Introduction: How to Make XXL Street Stencils & Get Away WIth It

Picture of How to Make XXL Street Stencils & Get Away WIth It

This instructable will show you how to cover 640 Square feet of advertising with giant block letters in less than 3 hours in high traffic areas - all during the day. By using clear plastic stencils and painting the whole wall black, this technique minimizes the amount of time one would look suspicious, allowing the writer to work during the day on a large scale.

Why Make an Instructable?
In 2000 I did a project to both cover these ads and, with luck, get the neighborhood to think about why ads filled our public spaces as opposed to anything else more productive. I know I haven't exhausted the potential of this technique, and so I pass it on to you to put to use and improve on.

What's wild posting? If you live in an urban area you've probably seen poster sized advertisements on the streets. These wheatpasted "wild postings" * are often illegally placed on construction site barricades, building facades, in alleyways, and on assorted buildings in order for big business to reach urban demographics (like you!). Companies win by putting their products in the face of hip, urban consumers at the expense of alternative uses for public space - such as murals, street art, community boards, or just plain old architecture. (see Banksy's The Joy Of Not Being Sold Anything)

These top-down autocratic messages designed to persuade the public just become a default part of city life. The idea of something more democratic or of community interest in it's place becomes hard to even imagine.

Step 1: Gather Materials

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Neccessary Materials:
1. Large Ruler (36+ inches) or straight stick
2. Measuring tape at least 8 feet long.
3. Level
4. Permanent Marker - Sharpie, Marks-A-Lot, etc.
5. Construction/Agricultural Grade Plastic Sheeting. Clear. 3 or 4mil thickness should work. Usually sold in 10x100 ft rolls at hardware stores. (You can use the left overs from 2003's [biological attack warning.)
6. Manual Staple Gun
7. Roll of twine or string.
8. Black latex housepaint - a few gallons depending on how big your wall is. Buy extra, this stuff is handy.
9. Canvas drop cloth - makes you look more legit.
10. Paint Rollers, and stick
11. Foam Brushes
12. Light colored latex paint (for outlining letters)

Helpful Materials
1. Computer and printer
2. transparency sheets that work in said printer
3. overhead projector (lcd projector would work too)
4. Right angle
5. Painter's costume (overalls, painter's cap, and other paint splattered clothing)
6. Orange cones

Step 2: Scope Out Some Sites

Picture of Scope Out Some Sites

1. Find some sites with wheatpasted ads.
2. Measure out the dimensions and make a note.
- many construction barriers are 8ft high, because they are built with sheets of 4x8 plywood. If you don't have a meauring tape you can count the sheets of plywood and determine the length.
- Poster advertising is usually a uniform size. If you know the width and height of one poster, you can often deduce the width and height of the whole wall by counting out the posters.
3. Take a digital photo if you can.
4. Watch the wall for at least 2 weeks. The posters will be replaced on a semi-regular basis. If you can determine when they cycle through, you can make sure your piece stays up as long as possible. note: I learned this the hard way when one of my larger works was covered with ads after just 7 hours.

You'll want to find more than one location. These locations are often temporary, construction barriers especially. I've planned on doing a wall, only to have it disappear days before I was ready.

Step 3: Plan Your Piece

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Now that you know the dimensions of your wall, you can plan your piece.

The Message
This part is up to you and involves many factors. I offer some of these questions as starting points:
- What do you want to say that thousands of people will read each day?
- How can you involve your audience in the making of the message?
- What message will do the most good in that area?
- Will the message get attention or be ignored?
- Is the message in terms people will understand?
- What are your intended consequences and how can you maximize them?
- What are possible unintended consequences and how can you minimize them?
- Remember that the "fill" of your letters will be the ads, so incorporate that into your concept.

More starting points from the Anti-Advertising Agency website.

how could you turn this space into something interesting and meaningful?

Step 4: Blueprint Your Design

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The Blueprint
I've found that clean, sharp font-like letters get people to pay attention. If the letters don't "look like graffiti" then in the popular mind, perhaps they are supposed to be there? You can at least get people to slow down and read until they figure out what's happening.

So, if you're going to reproduce a font for an 8 foot tall wall, how is that done? How tall and wide should you make each letter? How much space in between each letter?

You have 2 options
1. Create your own font
2. Use a font from your computer

(I'm only going to deal with option 2 in this instructable. Maybe I'll do option 1 in the future.)

