Introduction: Stencils With Islands

Picture of Stencils With Islands

When making a stencil the "impossible" trick is to create an island, a blocked out section of the stencil that isn't connected to the side. I wanted to apply an image only once so I made this technique to have easy and clean islands. This works for applying fabric paint. For spraypainting there are other methods that can be used, even reusable ones.

Step 1: Put Together a Design

Picture of Put Together a Design

Digging back into the old-school video games is always good for some easy stencils. It's all right angles with the pixels blown up. Here's a version of one of the alien ships from Space Invaders. The two eyes are some easy islands to deal with, although I've used this technique for smaller and curvier pieces as well. Be sure to use the Find Edges filter so you don't use up as much toner.

Step 2: Print and Get Ready to Cut

Picture of Print and Get Ready to Cut

Since this is being done as a one-off you can use regular printer paper or even reuse a piece of paper from elsewhere. Just as long as you can print on it.

After that, just get out your Xacto knife and get ready to start cutting along the lines.

Step 3: Cut Most of It

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Cut most of the lines, but leave a few lines unfinished. The effect we're going for here is that all these pieces are still together. And where the lines are unfinished, LIGHTLY score them with the blade.

If you look at the second picture, you can see that the eye is now a barely on window flap.

Step 4: Spray It and Stick It

Picture of Spray It and Stick It

Get out some spray mount and get a light layer of the stuff on the back. Or the front since this design can be flipped. Whatever makes you feel happy right now. Wait a minute or two and then stick it down, pressing all around to make sure there's contact.

Step 5: Peel

Picture of Peel

This part's pretty self-explanatory. Peel off the middle chunk so that it becomes a stencil. When you get close to the islands in the design, hold them down with one finger while you carefully peel off the rest with your other hand.

You might get tiny pieces sticking off of the islands like in the third picture here. If that happens just get the Xacto out again and lightly scrape it off.

Step 6: Paint the Sucker

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Get out some fabric paint and a brush and go to work. You know what to do here. Lay it on thick for a solid color or go for a lighter "sketchier" approach like this one.

Step 7: Peel Again

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Now it's time to peel off the stencil. The main part should come off without a problem. As for the islands, use some tweezers to pinch at the side of one and then peel it off. Avoid using some pokey object to shove in from the side to lift it off. You can end up shoving some paint underneath and mess it all up, especially if you did a thicker layer of paint than the thin coat I did here.

Step 8: Finito!

Picture of Finito!

Sit back and relax, knowing that you've done your bit to further solidify an ancient game into the absorbent fabric of pop culture. Heat set if you need to.


autonomouschimp (author)2006-08-09

You can also make "islands" by making your bridges super skinny (2mm or less) and using a roller to heavily apply the fabric paint; it will bleed under skinny bridges. Also works for spray painting. This method is best for producing multiple prints from the same stencil, although the bridges will eventually weaken under many layers of paint.

True, you can make bridges. Those would be necessary if you wanted to use spraypaint and use the stencil multiple times. This technique is aimed at a one-off fabric stencil. If I was going to be making multiple copies on fabric I'd just make a silkscreen. Instead of leaving tiny bridges for spraypaint stencils with the original material, I've found that it's nicer to connect the pieces to the edge with some straightened out paper clips and some tape to hold them down. It's much stronger and even provides a bit more of a gap between the bridge and the target surface for the paint to get in there. It's also lasted me longer in practice.

won't the paperclip show up in the spray though?

If there's even just a couple mm thickness to the stencil it won't be noticeable.

If you make a t-shirt with spraypaint, do you use normal spraypaint or is it made special for fabric/textiles?

PetervG (author)2007-07-16

This is the stencil I will be using.

matthew5384 (author)PetervG2010-01-01

 combine logo from half-life 2

scamp (author)PetervG2008-05-22

but theres no ilands on that sentilce peter

BuffaloNickel (author)2007-12-22

ahooospraypaint... scuze me

mg0930mg (author)BuffaloNickel2009-01-12

Spraypaint washes off easier then fabric paint.

GorillazMiko (author)2008-04-15

It doesn't wash off?

PetervG (author)2007-07-16

The person at my art store said that spray adhesive would ruin it, and that Fresco would work well.

fungus amungus (author)PetervG2007-07-16

Ruin what? The stencil? The fabric?

PetervG (author)fungus amungus2007-07-16

The fabric I think. I wasn't to sure, but I'm using some sticky paper.

fungus amungus (author)PetervG2007-07-16

Oh, the fabric will be fine. Barely any of the glue sticks to it and it washes off anyway.

