Introduction: Multi-Layer 8-bit Stencils

Picture of Multi-Layer 8-bit Stencils

Love the old 8-bit video game characters and want to put them on stuff around you like your dresser, wall, or sleepy dog? Then make a stencil for it! It's a great way to try out multi-layer stencils. You can go for a clean look or get a little messier for a distressed look like above.

Have a character in mind? Excellent. Here's how to do it.

Step 1: Find a Character

Picture of Find a Character

8-bit characters are great because they're blocky and don't use too many colors. Super Mario and Link only use three colors and Megaman is still reasonable with five.

So just go on a search for images. Google is your friend here. That's how I found this image for the wizard from Final Fantasy.

Step 2: Outlines

Picture of Outlines

Now you will need to look at the image and decide how you will paint it in a series of layers. This image only has 4 colors, but it needs 5 layers. The black will be the base coat and then there will need to be another black layer on top top for the shadows of the robe.

For either method below, start a new file that is a printable size. I used 10" x 8"

I used Illustrator to trace the outlines with Live Trace. That process goes like this:
 - Drop image into Illustrator
 - Select Live Trace/Color 6
 - Expand the trace
 - Duplicate the layer as many times as layers you will need.
 - On each layer, delete everything except for the color you want
 - Convert all of the shapes to a black stroke with a white fill

For Photoshop or GIMP, you can do this:
 - Make new layers for each stencil layer
 - Trace the outlines of the colors for each layer

Step 3: Add Registration Marks

Picture of Add Registration Marks

Registration marks are the key to making a multi-layer stencil. These let you easily align the different layers when you're painting.

To do this just add a new layer on top and create two triangles in it. One on either side of the character. The farther away they are, the more accurate they are.

Step 4: Print Each Layer and Cut

Picture of Print Each Layer and Cut

OK, time to get ready for the real world.
 - Hide everything but the registration layer and the top color outline and print it out.
 - Hide the top color outline, show the next color outline, and print it out.
 - Repeat until you have all of the layers printed.

Now take out a razor and cut out all of the black lines. Fortunately, they're all straight so it's easy if a bit tedious.

Attached is the PDF for the wizard here.

Step 5: Prep the Board With Paint and Wax

Picture of Prep the Board With Paint and Wax

If you want to just do a regular stencil, you can skip this step. The goal here is to prep the wooden surface so that it can be easily "distressed" later.

 - Paint the board with a coat of brown paint
 - Rub the surface with wax. I used a block of beeswax, but I've heard crayons work, too.
 - Paint the board with a coat of off-white paint

Step 6: Registration Tape

Picture of Registration Tape

Now we'll be adding registration marks, but don't want those marks to stick around. So we'll be using some painter's tape to help out.

 - Place stencil on board
 - Put small pieces of painter's tape under the registration marks
 - Take a black pen and outline the registration marks onto the painter's tape

Presto! You now have two registration marks that will guide your painting and won't leave a mark.

Step 7: Paint, Paint, Paint

Picture of Paint, Paint, Paint

For each of your layers, the rest is easy. Just place the stencil on the board so that the registration marks and holes line up and paint. Let that layer dry and do the next.

Want to put your character more places? Do the whole thing again!

Want a grungier look? Add some splats and drips for good measure.

That covers the painting. For distressing there's one last step...

Step 8: Roughen It Up

Picture of Roughen It Up

Take some very rough sandpaper, I used 40 grit, and rough up areas where you want the paint to flake off. The places where the paint is on top of wax will have a weaker connection and come off easier. You can only subtract here so be careful not to go too far. Roughen the piece up, look at the whole thing for a bit, and then do more if you want.

That's it!


flammaefata (author)2015-03-29

Saw this on 9gag and it looks so similar to yours:

flammaefata (author)2012-07-29

Thanks so much for your Instructable! It's the first one I've done and I'm very proud with how it came out :D

I got scraps of wood (the type you use in cupboards that's just chipboard painted over) and sanded them down a bit for the paint to stick. I used cheap-ish acrylic paint. I didn't do the extra distressing/wear steps like you did though. I got pics of Super Mario Bros 3 and went through the time-consuming effort of drawing 1 cm grids with pencil on paper - next time I'll go buy grid paper! I had a lot of islands in most of the pics but mostly just aligned them correctly or left connecting pieces to be able to work with them. Your painter's tape alignment tip was very helpful.

All in all it took quite a long time - partly due to my perfectionism, but I'm sure next time will be quicker. I'm soooo happy and proud with the result though! As is my boyfriend for who this was a birthday present :)

Wow, you DREW all the grids? That's intense, but great results!

Yeah, intense/stupid :D The turtle was the most difficult as the boards I had were just a tad too small, so I had to draw its grids at 0.7 x 0.7 cm!

aoag516 (author)2011-09-03

how are you applying the paint? brush, spray?

fungus amungus (author)aoag5162011-09-06

This was with a brush, but spraypaint would be fine as well.

aoag516 (author)2011-09-04

I just finished mine, made a version using samus from metroid. it looks pretty badass. Thanks for the instructable.

shadow wave rider (author)2011-07-30

awesome. 5 stars

ErugoPurakushi (author)2011-03-21

Aww, how cute he can be <3

husamwadi (author)ErugoPurakushi2011-05-28

Cute? this dude could blow a hole in you if u dont watch out :P

De Luca (author)2011-03-31

reminds me of when a pokemon evolves....

