Multilayer color realistic stenciling isn’t all quick and easy. Sure, you can crank one out in an hour, but it takes time and practice to be able to repeat the process and know how to tweak it for each different stencil.

In this instructable, I will attempt to show you your options…from image sources, to differing outputs, and all in between.

Although this is an attempt at a comprehensive stencil tutorial, this is still my methods, my individual knowledge, and my perspective. So, I’m sure that many others will have input and direction that differs. There are many before me that have done a great job with their instructions, and I thought I should give mine.

This is kind of a struggle for me, because I feel like it is perhaps giving away some of my ‘secrets’, well methods, but still ive spent pleanty of time perfecting my technique and giving it up isn’t that easy, but that’s how we all progress isn’t it?

1 don’t be convinced that everything I say is magic, steps will work differently for
different images, the best way to find out is just to try.
2 if you prefer a different method, that’s great, this is for community learning, no one is
saying these are the best or only methods.
3 feel free to let me know how you feel about these techniques, and how they turn out. I
don’t assume to know it all, and would be grateful to learn from you too.

Let the learning begin!

Step 1: the plan

First, decide the image that you want to paint. The possibilities are endless so you may need some direction. For me stencils are location specific, so I have to find the right place before I make the stencils. Perhaps you just want to slap them up everywhere, in that case just decide on your imagery. Once you have a subject in mind, you have multiple options.

1- hand draw an image.
2- Find photographs/images online
3- Take your own photos

If you hand draw your image you have to keep in mind how a line drawing translates to a stencil. If you are new to the process I would suggest just finding an image. With thick lines it’s easy to convert a drawing to a one color line image, but I prefer multi layers.

If you CAN take your own images, DO IT! I know it’s easy to just snag one off the web, but come on don’t be lazy. When making art, and I consider stenciling a form of art, its best to use your own source material. You can take the perfect image and have many to choose from, and never worry about copyrights. Digital cameras are more than easy to come by these days anyway.

If for some reason you cant take your own image, for instance you want to stencil a penguin and there doesn’t happen to be a penguin hanging around your house at the time, use the Internet. I prefer a search like ‘Google Images’. Places like this give you the option to search by image size. Pick ‘large images only’ from the dropdown at the top. This will eliminate the possibility (and probability) of you getting images with a resolution lower than you can use. Sometimes you can get away with the ‘medium images’ and even small, but I would search the large first.
Fantastic work, very impressive.
Thanks - this is probably the best guide to the 'photoshop' process I've read. - The indexing of the colour was a new idea on me and has proved very useful with a tricky stencil I've been working on - thanks for sharing :-)
Bansky...is that you? thanks for the tips.
dude i have tried for ages to get this kind of stuff to work thanks
the same thing can be done with more control in illustrator using the live trace function [under object menu]. and you can output the separations from ill as well. but you can take the different colours you want, put them on different layers and create traps for underlying colours, and give each separation a reg mark, so one doesn't have to worry about drift. this is a shorthand technique from making graphix for t's, but it works the same for stencils. cheers!
Wow, amazing job at revealing some fantastic techniques. These are very nice, I only wish I had photoshop, but most of these techniques can be used in other programs too with slight variations. I'm glad you also made steps 9-12, and went beyond just the program.
thanks, yea the program is just another tool. there are many you can use, and eventually you can do stencils with the same realism without the computer if you want. it is just the easiest form of translation.
neat process! why are you worried about secrecy? are you doing this professionally? even if you are, publishing is a good way to become a known expert in something.
thanks. im not really worried, i guess its just normal when youve spent a while working on something to be reserved about giving it away. but honestly im more than happy to explain everything i do, community is invaluable.

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