latex paint with a foam roller should do the trick. You may also use other dark colors, just make sure that it can completely cover up the image on the canvas. Let it dry.
  • Adhere the stencil onto the canvas using painter’s tape or spray adhesive.
  • Apply the first coat or layer of acrylic paint, making sure that you start from the edges and move towards the center. 
  • Let the first coat dry.
  • Apply the second coat.
  • Allow it to dry and then remove the stencil.

A canvas allows you to play with multiple stencils in a single frame. For instance, along with customized stencils, you can also use stencil letters to write a message, a name, a word, or a quote, and make your artwork more personalized.

Check Out More Stencil Patterns and Designs Here!

Altenew Deco Wallpaper Customized Stencil

Check it out here!

Raw Materials and Manufacturing Process of Stencils

Thanks to technology, stencil makers have come up with various techniques on how to make stencils. The raw materials used for making them depend on the manufacturing technique.

Ideally, the procedure of stencil making has three varieties:

  • Etching
  • Raw materials: Nickel, standard and fine grain stainless steel

    This process is recommended only when you already have laser-cut apertures on your desktop. There are specific norms for apertures in the etch process. If you are unable to follow them, you are likely to ruin your scope of stencil making. The ideal size of the etched aperture is about 1 and a half multiplied by the thickness of the material.

    This aperture size can be easily derived using a laser-cut stencil.

  • E-form
  • In the history of stencils, at some point, e-form or electroformed stencils were an ideal choice. However, with laser cutting coming into the picture, the preference order has changed. Moreover, these stencils are more expensive and take more time to yield output.

  • Laser cutting
  • A modern stencils maker prefers this technique to produce unique designs and good quality stencils.

    With the laser-cutting technique, you can produce more number of stencils within the given time frame. At times, they can be produced and shipped within 24 hours. Laser-cut stencils offer users a tighter grip and an accurate and clean end result. Artists, therefore, prefer these stencils sets over other alternatives. These are easy to use and clean as well.

    The Best Tips and Hacks in Using Stencils

    Using a stencil is no rocket science, but there are a few dos and don’ts to follow in order to achieve a stunning result. It may look intimidating at first, especially with the variety of stencil art sets available in craft stores and online, but eventually, you’ll get the hang of it.

    Discussed here are a few tips and hacks that can help you achieve the best results on your handmade creations, even if you’re still a stencil beginner.

    Tip #1

    This is a precautionary measure to save your art from getting ruined. Develop a habit of cleaning the surface before you start stenciling. Dirt, dust, loose paint, etc. can ruin your project so make sure you clean the surface thoroughly before starting.

    Tip #2

    Before you choose the stencil design that you want, make sure you get the correct stencil size. There is a wide variety of stencils online that you can purchase. However, it is crucial to always take note of the dimensions of your surface - whether it’s paper, a wall, or fabric - and then pick a stencil that fits. You don’t want to purchase a stencil that is larger than your surface. This will just ruin the design that you were going for. Using a smaller stencil should be fine but it will take you longer to finish your stencils art.  

    Tip #3

    Imagine you are adding paint on your stencil and with a slight movement of your hand towards the right, your stencil shifts in that direction and ruins your painting. To avoid such instances, it is important to properly adhere your stencil to the surface using a masking tape, painter’s tape or any strong but temporary adhesive to secure it.

    Altenew Embossing Paste For Stencils Craft

     Check it out here!

    Tip #4

    There is no rule of thumb when it comes to the type of paint for stenciling. The most commonly used for walls, wood, furniture, or canvas is acrylic or latex paint. If you’re stenciling on paper or a thinner material such as cardboard or box, an ink spray, a mixed media ink, or an embossing paste would do. For fabric, you can use a chalk pencil or a pound pad. 

    Tip #5

    You will need a good quality stencil brush or foam roller. A large brush for a tiny design is not recommended. So make sure your brush size fits your project. 

    Tip #6

    Applying paint directly from the bottle or can can be difficult. To avoid unwanted spills, you can remove a significant amount of color on a paper plate or a plastic palette. This will save your artwork from random color spills or splatters.

    Tip #7

    Start with a light-hand for the first coat or layer. The intensity of your coat varies based on your surface. Fabrics need to be handled with care and work best with a few light-hand coats.

