How to Stencil a Wall

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How to Stencil a Wall


Wall stenciling is an easy, budget friendly way to spruce up your home by hand. Wall stencils are a fun, DIY wallpaper substitute that can be washed and reused to decorate one room, the whole house or just one exciting home décor accent piece. Wall stencils are incredibly versatile and can be used to freshen up walls, or stenciling an exciting new design on floors, ceilings, furniture or even curtains! With stencils, creativity is the limit!

In this How-To-Stencil tutorial, we will demonstrate how to stencil on a wall using our Cornelius Wall Stencil and Tranquil Branches Wall Stencil. In this stenciling guide we will cover wall stenciling techniques, including how to stencil with a dry roller, how to prevent paint bleed and how to align repeating stencil patterns to stencil a whole wall or room.

Wall stenciling may seem like a daunting home project, but with the right tools and know-how it can be a fun and exciting way to personalize your home décor. Whether you prefer an elegant damask stencil, a fun and whimsical stencil for a kids bedroom, or a subtle, farmhouse style stencil, there is a stencil design for you.

Stencil Supplies Needed:

Stenciling Tip:

The key to stenciling is not applying to much paint. We recommend stenciling a wall with a 2" to 4" high density foam roller because it absorbs less paint which will help prevent paint from bleeding under the stencil. While you can stencil with any paint roller, you will get better results with a high-density foam roller.

How is Stenciling Different from Painting

The main difference between stenciling and painting is the amount of paint you use to stencil. If you stencil with too much paint, the excess paint will seep under the stencil and blur the stencil design. Too much paint will also create a stenciled design that is noticeably thicker than the surface it was stenciled on.

The secret to stenciling is to use a nearly dry brush or roller to stencil multiple, thin layers of paint. This is called the “Dry Brush Technique”, which we explain in more detail in Step 4. Although it may seem counterintuitive, your paint brush or paint roller really should be almost dry to the touch when you stencil. Paint color will gradually accumulate in many, thin layers of paint (5 to 6 coats of paint is common).

If you are stenciling with a paint brush, avoid brushing paint onto the stencil and instead apply color by stippling with the brush or swirling the brush in small, circular motions.

How to Stencil a Wall

Cornelius Wall Stencil

Practice First: We always recommend practicing stenciling on a piece of cardboard before beginning a project, especially if this is your first time stenciling. It is important to get a feel for how little paint you need on your brush or roller (sponge or rag). Before stenciling your walls, take a little time to hone your stenciling technique and test your paint colors.

Stenciling Tip:

Paint does not bleed twice. Painting your walls before stenciling is one of the best ways to prevent paint bleed because it smooths the surface you will be stenciling on. Any small bumps or ridges on the walls are places where paint can slide around and under the stencil, creating minor imperfections.

You do not have to paint you walls before stenciling, but if it has been a while since they were last painted, this might be the time to repaint. 

Step 1: Prepare Your Walls

It is very important to stencil on a clean and smooth surface. Before stenciling you walls, clean them and sand off any rough or bumpy patches We also recommend applying a fresh coat of paint to your walls before stenciling as it helps to prevent paint bleed.

Dust will prevent the stencil from sticking to the wall, so clean your walls with a damp cloth before stenciling. 

Prepare the room as if you were paint you walls, lay down some cloth or newspaper on the floor to catch paint spills, and assemble all your tools, some refreshment and your favorite music. 

Step 2: Prepare the Stencil

Remove the stencil from its shipping container and place it on a flat surface in a warm place, like the kitchen. You do not need to manually flatten the stencil, the stencil will relax and flatten if left in a warm place for about 15 minutes. Use this time to prepare for stenciling.

Step 3: Spray and Position the Stencil 

 Spray the back of the stencil

To position the stencil on the wall, we recommend using our Repositionable Adhesive Spray, which will enable you to remove and reposition the stencil after you have finished stenciling one section of your wall. You can also use painter's tape to hold the stencil in place (we like frog painter's tape because it is very gentle and takes off less paint when you remove it) or both. Just make sure the stencil is securely affixed to the wall until you are done stenciling.

Find where you want your stencil
Spray one side of your stencil with our Repositionable Adhesive Spray. Do this away from the wall you will be stenciling, you do not want the wall or anything else becoming sticky too. (Tip from our stencilers: Keep you mouth and closed while spraying). After spraying the stencil, wait 30-60 seconds before positioning the stencil on the wall. This is very important, our adhesive spray is strong stuff, and if you do not wait 30 seconds you might have trouble removing the stencil later. Use the carpenter’s level to make sure the stencil is properly aligned and straight.

