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Stenciling on Paper: Basics

Professional scrapbook artist, paper crafter, and author, I have taught people how to make family memories into legacies for 20 years.

Stenciling Basics

Craft stenciling is the art by applying ink, paint, or another medium to create an image or a pattern. It creates a pattern or image by only allowing some of the medium to reach the paper.

They are generally made from plastic and brass. Brass stencils have two uses—both as a stencil and an embossing plate.

But while those are the most popular materials, they can also be made from cardstock or paper. These types of stencils can only be used for one or two uses. However, if you use a good, heavy cardstock and think a little outside the box, you will find more than your share of stencils from your electronic cutting machine.

Every negative image (the part that's left over after a paper cut) can be a stencil. Why throw paper away after only one use? You could even consider spraying both sides of the paper stencil with an acrylic sealer and get even more use from it. Use pieces of scrap paper around an area where you may be spraying to keep the spray from getting into another area. This is especially helpful when working on scrapbook pages.

There are even stencil blanks that allow you to create your own stencils. They can be anywhere from a 12" x 12" square, to only 1 or 2-inch squares.

It can be used in scrapbooking, journaling, greeting cards, and more. While there are lots of surfaces that stencils can be applied to, our focus is going to be limited to stenciling on paper

Two Kinds of Stenciling:

  • Wet Stenciling: Any kind of stenciling where you use a wet medium like paint, inks, and gesso.
  • Dry Stenciling: Stenciling using things like pens, markers, pastels, etc.

Of course, you can do stenciling on walls and bigger projects. But stencils for most crafters means that we are using them for cards, art journals, and scrapbook pages. They can provide magnificent backgrounds, colorful definition and even can help us journal better. Their uses are only limited by our imagination.

A stencil can be a simple design like this zennia  or a more complicated back ground design

A stencil can be a simple design like this zennia or a more complicated back ground design

Media For Stenciling

There are multiple different mediums that you can use when you stencil. Remember, that when you stencil you need a sturdy base because you are adding weight to the paper. You want to use at least 90 lb paper to handle the media that you choose.

One thing you need to think about when using these mediums is that many of them dry fast on the stencil. So you will need to wipe them off with a baby wipe, immerse them is soapy water or wash them right away with soap and water.


Inks are one of the most common media used to create stencils for cards. You can use almost any ink that you may have to create your stencils. You can even mix different inks. You are only limited by your own creative imagination.

Alcohol Markers

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Yes, you can use your alcohol markers on stencils. I would use a product called pixie spray to make sure that the stencil is completely flush to the paper so that you do not get any bleeding.

Distress Inks And Oxide Distress Inks

These inks work well with stencils. The oxide inks have a more chalky appearance. Blending tools will help you blend these inks when you want to transition colors.

You can also place some ink on a craft mat, spray them with some water, and then use the wet ink on your stencils. Because these inks are compatible with water they give a vibrant color.


Yes, you can use watercolors with stencils. Make sure that the stencil is firmly on the paper so that you do not get any leaks of color where you don't want it to be. Try using watercolor pens as you can get more control over where the watercolors go

Modeling Paste

This is a thick paste-like substance that would remind you of plaster. While it is thick, it does come in a lightweight version that is somewhat more flexible. It is white, but you could color it.

Embossing Paste

One of my favorite mediums to use when stenciling is embossing paste. The metallics in this version are stunning no matter where you use them.

Acrylic Paint

I have used acrylic paint to stencil on my papercraft projects. I really enjoy using these paints on junk journals and art journals. They create an instant background in these projects. The paint dries fast and you can get some good color in a short time.

Stencil Design With Embossing Paste

Embossing paste is a medium that anyone can stencil with. It gives you a bright metallic color sesign

Embossing paste is a medium that anyone can stencil with. It gives you a bright metallic color sesign

Basic Stenciling Techniques

There are a few basic techniques to help you get started. These techniques apply to all paper projects.

  1. Opaque: As the word implies, to stencil opaquely is to create a solid color transfer with no highlighting or shading. This would be applying ink evenly over the entire surface.
  2. Highligting/Shading: To blend more than one color on a design element would be an example of a highlighted or shaded stencil design. Usually the lighter color is stenciled first adding a darker color over the lighter color where deeper values are desired. You can also stencil with only one color and create highlights and shading.
  3. Scatter: For a completely different type of stencil technique, use a stencil as a mask, tape in place then flyspeck or splatter paint using a splattering tool, a stencil brush, or an old toothbrush loaded with ink. Be sure to cover areas not to be splatter inked.
  4. Dotted: Similar to flyspeck/splatter inking, dot work can be achieved using a stencil too. Ink dots within the stencil opening, overlapping the dot work closer to the stencil edges to define the stencil design.
Stenciled card made with blue ink and foam flowers

Stenciled card made with blue ink and foam flowers

Stenciling Tools

You will need just a few items to get started with paper stenciling. Some of these may already be in your craft room.

