I used a laser cutter to create my stencil. Now I know laser cutters don't grow on trees, but there's a couple of ways to snag some cutter real estate.
1. Get your stencil custom cut. There are a bunch of custom laser cutting businesses out there that aren't too pricey. Ponoko is a nice one. Their interface looks pretty user-friendly (and I hear there are Ponoko prize packs for some of the Instructables contests!) click here
for pintro to 2D laser cut file-making.
2. Phone a friend! Know anyone who works as an engineer, designer, architect or any other kind of maker? Ask if they have access to a laser cutter. I find that people usually are willing to cut something for you, as long as you repay them in truffles
3. Look up your local maker space
. A laser cutter could be right under your nose!
4. If all else fails, grab an x-acto blade and some cardstock and cut your stencil by hand.
Now if you are running the laser cutter yourself and do not have a website that converts your files, you'll probably be using CorelDraw. CorelDraw isn't the most friendly interface, but after a little nail-biting, teeth-clenching, head-shaking while, you'll probably end up with something useful. Try out the program and don't doubt your intuition. Don't forget to re-attach your islands if you are cutting letters or an intricate design!
Choosing materials is also important. I chose a 1/16 " acrylic sheet. It worked really well for the first batch of labels, but since I was painting outdoors and had no running water, the stencil got clogged very quickly. If you have some cardstock, try cutting a whole bunch of the same stencil, and using a new one if it gets too full of paint.
One last tip if you are painting on ribbon: cut some little slots on either end of your stencil paper to slide the ribbon through. This will help you center your design.
Once your piece is cut, careful about separating the scrap pieces, it's easy to pull out the islands!