Use Frog Painter's Tape
Once the stencil is in place, gently press all the edges of the stencil design flat and make sure that there are no edges sticking up.

mark the registration marks
If you are using all over, repeating pattern wall stencils, use your pencil to lightly mark each of the corners (there are marking holes on each corner of the stencil). When you are repositioning the stencil, use these pencil marks to line up the stencil with where you previously stenciled. In the above image, we used pieces of tape to mark the corners where you would pencil mark. 

Now you are ready to begin stenciling!

 Step 4: Stencil with a "Dry Brush"

rub off excess paint

The key to stenciling is a dry brush (roller, sponge or rag). Stenciling with too much paint will cause paint to bleed under the stencil, blurring the artwork. To stencil, apply paint in multiple thin layers, typically 4 to 5 coats of paint, although some projects may need more coats. The Dot Test is one way of checking that you have the right amount of paint to stencil.

Finger print test

When stenciling with a paint roller you can also do a finger print test.  After dipping your roller in paint and rolling off as much excess paint as you can on a paper towel, press one finger into the roller. If paint wells up around your finger you have too much paint to stencil. Continue rolling out paint on the paint tray, cardboard or paper towels until you have a "dry roller".

Stencil with a dry brush or roller
Although it might seem as though there is too little paint to stencil, a dry roller is best for stenciling. The first coat of paint may seem too light but resist the urge to stencil with more paint. Continue stenciling in multiple, light coats of paint until you are happy with the color.

Color is accumulated gradually

(Remember you are not painting the whole stencil, only the stencil openings).

Step 5: Gentle remove and reposition the Stencil

Wait for the paint the dry completely before removing the stencil. To remove the stencil, gently roll the stencil off the wall. Be slow and careful to make sure no paint comes off with the stencil. 

How to Stencil a Wall with Allover Repeating Patterns

Once the stencil has been removed, reposition it on the wall in the next place you will stencil. Recall those faint pencil marks you made in the small holes in the four corners of the stencil; these will your guide to repositioning the stencil.

Remove the stencil

Line one side of the stencil with these registration marks, and place two of the circle cutouts on the stencil over two pencil marks on one side of the section you just finished stenciling. 

Align the stencil with the registration marks

Make new pencil marks in the registration cutouts in the stencil so that you are ready to realign the stencil when you have finished stenciling this section.

Repeat steps 3* through 5.

*You will not need to respray the stencil every time you reposition it. The stencil should stay sticky after the first spray. If the stencil loses some of its tackiness, it could be because dust and debris have collected on top of the adhesive. Use a damp cloth to remove the dust from the back of the stencil (sticky side) and the the wall. If the stencil still does not stick, you can respray it. 

Repeat steps 3 to 5
(You can see the pieces of green tape where we marked and aligned the stencil as we moved it along the wall using the registration marks on the stencil). 

Step 6: How to Stencil around Corners

Use painters tape to prevent accidental smudging

When stenciling a wall, stenciling the corners and edges can be a bit tricky.  First, put frog painter's tape along the side opposite the one you will be stenciling. This tape will prevent any paint smudges from getting on the side of the corner you are not stenciling. 

Push the stencil into the corner

(here we pushed and bent the stencil into the corner. If you look closely you can see where the painter's tape is, on the corner opposite the one we will stencil). 

Push the stencil as far into the corner as you can, making sure that it is completely flat against the wall. If there is not enough space to stencil a full repeat of the stencil pattern, you can bend the stencil into the corner. Just make sure that the registration marks align properly.

Make sure the stencil is flat

Stencil the corners the same way you stenciled the rest of the wall.

Step 7: Stenciling the Top and Bottom Edges

Make sure to apply painter's tape along the floor or molding next to where you are stenciling to prevent accidentally paint smudging in places you do not want paint. 

Using painter's tape to prevent paint smudging

The top and bottom edges of the wall is another place you might not have room for a full repeat of the stencil pattern. Again, just like when you stenciled the corners, you can bend the stencil to fit into this smaller space. You do not need to crease the stencil when you bend it, but do make sure that the stencil is full flat against the wall where you will be applying paint. 

bend the stencil to fit

(It may be easier to stencil the edges with a stencil brush).

Once you are finished, remove the painter's tape very gently, to keep any paint from coming off with the tape. 

Gently remove the painter's tape 

Step 8: Clean your Stencil

Our stencils are washable and reusable! But they do require a little care to keep their fresh appearance. After you finish stenciling, always wash and dry your stencil, paint brushes and paint rollers to keep them fresh and reusable. 

How you clean you stencil will depend on what type of paint you used. Check your paint can for specific instructions on how to clean your painting tools (i.e. what sort of solution is needed to remove the paint), and read our How to Clean Stencils FAQ for more details on how to clean stencils.  

You've Stenciled a Wall!

Congratulations! Clean up, then sit back and enjoy your refreshed room!

Share photos of your stenciling projects with us on social media!