Picture of Full Color Stencil Art with Halftoning
Make full-color stencil art using a laser cutter. Ideal for large-scale printing on various surfaces.

Buy the stencils on Etsy.
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Step 1: Materials


  • Laser cutter: you could make one for $50, but I had one available.
  • Image processing and plotting software: I used Adobe products and AutoCad, but there are certainly other options.
  • Face mask for respiratory protection


  • Tape: masking tape or painter's tape. The wider the better.
  • Stencil material: I used chipboard; transparencies should work as well.
  • Spraypaint: I used Krylon indoor/outdoor gloss spraypaint, about $3-4 per can at Walmart (I used Black, Raspberry, Global Blue, and Bright Idea).

Step 2: Choose and Separate an Image

Picture of Choose and Separate an Image
Select a subject. I went with Andre the Giant because he's fairly well known from Shepard Fairey's stencil work.

Resize your image:

  • Open the image in Photoshop.
  • Image > Image Size
  • I set "document size" to 800% width/height, at 300 ppi, giving me about 7x9 inches

Then we need to convert it to CMYK, normalize it and brighten it a bit so that when we halftone the circles don't intersect:

  • Image > Mode > CMYK
  • If it asks about Flattening, click "Flatten"
  • Normalize using Image > Adjustments > Auto Level, or do it by hand (recommended)
  • Open Image > Adjustments > Levels and in the minimum output level box enter 128 (this will, effectively, make the image brighter)

Separate the four color channels:

  • Select the "Channels" window (next to "Layers", or select from the "Window" toolbar)
  • Make only the "Cyan" channel visible
  • Select all
  • On the "Layers" window, create a new Layer and paste the channel
  • You should now see just the Cyan channel in black and white, save this as a jpg
  • Do likewise with the three other channels (Magenta, Yellow, and Black)

When you're done, you should have four separate black and white images, one for each channel.

There is probably a faster way to do the separation, or to do it in Illustrator directly. If you know, share the technique in the comments!
ToniRose2 years ago
Nice effect and very clear directions. For those doing hand-cutting, I'd suggest using a line halftone (below). A little easier to cut with a straightedge.
ydoroshenko3 years ago
I think it'd be smart to make it clear that 'face mask' doesn't mean those paper masks you'd see a doctor wearing that anyone can get for cheap, you need a full gasmask (ie 3m) to filter out the paint fumes, the face masks just stop dust.

Also, Krylon is terrible spray, it drips like hell. Go for Montana (either spanish or german, they're both good and cheap).
kl05 years ago
russian "zhopa" flower? )))
kylemcdonald (author)  kl05 years ago
It's hard to say whether it was just some American who thought it would be funny, or if it was a Russian-speaker who loves the absurd...!
I think he/she was referring to the orange/pink flower in the picture above, the text is "Жопа" which is "zhopa" when written in English :)
My nickname last year at school was Andre. I'm skinny but REALLY tall
they do do this for screenprinting. I had the same idea, just no access to a laser cutter and a little too lazy to do it by hand at the time.
ramskip5 years ago
nice technique, this might also work well for screen printing. i'll have to try it out sometime and let you know. thanks, d.
That guy looks like the giant from the movie princess bride...
he is andre the giant played him great movie by the way
Oh. I did not see that. Cool!
violent6 years ago
ммм...)) жопа=)
kylemcdonald (author)  violent6 years ago
Yeah, I guess if you put a flower behind it you can paint pretty much whatever you want :)
kai.h6 years ago
In the printing industry, the order to print colours is dark to light. Printers use translucent ink, so that they show through each other and help the colours to visually mix. Black, Cyan, Magenta, Yellow. Depending on how dense you spray the paint, it may or may not show through the colours underneath. If you're planning to paint thicker layers that will be more opaque then your technique of doing the layer with the most colour first probably makes sense...
camscam kai.h6 years ago
hmm people will overprint the black commonly. In offset lithography on a 2-color press we typically run the cyan and magenta then yellow and black. When the black is overprinted it brings more detail, when its printed first it looks muddy.
i agree with the black overprint. when we have process jobs at work (i'm a textile screenprinter), we print black last, as it makes for a more crisp image. cool instructable, btw.
kai.h nosemeat6 years ago
Very interesting - It completely makes sense as the black adds the depth and definition to the image, so place it down last... With spray paint that's more opaque, it will probably look a lot better this way.
kylemcdonald (author)  kai.h6 years ago
I'm a novice with spraypaint, so I opted for an even and opaque approach over a translucent but uneven one. Perhaps those more skilled than I can follow your insight and spray darkest to lightest, using translucent layers :)
erfonz6 years ago
He really has a posse now...
I gotta admit, something like this was buried back on my to-do list as well. I think I was looking at some licthenstein piece and thinking about stencils.
kylemcdonald (author)  fungus amungus6 years ago
In that case, I'll admit that I'm just going through my to-do list :) Thanks for the feature!
lamedust6 years ago
This was totally one of the projects I had on my "todo with the laser cutter before it got taken away" list. Thanks for showing me it could be done, I actually got hung up because my vector files were of 2mm pixels and the 6 year old laptop was crashing while processing. How long did this take to cut? Also since I don't have a cutter anymore, can you test a raster cut, rather than vector onto Bristol board, a thin cardboard. I figure that might make etching these things faster... You da man, thanks for mentioning my 50$Laser cutter! ; D -bg
kylemcdonald (author)  lamedust6 years ago
Nice :) I've never made any raster cuts -- I doubt I could drive the cutter much faster though. I found the fastest speed I could run at while still cutting all the way through, and it's was something like 30 minutes for yellow (the most dense color). The smallest holes were probably 1-2mm across. When I tested today with transparencies, I got it down it to about 10-15 minutes each. Did the idea just come to you, or can you point to an inspiration?
Well, I play this 2 min game where I get together with someone and list as many uses as possible for a tool till we are exhausted. Once we have the lists we bounce them back and forth, it's like a game and it's pretty fun. I have about 50 laser cutter projects, one of them is my fingernail etching and another is to make those ball bearing mazes out of acrylic. So that halftone idea came from when I rasterbated a design to enlarge and i imagined the holes were big enough to do "fat-tone" stencils.I don't have the laser cutter anymore, do you to collab o some ideas?

kylemcdonald (author)  lamedust6 years ago
Wow, that's a great game -- I'll have to play that with some friends some time. I've got a bunch of projects I'm working on right now that I'd like to concentrate on, but perhaps when there's a long weekend or a break during the semester I'll send you a message and we'll dream up something ridiculous to do with the laser cutter :)
LinuxH4x0r6 years ago
Awesome! I wish I had a laser cutter!