  • Brushes: These brushes are made for stenciling. Stencil brushes are usually round and made of good natural bristles; they are firm, yet flexible (or allow movement) and spring back to their original shape They are different sizes and shapes. I have found that some of my cosmetic brushes work very well. (Remember to clean all the make up off from them). Experiment to see what gives you the best results. Stencil brushes are manufactured in a wide variety of sizes to match the project Stencil brush handles will vary in size, weight and length. Experiment and find the one that is perfect for your stenciling needs.
  • Daubers: These are small dowels with small round sponges at the end of them. They usually come in two sizes. !/4" and 5/8". The dauber gives more of an even coverage to your stenciled image. They are very useful for small projects.
  • Sponges: Sea sponges, household sponges, and cosmetic sponges give very unique looks to your projects. Try experimenting with cosmetic sponges that are dense, household cellulose sponges, and sea sponges that are very loose and contain many open cells. Each type of sponge will produce a slightly different effect.
  • Brayer or Roller: These help to lay medium over a large area. The key is to “off-load” the paint applied to the brayer on a piece of scrap paper. You also want to have the stencil securely placed against the surface to reduce paint “run under.”
  • Palette Knife: It is really fun the ice over a piece of paper with some paint or embossing paste. Palette knives come in plastic and metal, Load the palette knife with thick paste or texture paint then “ice” over the stencil opening being careful not to over stroke. Carefully lift the stencil to reveal a raised design. Allow to dry.
  • Low-Tack Tape: Anything like painters tape, washi tape, or other low tack tape is used to hold the stencil in place
  • Stencil Adhesives: To hold a stencil in place while in use, some crafters use stencil adhesives which are manufactured as a spray or brush on. Stencil adhesives are applied to the backside of the stencil and then allowed to dry tacky. Once applied to the stencil surface, the stencil will remain in place and not shift. Refer to the manufacturer’s label as some adhesives can be cleaned from the back of the stencil while others are more permanent.
Simple ink stamped stencil is so very elegant

Simple ink stamped stencil is so very elegant

Simple Stenciling the Easy Way

To get a really lovely stenciled card, you just need a few tools, a stencil, and some cardstock.

What You Need:

  • Cardstock or a greeting card shape
  • Stencil
  • Blending brush or round applicator pad
  • Ink color of your choice
  • Glass Mat
  • Painters tape or low tack washi tape


  1. Tape the stencil to the card or cardstock with the low tack tape on all sides.
  2. Apply ink to the glass mat.
  3. Pick up the ink with the blending brush.
  4. Apply the color to the cardstock through the stencils.
  5. Apply color until you have the blend that you like.
  6. Pick the stencil up by lifting it carefully off the cardstock.
  7. Wash and dry the stencil right away.

Stamp Through a Stencil

If a stencil is large enough, you can actually stamp through it with a very small stamp. It gives even more texture.

  1. Lay the stencil over a piece of card stock.
  2. Tape the stencil down with a piece of low tack tape to keep it in place.
  3. Randomly stamp through the stencil with a stamp that will fit. The stamp should be attached to an acrylic block.
  4. If you would like to, you can outline the stencil in a fine black pen.

Stamping Through a Stencil


Reverse Stenciling

Reverse stenciling is a technique where you actually ink or add paint to the entire stencil. Then you get the image of the stencil with a blank space (negative space) outlined on the image. This technique is great for tags, gift wrap, journals, and scrapbook pages.

Bokeh Stenciling

What You Need:

  • Watercolor paper
  • Paintbrush or watercolor brush
  • Sponge dauber
  • A circle stencils or templates in different sizes
  • Blue painter's tape or low tack washi tape
  • White inkpad
  • Ink pads in the colors you like


  1. Cover your watercolor paper with a brushing of water. Make sure it is wet, but not dripping wet.
  2. Pick up some ink with your brush and start laying down some color.
  3. Keep laying different colors on your paper. Cover the paper.
  4. Allow the paper to dry or use a heat gun to get it dried
  5. Carefully remove your painter's tape.
  6. Place your template or stencil on your sheet.
  7. Pounce a white ink with a sponge dauber. Cover the circles with the white ink. Use a light touch on some and darker on another.
  8. Move your templates around till you get the pattern that you desire.
  9. You can use a pencil to get even smaller circles.
Some stencils come with multiple images/ one theme. You can use each image on it's own  or as a whole background.

Some stencils come with multiple images/ one theme. You can use each image on it's own or as a whole background.

Embossing Powder Stenciling

You can get beautiful results if you use embossing powder with a stencil. This is especially effective when used with kraft cardstock. Place your stencil on a piece of cardstock. Use a Versamark or any embossing ink and apply all over the stencil through to the cardstock. Lift the stencil. Apply the embossing powder and heat.

Spray Ink Stenciling

Spray ink stenciling is easy to do! All you need is a base of paper, cardboard or chipboard, a stencil, and some spray inks.

The first thing to mention is that this is a very messy technique. So you may want to position your base in a large cardboard box or do it outdoors.

Make sure that you adhere your stencil to your base with washi tape or painter's tape

The other thing to remember is that the distance that you spray your ink will change the look of your project.

When you spray closely, you will get ink running underneath the stencil. If you stamp about a foot away, you will get a more precise image.

You can also consider more than one color!

Distress ink with a simple stencil makes a delightful notecard

Distress ink with a simple stencil makes a delightful notecard

Distress Ink Stenciling

Distress Inks are known for their blending properties. They blend seamlessly. Simply cover a piece of white cardstock with the distress inks in the colors of your choice. Make sure to overlap the colors as you work through them. Place the stencil over the cardstock. Make sure that the stencil is as flat as it can be. Adhere its top and bottom with some painter's tape or washi tape. With a blending tool that has water on it, you pounce through the stencil. You have created a very unique background.

Layered Stencils Can Be Used Alone

You can use layered stencils as single units to create simple cards that are beautiful on it's own.

You can use layered stencils as single units to create simple cards that are beautiful on it's own.

Ways to Stencil

  • Circular Motion: Many stenciling purists prefer the “circular motion” technique when the stencil brush is held directly straight up at a 90˚ angle to the surface, and the brush is then moved lightly in a circular movement clockwise then counter-clockwise around the stencil design beginning at the edges of the stencil.
  • Stippling Motion: Another technique often used when stenciling especially when using daubers, sponges, and sometimes with brushes, is a stippling or dabbing up and down.
  • Pouncing Method:Gently “pounce” stencil brush in a straight up and down motion working from the outer edges of stencil cut out shape working towards the center.You can use a mask to prevent another color from mixing with the color you are using.If you are using multiple colors of ink, allow one color to dry before adding another.

Stenciling With Modeling Paste

Using modeling paste gives more dimension to your stenciled images. Instead of being flat, they now have some texture.

For this technique, you will need some modeling paste, a palette knife, an old credit card, and some strong cardstock, chipboard or cardboard.

Place the stencil on top of your base ( the cardboard, paper or whatever) Secure it with some washi tape. Using the palette knife spread some modeling paste on top of the stencil. Spread it evenly across the top of the stencil. Then remove any extra so that the paste is even with the stencil. Carefully remove the stencil by lifting it straight up. Allow to dry.

Stenciling With Glitter

This technique is so easy and so much fun. Once you get started, you will want to keep going!

What You'll Need:

  • Stencils
  • Very fine glitter
  • Double-sided adhesive sheet
  • Soft paint brush


  1. Place the double-sided adhesive sheet on a craft mat or a 12" by 12" piece of paper.
  2. Remove the top sheet covering the adhesive sheet.
  3. Place the stencil on top of the adhesive sheet.
  4. Secure it with washi tape or a low tack tape.
  5. Sprinkle the very fine glitter on top of the stencil, covering it entirely.
  6. Burnish the glitter (rub it in with your fingers).
  7. Remove any excess off the top of the stencil with a soft paintbrush.
  8. Remove the stencil, carefully lifting it up.
  9. Tap the back of the adhesive sheet to remove any excess.
Paint can be used effectively to create a stunning greeting card

Paint can be used effectively to create a stunning greeting card

Stenciling On Paper With Paint

Yes, you can stencil on paper with acrylic craft paint ! It is fun and you should give it a try. Just a few things to think about with using this medium

  • Use a craft mat or some parchment paper to keep the paint off your work surface.
  • You need to use heavy paper to take the weight of the paint.
  • Tape both the paper and the stencil on top down with low tack tape.
  • Use a stippling brush to pounce the paint onto the stencil.
  • Before you add the paint to the project pounce it on a piece of scrap paper to get any excess paint off.
  • Go lightly with the paint.
  • Hold your stippling brush perpendicular to the paper when pouncing. That way you will minimize bleeding.

Making Your Own Stencils

If you don't have many stencils in your stash, you can make your own stencils in a matter of minutes.

Glue Gun Stencils

This technique could not be easier! You lay a silicone craft mat on your work surface. Allow your glue gun to heat. When it is good and hot, start making you shapes attached to each other. Think about circles, hearts, spider webs, clouds. Let your imagination go wild. Allow to cool, and you have created stencils of your own imagination.

Stencils From Your Electronic or Manual Cuts

If you do any electronic cutting, you know that you have a leftover paper from your cut. This paper has a shape that can be considered a stencil. You can use the leftovers several times before getting rid of them.

You can actually make your own stencils with a material called stencil vinyl. This material creates a stencil that can be reused. It has an adhesive backing and comes in rolls and sheets

Organizing Your Stencils

While there are many types of ways to organize your stencils, I would have to say that probably the most popular way would be in a loose-leaf binder type of storage. The pros of that type of system are that the stencils can lay flat and keep from warping.

I keep mine in a scrapbook, but any loose-leaf binder would work as well. Since my largest stencil in 12" by 12", this set up works well for me.

An upright plastic container would work the same way. The point is to keep your stencils from warping.

More Stencil Inspiration

© 2019 Linda F Correa


Linda F Correa (author) from Spring Hill Florida on March 05, 2019:

Thank you for your kind comments. They certainly are appreciated

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on March 05, 2019:

Thanks for writing about this creative craft project. Many of your photos of stenciling projects are beautiful. Pinning this to my crafts board.

Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on March 05, 2019:

Beautiful and creative designs! Impressive to see so many possibilities and it looks like fun for kids and adults alike.

Thanks for sharing this beautifully presented article, with lovely pictures and videos!