DIY or DIE: 5 Steps To Creating Your Own Badass Stencil

Since my first DIY article on how to make a punk-rock vest was met with universal acclaim (and a good amount of shit talking), I’ve decided to tackle the concept of how to make a stencil as a follow up. Stencil’s are great for so many things; you can spray-paint band logos on your leather jacket, promote your band on the city streets, tag equipment you or your band own, or just vandalize the local courthouse (don’t judge, I was a pissed-off 16 year old).

Let’s get started below.

Now with stencil’s there are two mediums of which you can use: plastic or cardboard.

Cardboard: Stands up to abuse and it doesn’t flap in the wind when you’re *ahem tagging perfectly legal areas of the street. Cardboard can be great, but it’s hard to cut and even harder to do fine detail with.

Plastic: Plastic stencils are easy to cut, and great for getting fine detail out of your work. They don’t absorb paint like cardboard, but they do tend to flap over when you’re holding it up with one hand.

Step 1: Design

Remember that the more complex the design, the harder the execution. Any part of the stencil that blocks paint to create a design requires being physically attached to the stencil. Think about the eyeballs in the Rancid Skull logo, they float on the design, thus that design wouldn’t be possible without either hand painting the eyes or augmentation of the design. This is the most important thing to remember when actually designing a logo you wish to stencil from scratch.

As far as taking an existing logo and converting it into a stencil, there are ways around this issue. You basically need to create little bridges from one section of the design to the other and make sure that when you cut it out, it is heavily enforced (which we will tackle later). Now if these little bridges bug you, don’t worry, there is a work-around which I will cover in the final step of this tutorial.

Step 2: Getting Image To Size

There are two ways to go about getting the size of the design you wish, either print the image off to size, or draw it to the size you wish. Whichever way you’d like to do this, go for it, but I prefer to print the design. This allows me the ability to size and resize the image until I get it exactly the size I want it. This is particularly handy if you’re painting something onto a jacket and need it to be a specific size.

Drawing: If you’re drawing your design, then you will need to draw it to size. However, If you’re drawing and want to transfer your image from one surface to another, there is a cheap and easy way to do it.

Simply take the image that you’ve already drawn, take a #2 pencil and using it horizontally, scrape the graphite against the back of the image wherever there are lines on the back of the page making sure that you transfer a thick amount onto the back of the paper.

Next, place the sheet on top of the surface you wish to transfer it to, and tape the top of it with two pieces of tape, allowing you to create a flap.

Now taking the pencil, outline the image that you have drawn and as you lift up the piece of paper, you’ll notice that the image is being transferred onto the new paper.

Printing: Now as a professional multimediatician, I have Photoshop on my computer which makes it as easy as going to Edit/Image Size. Can’t afford it (me neither actually) or don’t want to bother figuring out how to bootleg PS (which is a simple Google search away)?

Windows Paint program gives you the ability to change size under the print menu as well. If you want a bigger image than the size of an 8.5X11 sheet of paper, print it off in sections. Simply drag around the image in the printing options, and print off one section at a time. If the paper has borders, simply cut them off and then tape the sections together.

3: Choosing materials

Whether you chose cardboard or plastic, you’re going to need scissors and an exacto knife, so get those ready.

Cardboard: Now although any cardboard will do, there are ways to make things a bit easier, the biggest of which, is choosing the right type of cardboard. Corrugated cardboard (multiple layers of cardboard atop one another, usually found as packing boxes) require you to cut through layers and layers when you are cutting out your stencil. This adds time, more work, and can lead to sloppier results. The ideal type of cardboard for this is made of a single, thick layer (the type you’d find in the back of a paper tablet). This is strong, holds up well, and isn’t as hard to cut through.

Plastic: There are two ways to go about this, but both are used to accomplish the same result, not letting the stencil fall apart due to it absorbing paint.

Stencil-sticker: the easiest one is going to a hobby store where they sell stencil-sticker paper. It is basically a clear sheet of plastic with one side being adhesive. You line up your design, and stick the sticker to it, allowing you to cut out the design underneath it. This is the easiest, cleanest way to go about making a stencil, but if you’re like me and can’t be bothered driving to a far-away store and don’t want to spend too much money, boxing tape is your answer.

Boxing-Tape: This accomplishes the exact same thing with only a bit more work.

Simply tape overtop of your design, allowing for the tape to overlap itself a ¼ inch at a time. This will create a solid payer of “plastic” that will keep the paper from falling apart when paint hits it.

Additionally, if you’d like the stencil to hold up for a even longer amount of time, repeat this process and cover the back of it in tape as well.

4: Cutting The Design

The most important piece of this section is to cut on top of a solid environment that you don’t mind getting cut up. Don’t do this on anything you value as it will cut the shit out of it. If you cannot find anything, cut on top of a thick piece of cardboard as this will at least minimize the damage beneath it.

Whether you have chosen to use the cardboard or the plastic method, the same rules apply. Slowly cut around your outline, being sure to apply adequate pressure to pierce the material. Cut the design out slowly and in small sections. If the piece does not immediately release, simply trace your cuts again. If one of the pieces doesn’t fall out after that, gently push on it and run your knife along any stubborn edges.

If you accidentally mess up and cut out a section that you didn’t mean to, don’t freak out. Simply place the stencil back down on the table, realign to where the missing piece should be, and much like before, take the boxing tape and adhere it back to the design where it should be. Then, simply cut it out once again… but y’know, just be more careful this time.

5: Using The Stencil

If you’re wanting to look professional and not get overspray from around the stencil on expensive equipment, masking tape the stencil in place and tape newspaper around it before spraying. If not, simply put the stencil in place, hold it down with your middle and index finger (you’ll get a little paint on you, but get the hell over it) and spray away keeping in mind that too much will result in drips.

Not happy with the little bridges that are a result of the stencil staying as one piece? Me neither. Now, I don’t mind them if I’m labeling equipment, but if I’m putting the design on my leather jacket, I want them removed and it’s simple. Just purchase a paint-pen (ENAMEL, never Oil as it will never fully dry and will be forever sticky) and make sure that the paint type matches the paint you’ve bought. Simply fill in the little gaps in the design, or if you’re as uptight as I am, go over the entire design in the paint-pen.

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