View Full Version : Stencil design: The Beginner's Bible.

05-14-2007, 09:50 PM
== What is stenciling? ==

Stenciling is a masking technique used to paint patterns, designs, or logos using spraypaint.
Stenciling has recently become popular as a Graffiti technique used by street artists all over the world.
The basics of stenciling described here are taken from my article 'Stenciling: The beginner's bible'. Although this was an article which I originaly wrote for graffiti artists, the techniques it describes are identical to those that case modders use to paint designs on their cases.

== Methods of stencil design ==

There are many methods of designing stencils:

1. Hand drawn - Exactly what it says on the tin, you draw the stencil out yourself, cut out, and spray. this can be difficult and it takes a lot of skill to get it right.

2. photocopy - Find a photo that you like, stick it in a photocopier and resize it to a suitably large size with the photocopier set to high contrast. This, in my experience, never works, you loose a LOT of detail and it only works with certain images. The results are also messy and generaly look bad.

3. Trace a photo - place a sheet of acetate over the photograph, use a permenant pen to colour in the shadows, placing the appropriate bridges, and then cut out. This can produce very good effects, but can equaly turn out bad. The downside is that you are not left with a computer copy of the design, so it is not easy to produce larger versions at a later date. (If you wanted to do a multi layer, you would then have to use another sheet of acetate for the highlights and midtones.)

4. Photoshop - There are many ways to produce a stencil in photoshop, and i will deal with them later.

== Aquiring an image ==

If your stencil is to be a pre-made logo, you will not need to read this section.

If, however, you want an stencil an image, there are several ways to aquire this base-image:

Many will argue that the best way is to take the photos yourself. Others belive that the most respectful stencils are hand drawn. Most prefer to use stock photography, as more often than not, it is impossible to create the image yourself.
The stock photography site that I use is http://www.sxc.hu
Others can be found by searching for 'stock photography' in google.
Another way to find images, is to use google image search. http://images.google.com

== Converting your image into a stencil using Photoshop ==

Once you have the image on your computer, you must convert it into a stencil in photoshop (other photo editing software can be used such as Paint shop pro, or The GIMP (the gimp is free, search for it in google). One method for doing this for this can be found here: http://www.stencilrevolution.com/tutorials/tutorialsview.php?id=4

Here is a more simple way:

Firsty you need to remove the background from the image, do this by selecting the background using the select tools such as magnetic lasoo, and delete it. Another way is to simply use brish tool to colour over the background in white so that you're left with your subject that you want to stencil.

desaturate the image

Then go to filter>blur>Gaussian blur, and blur the image a just enough to soften the image while keeping as much detail as possible.
Once this is done, go to image>ajustments>brightness/contrast, turn the contrast up to full, and play with the brightness until it is a simple black and white version of the original image, the detail of the image should be simple but easily recognisable.

If there is not enough detail, then you have blurred your image too much, simply click edit>undo, to undo the blurring. Play around with different amounts of blurring until you are happy with your image.
Now, imagine cutting out the black bits of your image, and you may find that you have a problem. If a white part of your image is surrounded by the black bit you're going to cut out, then this is called an 'island'. You need to find a way to attatch the island to the rest of the stencil and the normal way to do this is with bridges. Bridges are extra bits of white area which are used to hold your stencil together, take for instance the letter 'O'. If you were going to cut out the letter O the middle bit would fall out, so instead, we connect the middle bit to the outside using two bridges at the top and bottom, to make a shape like '( )'.
As you become more used to stenciling, your skill at placing bridges will develop.
You can cover the marks left by bridges using a pen or a brush and paint.
Print out your image onto paper.

05-14-2007, 09:50 PM
== Cutting your stencil ==

There are many different materials to cut out of. The most popular is card, 300gsm is the best thickness for stencils, however any card will do so long as you can cut through with it in detail. Do not use corregated cardboard, unless it is for a BIG low-detail stencil. Other materials include manilla folders, accetate, posterboard, or even paper.

You will need a very sharp knife to cut with such as an x-acto or scalpel. You will also need some spare blades because cutting with a blunt blade is hell on earth for any stenciler. I use a cheap box-cutter but i'm an idiot.

you may want to purchase a self healing cutting mat, they don't leave a mark and last forever, however a recular cutting board or thick sheet of wood will do fine.

The first thing to do, is to stick your printed stencil design on to your stencil material. The best way of doing this is to purchase some 3M spray adhesive, you can get it from any hardware store, but it can sometimes be expensive. only spray a light amount on, and stick your image flat onto your stencil material. normal glue will be ok too, but be sure that you don't use too much, and make sure that it is completely dry before cutting it.

When you first begin to cut, don't go pressing realy hard. Take your time and press lightly on the stencil, if it doesn't cut all the way through, then press a little harder and try again, the thing you don't want to do is press realy hard and have your blade snap off and hit you in the eye!
If the blade slips and you cut something off, you can usualy fix it using some selotape or masking tape. just tape over the area on both sides and cut it out again out of the tape.

== Painting your stencil ==

If you bought spray adhesive, then it is a good idea to use it for keeping your stencil down. All you have to do is spray a LIGHT coat of it on the back of your stencil, then leave it to dry for at least 3 mins or until it is no longer wet and sticky but instead just tacky. You can also use masking tape to hold it to the wall if you can't afford the spray.
It is a good idea to get hold of some latex gloves, as getting paint on your hands is just as bad as inhaling it.

'''How to spray your stencil:'''

Place your stencil on the surface which you wish to spray.
Secure it using tape and/or spray adhesive.

Mask off the area around the stencil with paper to avoid overspray (where the spray goes over the sides of the stencil onto the surface)
hold the can about 9 inches away from the stencil and begin to spray, you are aiming for a light covering, just enough to cover the stencil and you are specificly aiming to avoid spraying too much on, as this can cause problems like underdrip or bleeding.

if you find that you are getting underspray (the stencil is blowing up, causing the paint to go where it shouldnt underneath the stencil) you should either buy some spray adhesive, hold the stencil down, or hold the can further away.

Do some test sprays on a peice of old wood or even on paper just to get the hang of it, and remember not to breathe the fumes!
Well there you have it, your first stencil!

== Multiple-layered stencils ==

Here's how I make my multi-layered stencils. As I previously stated, I originaly wrote this article for graffiti artists, so the image that I have used as an example is perhaps not what you'd expect for a case-modding tutorial. All apologies.

Ok well Im using paint shop pro in this tutorial. but things are almost exactly the same in photoshop.
Im also only going to do 5 layers - black, shadow, midtone, highlight, white.
so heres how to do it:

I duplicated the main photo layer so that I had an un-edited backup

I turned the original layer's visability off

I used noose select tool to select the background and delete it

I desaturated the image using either, desaturate tool (photoshop), hue/saturation tool (paint shop pro) or convert to greyscale tool (I think gimp!!)

I then found the 'levels' adjustment, which is usualy located in the brightness/contrast tools menu, and played around with it until I had a higher contrast in the mid-tones of the face and body, but still had definable black areas for hair/eyes/tux etc.

I used noose select to select a black area


I created a new layer called 'black' and painted into the selected area using brush tool


once Ive got all of the black layer done,


I can do my mid-tone. for this, I simply have the whole tonal area, in this case the skin - im not going to bother with the tux or hair today, because they look better solid black, and I don't want to make it too complicated for you :P
For my tonal layers, I always put a white backgroundlayer in, filling it all in white with the fill tool.

So, create a new layer call it 'mid-tone' and use brush tool to select the skin. Remember that it will be underneath your black layer (black will almost always be the top layer) and so you must overlap it with the black at the edges to ensure a clean edge. Remember to move the layer down below the black layer using the layer pallete (look on the right of the screenshot)


I then use the dropper tool to select a suitable mid-tone from the base image layer.
it must be mid-way between the darkest colour and the lightest colour. you don't have to be exact!
then fill it in!
Now you do EXACTLY the same thing that you did with your black layer, but you select the shadowed areas. You want to select the bits that are darker than your mid-tone shade.
Then create another layer, call it mid-tone, position the layer inbetween black and mid-tone
double click on your mid-tone colour in the colour pallete, then select a slightly darker shade. you only want a subtle difference in tone, so that it looks natural and not too dark.


fill in your selected area in your new layer.


Do the same with the white.

I decided that her dress and bag, and his trousers looked wrong in white, so I added a highlight layer and coloured them in a highlight tone (slightly lighter than the mid-tone)

Finaly, I added a layer called 'reg marks'. This is for my registration marks. I make two crosses which I will cut out of every layer. I then put masking tape on the canvas/wall where the crosses will be, and spray them on every layer. That way, it lets me like up the layers perfectly.
I would paint this in this order:


This has been a jumbled mess of a tutorial, but it should hopefuly give some idea of what goes into a multi layer and how to go about it.


05-15-2007, 06:58 AM
Linked pictures suck for tutorials. Send me a zip of the pictures and i'll host them for you so you can link them straight into this.


05-15-2007, 04:35 PM
For a very curved surface either use acetate or don't use stencils at all :P If it doesn't work then there's no point trying to bodge it and mess it up. I would advise using vinyl stickers or transfers.

05-15-2007, 06:45 PM
I've hosted your images for you, if you need any adjustments made just make them send me the files to replace the current version.

05-15-2007, 07:02 PM
Thanks JD! :)

05-15-2007, 08:42 PM
Great tut. +rep

I used to do this stuff for screen printing. This was a great refresher.

05-16-2007, 06:09 AM
Wow...very nice! I likey!