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How to Paint Layered Stencils
How to Paint Layered Stencils

Choosing your paint colors, painting with multiple stencil layers, and cover pieces

Kath Ramirez avatar
Written by Kath Ramirez
Updated over a week ago

How to Select Colors for Layered Stencil Paintings

In order to make the color-choosing process as easy as possible for customers, we select colors for each layer and put them on the proof document. These don't have to be followed exactly, or at all, but they provide a guideline for painting based on the submitted artwork.

How to Use Layered Stencils

All the stencils included in your order come in a stiff flat envelope. We recommend keeping this envelope to store the stencils in the future. Refer to our article and video on stencil cleaning for more information on how to clean and store your stencils.

After receiving your stencils, lay each piece out on a large surface or floor area. This will help you understand how to begin and will help ensure that each piece corresponds to the guide on the proof. The proof will be printed and sent with the stencil.

If painting on a canvas or other portable surface, set up the painting area at your convenience. This may be an easel, a table, the ground, etc. For spray paint, make sure to paint in a well-ventilated area or outside. We also recommend wearing a ventilated mask, as spray paint can be messy and emit fumes.

How to paint multi layer stencils

With registration marks: Registration marks are small symbols in the corners of the stencil design and allow the artist to mark where the stencil needs to be or has been laid. Once the first stencil is placed, the marks can be made by tracing the symbols with a pencil. After painting the first layer, the second layer can be laid on top and the registration marks can be matched up with the pencil marks. To avoid painting over the marks, cover them with a piece of masking or painter's tape once the stencil is placed.

Without registration marks: Place the first stencil and mark where the edges of the plastic end. Most layered stencil sets have layers with the same dimensions, so aligning them won’t be an issue once the size of the first layer is marked down. To avoid painting over the marks, cover them with a piece of masking or painter's tape once the stencil is placed.

Selecting the right stencil is easy. We etch the order of the stencils right onto the plastic, and the same information is on the proof.

Begin by placing the first stencil onto the painting surface. If there are registration marks, use a pencil to trace them. If the stencil is slipping or needs extra support, an adhesive spray can be used on the back of the stencil to secure it before painting.

For more information about what type of paint to use, check out this article about different paint methods.

Spray Paint and Layered Stencils: Just like a standard mylar stencil, we recommend spraying 10-15 inches away from the painting surface. Spray in short bursts, starting on the outside and moving inwards. This method will create the most crisp lines.

Spray paint a stencil from the outside moving inward in short bursts

Once the surface is fully covered, the stencil can be removed. To remove the stencil cleanly and without disrupting the paint, grab one corner of the plastic. Quickly pull the stencil up and back towards you, as if peeling off a sticker.

Before beginning the second layer, wait for the paint to completely dry. Use a fingertip to gently tap the paint to check if it's dry. If there's no transfer, it's ready for a second layer. If a second stencil is put atop wet paint, it'll peel the wet paint away and ruin the design. Hurrying through the process will likely result in more mistakes, so patience is key.

Align the second layer with the penciled in registration marks or outline. Same as before, spray in short bursts 10-15 inches away from the painting surface.

Repeat these steps for each layer.

Liquid Paints and Layered Stencils: Liquid paints include but are not limited to: acrylic paint, house paint, fabric paint, latex paint, tempera paint, etc. For more advice about how to apply each type of paint, check out our article on different methods of applying paint.

Using liquid paints as opposed to spray paints doesn't change the painting process very much. Latex paints, house paints and fabric paints will likely take longer to dry. To speed up the process, use a hair dryer or heat gun on low to dry the paint.

Placing the Cover Piece

Cover Pieces

Depending on the design, a layered stencil set may be sent with a "cover piece," which is a stencil layer that helps paint a clean background. The cover piece is in the shape of the main subject, and will be placed over the subject as the last step. Using this piece will ensure a clean background and cover any mistakes made along the way. It isn’t necessary to use but if appropriate, we'll include one in your order.

Instead of starting a painting with the background, a cover piece allows you to paint the background last. It's also used to clean up any rough edges or mistakes.

Watch how this painting is finished with the help of a cover piece:

How to apply, paint, and remove a stencil cover piece

Note: The cover piece will NOT be shown in the proof.

To use the cover piece, make sure that all the previous layers are dry. This will be the final step in the painting process.

Usually, a cover piece will not align with the edges of the previous stencils. It's not meant to have a border, and will likely be an organic shape that's a silhouette of the main subject. If needed, spray adhesive can be used on the stencil to adhere it to the surface. This will be especially helpful if the surface is vertical. It can also be held down with one hand or with a stick or other pointed object.

To use the cover piece, place the stencil onto the painted surface and align it with the subject. Make sure no edges of the painted design are sticking out from underneath the cover piece before painting. Anything not covered by the cover piece will be painted.

After the cover piece is placed, paint the entire surface around the stencil. If using a canvas, paint all the way to the edges. This is also a good time to cover any marks leftover from tracing registration marks.

Wait for the paint to dry before removing the cover piece. It's best to use a thin object such as an Exacto knife or a fingernail to remove this layer in order to avoid making any marks in the paint.

Cleaning and Storing Multi Layer Mylar Stencils

For more information about what to do with used stencils, refer to this article: Cleaning and Storing Mylar Stencils or our video on the same topic and page.

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