Mocking up your design
I'm going to demonstrate this in an open-source alternative to Illustrator called Inkscape. You can use whatever graphicseditor you prefer.

1. Launch Inkscape.
2. Open the Document Properties (Shift+Ctrl+D) and change the rulers from pixels to centimeters (see image)
3. Type your text in whatever font you like. Blocky fonts are easier to recreate large scale and read easier.
3. Change the object property measurement to centimeters (see image).
4. Resize your letters to fit the wall.
- I used a 1 foot : 1 Centimeter ratio, so a 7 foot tall letter (6 inch margin top and bottom on an 8 foot wall) would be 7 centimeters.

Step 5: Scale Up Your Letters

Picture of Scale Up Your Letters

I have scaled up my letters using 2 methods. Using an overhead projector, and using math and a level.

Overhead Projector method
1. Print your letters out on transparency sheets.*
2. Project the letters against a wall with an overhead projector.
3. Hang the plastic sheeting against the wall where the projection lands.
4. Trace your letters with a permanent marker.
*Depending on the projector, you might need to print your original larger on the transparency in order for the letters to project 7 feet tall.

Math and Level method
1. Since you printed your letters to scale (1cm=1ft) you can draw a 1x1cm grid over the letters and use that as a guide for hand drawing your letters onto the plastic.
2. Plot key intersection points onto the plastic.
3. Use the level as a straight edge and to ensure you are drawing at right angles.
4. Note that "round" letters like S, O, C, Q, etc extend slightly above and below the "square" letters.
5. Don't worry if you are off by an inch or two, but try to be as exact as you reasonably can.

Cut out the letters.
On each plastic letter, note in permanent marker what letter it is and how far to space the next letter. Write the same note in several places on the plastic. When you're on the street, it's easier to find your notes than to roll out each 7 ft letter and see what it is.

Step 6: Overview of Painting Process

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Gather up your materials and be sure to your drawings and a printout to refer to on site.

See the pictures for an overview of how it all works.

Step 7: Hanging Your Stencils

Picture of Hanging Your Stencils

Run a line of twine along the top or bottom margin of your letters. This twine will serve as a guide to where to hang your stencils. In the case of this example, 6 from the bottom edge.

Check the notes you wrote on your stencils and hang the first letter using your staple gun. Remember your left and right margins. The level can come in handy as a guide, if your ground and walls are also level...

Step 8: Paint the Whole Wall Black & Pull Your Stencils.

Picture of Paint the Whole Wall Black & Pull Your Stencils.

1. Get your black paint, your rollers, and your drop cloth, and systematically paint the whole wall black. Cover your clear stencils too so the whole wall is black.

If anyone asks who you are or what your doing, say something like "just cleaning up" or "giving this wall a fresh coat".

2. Hang out and let the paint dry. Maybe grab some coffee or a snack. Get your hi-light color and foam brushes ready.

3. When the paint is dry, pull the stencils down and pack them up. Immediately start work on your outlines. If you have 2 people it goes pretty fast. If you hold the brush correctly, you can get a fairly uniform line weight.

That's it. Take pictures and send them here:
the Anti-Advertising Agency



Sadsmoka (author)2016-05-10

Man, I've been searchin for this instruction for 3 years and found it today. Man, thank you, you are the kindest person in the Internet.

Sadsmoka (author)2016-05-10

Man, I've been searchin for this instruction for 3 years and found it today. Man, thank you, you are the kindest person in the Internet.

Advar (author)2013-11-18

Applause is in order for you. *much clapping* I can't think of much more poetry than using adversments against themselves.

KINGDEADBEAT (author)2007-11-20

If you wanted to be a little ninja about it, you could even wear a dust mask(hide identity), and maybe some pepper spray in your pocket if things get ugly, lol

jason-2590 (author)KINGDEADBEAT2008-05-07

and maybe some pepper spray in your pocket if things get ugly, lol

ye cuz the spray paint in your hand wont workl ike pepper spray, they wouldn't see sh!t if you sprayed

sole (author)jason-25902011-02-21

You don't use spray paint, you use wall paint and a roller, looks more legit and is easier with such a large surface where you don't have to worry about anything but covering everything up.

skip2mylou (author)2007-09-07

definitely a ROCKIN idea!!! much respect to the author. just a question about removing the painted over stencils... when u take em off the wall, do u just rip em off from top to bottom? do they come off pretty much intact? would u suggest minimal staple-age so as to minimize the possibility of the stencils getting caught in the staples while u try to rip it off that wall, or is that not really a concern?

slambert (author)skip2mylou2007-09-07

I just gave a tug and they come off. I was more concerned with getting out of there quickly. If you want to recycle 'em, you can put packing tape over the tears in the plastic when you get home. The thicker construction grade plastic is durable enough.