    In case, you are using multiple colors for your design, allow the first color to dry completely, and then move on to the next color.

    Tip #8

    Once you have applied all the colors and they have dried, remove the stencil. Beginners often remove the stencil as soon as they apply the final coat. If the paint is still wet, it can bleed and drip, spoiling your design in the process. Remember, always let it completely dry!

    Altenew Serenity Stencils Art Bundle

    Perks of Using Stencils

    Stencils make art easier and faster. Even for beginners, using stencils for craft can produce amazing results in no time. Whether you are pursuing it as a hobby, a stress-reliever, or something to help you personalize gifts and create home decor, stenciling is one of the most enjoyable things to do in your free time.

    Here are a few more perks of using stencils:

    • Improved hand and eye coordination.
    • Higher patience and self-control.
    • Increased self-esteem.
    • Increased creativity.
    • Relaxing and de-stressing.

    Stencils in Paper Crafting

    With modern technology and the advent of the Internet, stenciling quickly gained popularity in the world of paper crafting, especially in card making. Instead of a wall or a bigger surface, card makers use a cardstock or paper to create their stencil art. Stencils became an instant hit in paper crafting because of their versatility, durability, and overall beauty. They’re also easy to use and are perfect for a variety of fun techniques. 

    Are you looking for a few ways and techniques to try with your stencils kit? Watch the video below and learn more about stencils for crafting and card making.

    1. They can be used to create a quick and easy background on your handmade card.
    2. Mix and match various stencil patterns to create a unique design.
    3. Blend some dye ink or mixed media ink to add color to your pattern or design. You can also try selective ink blending where you simply choose a certain area or part of the stencil to add color. You’ll need finger daubers, a makeup foundation brush, or an ink blending tool for this technique.
    4. Use alcohol markers, gel pens, or fine liner pens to trace the design of your stencils.
    5. Add some color by using ink sprays. Simply spritz your desired ink spray color onto the chosen stencil design or over an area of the stencil, remove the stencil, and you’re good to go! This is the easiest way to use your stencils in card making.
    6. Try emboss resist with your stencils set! Just add some embossing ink and embossing powder, heat set it, and you’re done!
    7. Did you know that you can use your stencils art set as a stamp? Place them on an acrylic stamping block, ink blend with your chosen dye ink color, and stamp it onto your cardstock. Easy peasy!
    8. Use embossing paste to add a little texture and interest on your stencil design. You can even mix some colors onto your embossing paste for some fun and flair.
    9. Don’t like the mess of using embossing paste? Dry emboss your stencils! To do this, you’ll need an embossing pad and an embossing machine. That subtle but beautiful textured look it’ll give your handmade card will amaze you!

    Wrapping Up

    Stencils are not just fun and easy to use, they are also more affordable than other crafting tools such as watercolors, stamps, dies, etc. You don’t need to be a genius to start using art stencils too. You can start with a few basic designs and shapes, then move on to layered ones or more intricate stencil patterns. The more you practice, the more creative you can get. With proper care and storage, you can definitely reuse your stencils for a very long time. 

    If you’re still searching for stencils to buy online, check out this beautiful collection in our store.

    Get Creative with our Background Stencils!


    Place the stencil over the project area and secure it with washi tape, painter's tape, or any other repositionable adhesive. Add patterns to your project by blending inks, spraying mists, applying embossing paste, or adding glitter. Gently pull the stencil off from the project area to see the result. 
    The type of adhesive that you use to secure your stencil is VERY important. Although painter’s tape is the go to for most crafters, it is advisable to invest in a good and strong repositionable spray adhesive. This will make stenciling a breeze and avoid bleeding.
    You don’t want to use thin copy or printer paper for stenciling. The best paper for stencils is a cardstock that is between 80lbs and 110 lbs. 
    Using a proper stencil brush is also essential if you want to create a seamless design. However, to get those crisp lines when stenciling, try one of those wedge-shaped makeup sponges. This will give you better control over the ink distribution and a cleaner look overall. 
    The three most common types of stencils are scrapbooking and paper craft stencils, craft and hobby stencils, and quilting stencils. Under paper crafting stencils you will find subtypes such as stand-alone stencils, layered stencils, and mask stencils.

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