Stenciling Walls and Furniture

Time honored decorative technique adds color, texture, and character

(8/05) The art and craft of stenciling has a history almost as old as humankind. As a decorative technique, it's common to many cultures so there is no end to the variety of effects that you can achieve.

Using paper or plastic templates, stencils constrain the application of paint in a pattern. They may be as simple as a plain geometric border or complex with ornate scrollwork and florals, as well as every variation in between. It's easy to do and it's fun. You can stencil borders on walls or use all over designs that can look like wallpaper. You can stencil fabric for upholstery, floor cloths, or apply designs to furniture. Advanced techniques include embossing and faux finishes. You can even combine the use of stencils with stamps and free-hand painting to make your design truly one of a kind.

There is no limits to how you can decorate the surfaces in your home using stencils.

Planning your stenciling project

Getting started is pretty easy. You probably already know what you want to stencil. Different surfaces require different preparation. The instructions below assume that you are stenciling furniture or a wall.

First select a stencil. Stencils are available at craft stores or online. You may also design and cut your own stencil design. For a first time project, a simple stencil is probably wise, but you can use as complex a design as pleases you.

Some stencils are available as a single template which you can color any way you wish. If you want a multicolored effect, tape over the openings for colors you aren't applying.

Multilayer stencils with overlays make adding color a lot easier. Tape the base stencil in place and paint the first color. Remove that stencil and place the overlay according to the registration marks on top of the base. Paint with the next color and so on. It goes much faster with fewer mistakes than when using a single stencil design.

If you choose to create your own stencil set, use 3 ml mylar for your stencil templates. You can use clip art, or vintage designs from old books, or design your own from scratch. The artwork can be resized using a copier. Trace over the top with a fine marker and cut with a sharp Exacto knife. Antique Home has a good article on designing stencils.

If you haven't already decided, choose a palette and plan how you'll apply the color. Use crayons or markers using a tracing of your stencil to figure out what colors of paint you'll need as well as how to get the best color effects.

Once you've selected your stencil and color scheme, you can make a list of supplies:

Stenciling the surface

The following steps will take you through a simple stencil project.

  1. Prepare your surface. If you are stenciling furniture, sand surface lightly. Use a tack cloth to pick up dust. Stenciling takes better on a flat finish; don't stencil over a gloss finish. If stenciling walls, make sure surface is clean and dry. (If you are stenciling raw wood, prime first, paint background. Allow paint to cure, then apply stencil otherwise paint may come off when you remove the stencil.)
  2. Calculate where to place the stencil, then mark your registration points lightly with a pencil. (You can remove the marks later with a gum or plastic art eraser.) Use a level to keep your pattern straight. Make sure you add some type of reference point so you can lay the stencil down in the next correct location.
  3. For multicolor effects, cover stencil openings with tape that are not the color you're working with.
  4. Use the blue painter's tape to the stencil in place.
  5. Put a small amount of paint in one of the containers. Small amount means about the size of a quarter.
  6. Dip the brush tip into the paint. Work it into the brush with by swirling the brush on the plate or in the container. The brush should feel almost dry to the touch. If there is too much, paint remove it with a paper towel. (Less is more with paint—you can always add more.) If you are using a roller, make sure the roller is almost dry.
  7. With just the tip, apply the paint to the openings in the stencil by lightly twirling the brush in small circles to create a solid effect. You can also lightly tap the brush against the paint surface to create a stippled effect. If using a roller, roll smoothly to apply paint.
  8. Gently remove the tape on one corner, and lift the stencil to check the paint before you remove the stencil completely.
  9. If you are using a stencil with overlays, remove the completed stencil, place the overlay, and paint. Repeat with as many overlays as your design requires.
  10. Remove your stencils and admire your handiwork.

Stenciling Tips

The following are a few tips and tricks to ensure the success of your stenciling project:


If your walls need a paint job before you start your stenciling project, a qualified painter through Contractor Nexus might be your key to getting started.

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