Ian01 (author)slambert2009-07-19

But they wouldn't be clear anymore.

dfc849 (author)Ian012010-05-11

That's a good point. Reusing them would be a little more obvious. 

Lentamentalisk (author)2010-05-09

 Long dead instructible, but it recently got featured, so I don't feel so bad about kicking it up.
Another form of plausible deniability for the painter, is to paint it and leave. Then, have some of your friends come by and rip the letters off. They "don't know who painted it" and there is most certainly nothing illegal about removing illegally posted things from a wall.

mista.v (author)2010-05-09

Two questions:

If the wall is brick, staples or not? I guess staples might work in older brick, but should I try roofing nails or just tape?

How 'official' does this have to look? Pretty much will I get questioned for doing this being a teenager and not appearing to be a professional painter?

luvit (author)2010-03-09

 i was attempting to do this to a railroad box car. epic fail..  :(

losinghismind (author)2009-10-27

keep up the good work man

thatkidej (author)2007-07-22

I love this idea, it's pretty awesome what you're doing =]

Is there a way to make large adhesive letters, and roll them on like wallpaper?

Or cutting letters out of wallpaper, and rolling them on for the same effect?

Just a thought!

Subvert (author)thatkidej2007-09-02

The wallpaper idea would leave you exposed for longer while obviously doing something "wrong". The part where you're just painting solid black while in disguise is a lot less noticeable than slowly spelling out a stirring message one letter at a time.

thatkidej (author)Subvert2007-09-02

Both of them would take MUCH less time, I don't see how you could think differently. Especially my second idea.

Subvert (author)thatkidej2007-09-04

Well, take the example in the instructable. ADVERTISING

So above, you're spending a couple of hours looking like a painter "cleaning up", and then at the very end it's... rip,rip,rip,rip,...etc, and a minute after the suspicious activity, you've got your message delivered, time to take pictures and go home.

With adhesive letters, I see it as more like...
Get your setup ready, and then
get your second letter ready, maybe peel off an adhesive end, or have one person hold it while someone else pastes up the wallpaper. (Maybe staples + paste would be best here, then you've got only one person).
get ready for third letter...
get ready for fourth letter while passersby wonder what's up...

You see where I'm going with this. I'm just thinking about the duration of time when you're exposed and looking especially suspicious. With your version, your net time is significantly reduced, but your overall suspiciously exposed time is moderately to significantly increased.

thatkidej (author)Subvert2007-09-04

I understand what you mean. The second idea is the most time efficient of all, however. You'd look suspicious, but it'd take a minute or so in total to roll on an entire banner. The first idea is cutting actual letters out to roll them on, the second is rolling the outline of the letters on, so it'd have more of a masking effect like the instructable produces.

thatkidej (author)thatkidej2007-09-04

In other words, the first idea: faster, but more suspicious. Second idea: fastest, very suspicious, but you'd be gone before anyone could say anything.

Subvert (author)thatkidej2007-09-04

Ah, so I wasn't following everything exactly. Really cool idea. It sounds like you'd need to work out how to keep all the outlines getting tangled up, is the only minor weakness I can spot.

Ian01 (author)Subvert2009-07-19

You could put a black sheet on the front before rolling it up. Then unroll on the wall and peel off the black sheet once it's up. Very fast and un-suspicious until you're ready to leave.

thatkidej (author)Ian012009-07-19

it's been years since I read this thing, totally brought this back from the dead. but I have new input! I learned how to use a vinyl cutter yesterday, and they are awesome! so my latest idea is as follows: make a large decal with a vinyl cutter, and apply it to the wall of your choosing! All preparation is done in private, and applying a decal takes less than thirty seconds.

Maxaxle (author)thatkidej2007-08-04

hmmmmmm...that's a pretty good idea!

slambert (author)thatkidej2007-07-24

I like that idea. That is why I posted this here. Please, build on it, change it, use it however you'd like...

threadbare (author)2009-07-16

Oh, This idea is fantastic and thought provoking. I can't wait to share it with people here locally.

beauwalker23 (author)2009-04-23

great instructible. but lets say i want to something a little more "banksy ' life silhouettes of people. or faces. how would i do that? any ideas? you do anything else big?

godfreyandthandi (author)2009-01-29

great bro, thx

temp (author)2008-10-15

Ha ha by the time you took the second picture in the last step, someone put something over the "r" lol

slambert (author)temp2008-10-15

no actually, I left the sign for the construction company out of politeness because it had their license number on it.

