One of the biggest issues with stencil usage is paint bleed. Paint bleed is what happens when paint seeps underneath the stencil itself. This happens with liquid paints and spray paint. While paint bleed is never completely unavoidable, even for us, we have some tips that will help you become an expert in no time.

If you would like crisp lines as often as possible, we recommend choosing an adhesive stencil. Adhesive stencils have a tacky backing that allow you to stick the stencil to your surface. Because the stencil material becomes adhered to the painting surface, paint bleed is much less common than with mylar or metal stencils. However, adhesive stencils can only be used 1-3 times with best results.

Stencil art made with a multi layered stencil set

The frequency of paint bleed also depends on multiple factors. If you’re stenciling on a flat piece of wood, glass, or smooth drywall, you will have fewer issues. If you’re stenciling on a more uneven surface such as rustic wood, concrete, or stucco, be aware that paint bleed may be more common. Again, you may want to opt for an adhesive stencil if your surface is more uneven.

An adhesive stencil spray painted on an uneven brick wall

This was an adhesive stencil used on a very uneven wall.

For Spray Paint:

Spray paint is one of the most common types of paint used with stencils. Over the years, we’ve developed a strategy for making crisp lines.

Here are some tips for avoiding paint bleed with stencils:

  • Use painter’s tape around the edges of the stencil to secure it to the painting surface

    • This one is self explanatory. The less the stencil moves, the less paint bleed there will be.

  • Spray from 10-15 inches away from the painting surface in short bursts

    • Spraying in short bursts will prevent you from using too much paint at once. Using too much paint is one of the biggest mistakes stencil novices make. Lucky you, you read this article first!

  • Use a stick to hold down parts of the stencil

    • If using a mylar stencil, parts of the plastic will not lay flush with the surface no matter how flat it is. Use a paint stirring stick, pencil, or even a stick from your backyard to hold down those pieces as you paint. Take it slowly, section by section for the best results.

  • Use an adhesive spray

    • An adhesive spray, such as Aleene’s Crystal Clear Tacky Spray, can be used to secure a stencil in place. Start by spritzing a small amount on the backside of your mylar stencil. Depending on the paint surface, the stencil may need more adhesive spray. To clean the stencil afterwards, we recommend using GooGone.

  • Spray from the stencil edges inward

    • Spraying inward will help create crisp outer lines. Remember to spray in short bursts when doing this.

Spray paint outside to inside when using a layered stencil set

For wall paint:

Many novice stencilers complain about how messy using a stencil can be. The lines aren’t clean, there’s paint everywhere, and the design just doesn’t come through well. Luckily, we’re here to help make you into the stencil expert you were born to be.

If you are using a paint roller, make sure to use either a dense foam roller or one with a very low nap (the fuzz on a paint roller). Avoid using a fluffy roller, these will increase paint bleed significantly. If the stencil appears to not be flat on your surface, the dense roller will press it down to create a crisp line.

Our tips for avoiding paint bleed with wall paint:

  • Use spray adhesive

    • Just like with spray paint, spray adhesive can help secure edges of a stencil cutout to the painting surface. If you are painting a pattern and have to reuse a stencil multiple times, spray some adhesive on each time.

  • Use a small amount of paint

    • When using a roller, make sure to remove any excess paint from your tool. Take away excess paint by squeezing the paint out of a roller in the paint tray. Utilize the ridges along the paint tray and roll the roller up and down until the roller appears to be dry. It may take multiple passes on the stencil before the paint is solid on the painting surface, but this is normal.

    • Make sure to also thin the paint that pools up at the edge of the roller.

      Avoid paint pooling at the end of your paint roller
  • If using a sponge, dab instead of wipe

    • In all stencil painting scenarios, avoid swiping a brush across a stencil. This will cause the paint to get “caught” underneath the stencil’s edges. Instead, bounce the sponge up and down on the painting surface for cleaner lines.

  • If using a paintbrush, paint with circular motions

    • Like the above tip, swiping with a paintbrush will cause a buildup of paint underneath the stencil. To avoid this with a paintbrush, first remove excess paint by wiping the brush off on a paper towel or rag. Then paint the stencil in circular motions. Take your time, and avoid using too much paint.

  • Touch ups

    • Keep a bit of the original paint color handy for touch ups. Don’t be afraid to use a small paint brush to fix any edges that may have bled.

As a reminder for all paint bleed, most instances are minor and cannot be seen from more than 2 feet away from the painting surface. So, don’t beat yourself up if you do end up with a lot of bleed. As always, let us know if you have any more questions.

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