The Dot Test

In this article we will explain how much paint should be used to stencil and how to avoid using too much paint. In our accompanying video tutorial we show what happens when you stenciling with too much paint, i.e. paint bleed, and how to stencil without paint bleed. 

How much paint should I use to stencil?

Very little. The most common stenciling mistake is stenciling with too much paint. Stenciling requires a dry brush or roller (or rag or sponge). Our stenciler Helen recommends using "just a kiss of paint" to stencil.

What happens if I use too much paint to stencil?

If too much paint is used when stenciling, the paint will seep under the stencil and blur the stencil design. This is called "paint bleed". 

There are several ways to avoid and minimize paint bleed when stenciling with a paint brush, paint roller or spray paint. Number one is the Dot Test, which works well when stenciling with a paint brush/stencil brush or paint roller. We will also explain how to avoid paint bleed when stenciling with spray paint.

 The Dot Test:

How to check that you have the right amount of paint to stencil

  1. Dip you brush or roller in your paint.
  2. Dab or roll all excess paint onto a paper towel or rag. (We recommend holding a roll of paper towels in one hand and dabbing the stencil brush onto the roll).
  3. Make a dot or roll of paint on a scrape piece of paper. Brush the dot with your finger. If the paint smudges you have too much paint. Repeat step 2. If the paint does not smudge, you have a dry brush and are ready to stencil!
  4. If using a paint roller, press the foam with one finger, if paint wells up around your finger, you have too much paint. Repeat step 2.



Although it may seem as though your brush or roller does not have enough paint to stencil, color and paint will develop with more layers of paint. 4 to 5 coats of paint is normal when stenciling, although every project is different and you may need more to achieve your desired color and saturation. Stenciling on fabric generally requires more layers of paint than stenciling on a solid surface. 

Stenciling with Spray Paint

Less is more also applies when stenciling with spray paint. Although the dot test will not help when spray painting, we still recommend stenciling in many light coats of spray paint. As you stencil, keep your spray paint moving up and down the stencil continuously and resist the temptation to fill in one area at a time because this could cause paint bleed. 

How else can I reduce paint bleed?

Painting a new base coat of paint before stenciling is great way to reduce paint bleed because it smooths the surface you will stencil on. If you stencil on an uneven surface, paint will accumulate along small bumps and ridges, or flow along cracks and distort the stenciled image. Although you do not have to repaint your walls before stenciling, it does improve the final look of the stencil and we generally recommend it.