How to Stencil on Rough Surfaces

In general, it is best to stencil on a smooth and even surface. Stenciling on a rough surface is difficult and might not produce the best results. If the surface you are stenciling on is rough, there are a few things you can do to make your  stenciling project easier and more effective. Here are our expert stenciling tips for how to stencil on a rough surface.

The number one problem with stenciling on a rough surface is paint bleed. Paint bleed is when paint slips beneath the stencil template and blurs the stenciled design. You can prevent paint bleed by cleaning and smoothing the surface you want to stencil on, sealing it with a sealant and/or painting a base coat. Using the right stenciling technique is also important. Stenciling with too much paint can flood the stencil and cause paint bleed. Paint should be applied in multiple thin layers when stenciling. Keep reading to learn more about these stenciling tips: 

  1. Clean the surface you will stencil.

    Dust and dirt will keep the stencil template from sticking to the surface you want to stencil. Places where the stencil sticks up are places paint can bleed beneath the stencil. Always clean the surface you want to stencil before stenciling. You can wipe it down with a damp cloth, or use masking tape or a lint roller if you are stenciling on fabric. Just make sure you are stenciling on a clean surface.

  2. Smooth the rough surface you are stenciling on.

    If you are stenciling on wood, you can sand and prime the wood before you stencil to create a smooth surface. If you are stenciling on concrete, walls, or another surface you can sand, do so before stenciling. Painting a base coat before you stencil can also help to smooth the rough surface you want to stencil.

    If you can't sand or paint the surface you want to stencil, you can use a sealer spray to smooth it. The spray sealer will help to even out the surface you want to stencil. (If you are stenciling on cork or corkboard, we strongly recommend you seal the cork before stenciling).

  3. Proper stenciling technique:

    It is very important to stencil in thin coats of paint. Stenciling with too much paint will flood the stencil template and cause paint to bleed underneath the stencil.

    If you are stenciling with spray paint, spray light coats in quick side to side motions perpendicular to the stencil template. Wait a few seconds for each coat of paint to dry before spraying the next layer.

    If you are stenciling with a brush or roller, stencil with the dry brush/roller technique. Use the "Dot Test" if you are stenciling with a dry brush or the "Fingerprint Test" if you a stenciling with a paint roller*.

    For the Dot Test, swirl you stencil brush in paint and then dab all the excess paint on a paper towel. When you think your brush is ready, make a dot on a piece of paper. Brush the dot with your finger, if the dot smudges you have too much paint to stencil. If it doesn't, you are ready to go!

    For the fingerprint tests, roll your foam roller in paint and then roll off excess paint on the paint tray or scrap cardboard. Press your finger into the foam, if paint wells up around your finger you have too much paint for stenciling. Continue rolling off excess paint.

    Stencil in multiple thin layers of paint until you are satisfied with the color.

*Stenciling Tip: We recommend stenciling with high density foam rollers. High density Foam Rollers absorb less paint, which helps to prevent paint bleed and gives you more control when stenciling. 

Again, rough surfaces are not ideal for stenciling. While these stenciling tips can help you avoid paint bleed when stenciling on rough surfaces, you might still experience some bleed.

For more stenciling tips and techniques see our other FAQs or visit our stenciling blog or stenciling projects video gallery. If you have other questions about how to stencil, ask us (we are stenciling experts).