PetervG (author)2006-07-22

Great! You can also buy some cheap print out and iron on T-Shirt things. They are called ink transfer sheets or somthing like that.

fungus amungus (author)PetervG2006-07-22

True, but a lot of those transfer all of the invisible film as well when you iron them on. They also have a different quality to them on the fabric.

javguerre (author)fungus amungus2006-12-20

yes, but what if you cut the excess film away before ironing on the design?

PetervG (author)javguerre2007-07-14

Yea, I made that T-Shirt like a few months ago. It sucked and started cracking. DONT USE IRON ONS. I think I'll just go buy some paint for $10 and paint on the 2nd shirt I bought.

fungus amungus (author)PetervG2007-07-15

Yeah, iron-ons do suck for long-term use. They're good for experimenting with a design and placement, though. You can make a design on your computer and see it on a shirt in a few minutes. For a shirt you want to keep, get some fabric paint and be sure to heat-set it with an iron if necessary.

HIGHVOLTAGE-Z (author)2007-07-08

i dont know if somebody said this but you can just get sticker paper from walmart. cut out and stick on islands.

That can work, too. I was doing this to easily preserve placement and orientation. It can be a pain in the ass to keep resticking a piece because it's slightly off.

Bad Donut (author)2006-11-27

Instead of a paint brush, use a Squeegee. That way you can get alot more paint on without wasting too much of it.

erfonz (author)Bad Donut2006-12-02

If you use a squeegee on a stencil, a lot of the time that will make it bleed through the shirt and make it look bad.

fungus amungus (author)erfonz2006-12-03

True. Squeegees are great for silkscreens, but they can easily force paint under the stencil or crumple corners on impact.

NuSuKi (author)2006-07-22

Hi, I have a question about step4. What kind of spray did you use for sticking the paper? It's a glue-spray or something? Thanks! PS: Excuse me for my english ;)

fungus amungus (author)NuSuKi2006-07-23

It's spray mount. It's mostly used to apply papers or photos to boards for a presentation. You can look it up under spray mount or spray adhesive or artist adhesive.

Here's one example:

ando (author)fungus amungus2006-07-23

there's an easier way to do that: use reynold's freezer paper. you can print the stencil on the paper-y side and then you iron it on, once you've cut the stencil outline out. it works great! it would probably be harder to do islands with it, though

kuhtams (author)ando2006-10-26

I second this idea. I use freezer paper for all my stencils and it works wonderfully. You can get some serious detail in there and you don't have to worry about the residue that spray adhesives can leave behind on the item that you stencil. To avoid having the island misaligned, you can leave teeny bridges that you peel off after ironing the design in place but before you roll the paint.

fungus amungus (author)kuhtams2006-10-26

Since I made this I've found plenty of uses for freezer paper. It's great stuff and definitely useful for stencils. You also avoid dealing with the fumes, which is a great thing. Never had a problem with residue, though. Still, I have a much easier time printing designs out from my computer with the spray mount technique. Cutting freezer sheets to fit my printer is a pain and often it doesn't work well with the rollers and has gotten jammed. The tiny bridges technique is similar, but then I have to worry about cutting them thin and not breaking them and they'll bend more. After trying out both types of paper I don't feel that either one clearly comes out on top.

fungus amungus (author)ando2006-07-24

I've never tried the freezer paper technique, but I should check it out. After creating a bunch of presentations I had a bunch of spray mount left and have been slowly going through it. For one-off stencils I love that I can quickly cut a stencil out of paper with an Xacto. From what I've seen on freezer paper and islands the technique is to basically set the island pieces down after the main stencil. I wanted a method where I could have a bunch of islands and know that they were all exactly where they were supposed to be.

Bad Donut (author)2006-10-01

Thats awesome

antirem (author)2006-07-22

wouldnt two stencils be easier?

fungus amungus (author)antirem2006-07-23

Not necessarily. If you were going for a thick, solid coat, then that would work out fine here, but I wanted to have brush strokes going through the whole piece. Two stencils would've created a seam or a bit of overlap. Also, this example is very simple, but it can be used for more complicated pieces as well where two stencils would be a huge pain.

sinistlor (author)fungus amungus2006-08-17

I agree, the essence of this lesson was the continuous strokes. Just for kicks, if you did make a solid color one, I think splitting the stencil into these two passes would work well:

GiveMeMyCawwot (author)2006-08-09

this would work with spray enamel too...

radiorental (author)2006-07-22

a different take on roughly the same process, larger scale

That technique works fine if you have a very sturdy surface that can handle a good bit of pressure from a blade. I mostly apply stencils to fabric. But yeah, pretty similar.

About This Instructable




Bio: I like to make things for the internets. I also sell a pretty cool calendar at You'll like it.
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