Rossiroller (author)2008-07-02

Its scary how many privileges you can get just by wearing a uniform or acting like you belong there. I think there was a streaker a little while back at a football game who got all the way down to the field without being questioned just because he wore a referee's uniform.

josh (author)2008-03-22

there is a self adhesive clear plastic that many automotive and house painters use. It comes on a roll and can be bought at most paint supply stores. it is not very tacky, and it used mostly for masking windows. I have used it numerous times and it sticks quite well to most surfaces. if one was able to cut out the letters in advance they would go up in a flash. They also would keep paint from running behind the stencil. this works great for making designs on walls in bedrooms.

clamoring (author)2008-02-13

What an eloquent way to express what seems to be an opinion most of us hold but don't know how to implement. +1.

unspecified (author)2008-01-18

This is out of control! Looks great too.

killerjackalope (author)2008-01-06

I really enjoy this idea, it's the kind of thing I will do when I find my overalls and go to the printers next (had an idea similar to this involving a clear picture stencil at 8'x4' with whatever colour of paint you like, put it up at the end of the wall and start painting the wall take a 'tea break' pull it down and be amused...

soustar (author)2007-11-13

such a great idea!! I really want to do that... another good costume idea that I got from this site is to grab a clip board and a hard hat, and any old name tag, and you can pretty much go anywhere in the world without any one questioning you...

_soapy_ (author)2007-10-25

Great idea!

The use of the clear lettering is the touch of genius here, as otherwise you'd be effectively painting a target on your own back!

Now, where's MexicoMan to compare this to genocide?

mattface (author)2007-10-22

That is fantastic. I'm going to be on the look out for poster-ed walls now!

sex (author)2007-10-18

-_- interesting , nice result -_-

i prefere to adbust illegal ads with the paintbrush and the cutter .
Around 600 000 A1 ( 90 x 60cm) posters in 12 years

ArtisticBabe (author)2007-10-05

Do you think that if you told a police officer that you were "Just cleaning up" he'd believe it? :)

slambert (author)ArtisticBabe2007-10-05

probably not, but the point is to set up a scenario where there is no reason for the officer to stop - to minimize any suspicion.

ArtisticBabe (author)slambert2007-10-05

Right, well heres a pat on the back for doing something worthwhile. :) Very cool

Trebor1503 (author)2007-08-28

I like the idea, even though I live in an area this is not an issue. One minor change to your idea... Paint the highlight color AROUND the stencil before you take it off... that way people will really not know what youare doing until you are almost done. Might buy you an extra 15-20 minutes of calm before the final rush to get out of dodge.

Dimitrios (author)2007-08-26

Very nice work man! I love it! You must be busy for a while.. No problems with wind blowing your stencil away while stapling them? What about spacing your letters and having them perfectly vertical?

slambert (author)Dimitrios2007-08-27

no problems with the wind, but maybe it wasn't that windy. Either way, you just push it down and staple it. Spacing the letters I talk about in one of the earlier steps. If you have everything measured out and keep your guide sheet nearby, it's easy to keep the letters vertical. You also have the horizontal guide line at the bottom that will keep the wider letters vertical as well. Hope this makes sense...

Jando (author)2007-08-27

I love this instructable and I think that the purpose behind it is great! It's good to know that some individuals are trying to get the masses to think. Great work!

AbiB (author)2007-08-14 kwll idea!

yourmominavolvo (author)2007-08-09

I LIKE this! The idea, the execution, the philosophy behind it...Oh and BTW F Mohegan Sun. FUckin casinos...grrrrr...

altomic (author)2007-08-09

very cool idea.

pixelhustler (author)2007-08-06

Nice work, I love the final product... I would have approached it differently though. It would have been nice to see a more elaborate stencil for all that effort. You could use chalk on a string to measure the width of your letters and such to make an outline that kept its symmetry and simply paint around the outline. Still... the end result is beautiful.

About This Instructable



Bio: Eyebeam OpenLab Research and Development Fellow 2006-2007, Eyebeam Senior Fellow 2007-20010 You probably have seen his work already and don't know it. Check the ...
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