Timotheus (author)2011-03-30

Bought some paint th is morning to make one of these (I'm doing yoyo kirby), but I didn't have enough for beeswax after buying paint (only had $20)

So I'm going to give it a go with crayons and let you know how it turns out.

kewpiedoll99 (author)2011-03-20

What kind of paint did you use? If acrylic, how does the white adhere *at all* to the wax layer? Also, how did you get the runny drip effects coming off the bottom of your figure?

It was all acrylic paint. It adhered just fine.

The runny drip effects I made by slightly watering down some black acrylic paint and loading it up into a plastic syringe (made for baby medicine).

Cool! Forgot to mention, it's a great instructable. Thanks!

sblank (author)2011-03-20

you can cut it into acetate or plastic sheets and use a spray adhesive for even cleaner lines.

fungus amungus (author)sblank2011-03-20

Acetate would be great if you want to do multiple copies. A spray adhesive would've helped as well, but with a stencil brush it's not necessary. My yellows got a little gloppy because I was in a rush.

sblank (author)fungus amungus2011-03-21

oh don't get me wrong, its fantastic, i certainly like the look. just posted this if anybody needed it.

mg0930mg (author)2011-03-19

I just made one for the mushroom from Super Mario Bros, in photoshop. It was very easy. I'm going to paint it tomorrow, hopefully.

Great Job, Fungus.

fungus amungus (author)mg0930mg2011-03-20

Post a pic!

jmurray-2 (author)2011-03-20

Awww yeah. I am moving in April and will be looking for decorating ideas. You rock! =D

sblank (author)2011-03-20

0_0. You read my mind, i was doing this in my room

anres321 (author)2011-03-20

haha this is the same as  "just cant get enough - black eyed peas" :D 5*

prosper58 (author)2011-03-19

This is my door.

ilpug (author)2011-03-17

great street art idea. I approve. Could you give me a little more information about Live Trace? can i download it freely?

fungus amungus (author)ilpug2011-03-17

Glad you like it. :)

Live Trace is a function within Adobe Illustrator so it's not free. You should be able to do a similar technique as I described with GIMP or Inkscape.

A super low-tech way to go would be to just print out a copy for each layer and cut a stencil out of each one for each color.

For street art you could just make a print out as sueman2 said, but I really prefer the look of a painted piece. It has a much better quality to it. Then you could wheatpaste it somewhere.

ilpug (author)fungus amungus2011-03-19

True, you could achieve maximum installations with paste-ups., but i like the painted ones. It reminds me a bit of the art done by Space Invader.

fungus amungus (author)ilpug2011-03-19

I love Space invader! Was in Paris a couple years ago and it was a treat to see his pieces all over.

That's kind of a funny comparison as I believe that he puts his pieces together off-site and then glues them in place all at once.

I do hear you though. A multi-layer stencil done on site is much more impressive and interesting. That way you can put it anywhere.

ilpug (author)fungus amungus2011-03-19

this gives me ideas. i must go make some of these... im thinking along the lines of Mario Mushrooms. Thanks for the instructable, very well done. then again, you are very experienced at them :P

sueman2 (author)ilpug2011-03-17

for street art, just print off the character and using glue/clear sealer (get runny stuff that is clear) and a paint brush stick it to a wall.

batonas (author)2011-03-18

I see you like old 2d games like me, you should try cave story if you havent, its my personal favorite, I want more of that stuff but there is nothing as good as it.
I am shure you wold paint som of the characters from the game after finishing it
P.S. its free.

fungus amungus (author)batonas2011-03-18

I played a ton of them back in the day, but not so interested in them now. My gaming has dropped down to just a couple games a year now so it's pretty rare. Many other things are taking up my time these days.

I still remember late-night gaming sessions with friends, though. Was a lot of fun.

AlternateLives (author)2011-03-17


( )

Wow, whole other adventures for those guys.

It gets really funny! Continue reading!

seamster (author)2011-03-17

Looks good. I like the trick with the wax... I'd never heard of that before.

fungus amungus (author)seamster2011-03-17

I used it for another piece that I gave my wife as a present. Instructions I read said to lay down some paper towels and iron it. In theory the wax would melt and stick to the paper towel. The reality was a hot mess. Maybe I was doing it wrong.

After much frustration I found someone else who described this technique. Much easier.

Tomcat94 (author)2011-03-17

This is beyond amazing.

splazem (author)2011-03-16

This is awesome! I gotta do it. Pac-man and the ghosts would look cool...

Ninzerbean (author)2011-03-16

What exactly does the beeswax do - is to help in the distressing? Does it not make the paint hard to stick on to? Great visual on the registration marks, so easy to follow how that works.

Beeswax is for the distressing. It makes it so the paint on top of the wax isn't as strongly adhered so when you rub it it will flake off easier.

About This Instructable




Bio: I like to make things for the internets. I also sell a pretty cool calendar at You'll like it.
More by fungus amungus:3D Printed US Population MapLight Painting With an IPhoneSuper Bright RGB LED Bike Wheels
Add instructable to: