Introduction: Spray Paint Stencil Making 101

About: graffiti and gadgets, somewhere between Cyber and Punk.

This instructable is to show you, a very basic and simple way to use images. To make stencils for spray paint, and a few basic techniques. That can be used to give flat color, more depth.

i have been doing stencils for years and this is the technique used when i first started. since then i have come up with much more efficient ways of making stencils for paintings. however, without access to lots of software and a digital projector. those options are kinda out of reach. this method is good for making large images with not a lot of detail. as you get more practice you will end up developing your own technique that works best for you.

in the bob ross sense of things. im going to show you a way to do your own thing.


First you will need.

  • an image to work with (UFO image provided)
  • xacto knife and blades
  • the biggest novelty pencil you got, and a ball point pen
  • an assortment of sharpies, with fine to large tip options
  • blue painters tape
  • basic dollar store poster board cutting mat or board (if you mind if your table gets messed up. a plastic folding table is what i cut on when i first started, without a pad at all)

Step 1: PREP!!!

First you need to make the blanks for your stencils, at the size of your canvas. im using a piece of plywood as an example, instead of a canvas. however you can make whatever size you want. on whatever material you want.

  • we are using a 11"x14" "canvas", and making a 3 layer painting. so you will need 3 11"x14" blanks.

After that you need to prep the image for transfer.

  • if you have transfer paper, great, use it. if not, get out the big novelty pencil.
  • on the under side of the image, leave a a generous amount of graphite over the outline of the image, you later plan to trace
  • the more graphite the better, so go over the same area multiple times from multiple angles.

Then, place the image on your first blank, in the position you want it in your painting.

  • use blue tape affix the image to your blank, and fold the edges for easy alinement on the rest of the layers.
  • if you are placing it on your blank in an area where you cant fold images. you may need to cut and trace.
  • cut and trace is when you trance your first stencil and cut it. so you can trace the outline on the next blank, for alinement of the image. slightly more difficult but doable.

Step 2: Transferring the Image

Now that the placement has been chosen and the image affixed. use the ball point pen to trace what you want transferred to the blank.

  • Working from the background forward. for the first layer, all we need is the outline of the entire ship.
  • you want to trace in the middle of the line, not the edge so that the top "vanity" layer can cover the paint edge more completely.
  • its also a good idea to leave notes on your stencil for later

Second layer is going to be drawn by hand.

  • using the folded corners, align and affix the image
  • draw out some basic guide lines to represent a death ray. start with a single line from the center of the UFO bottom, to the corner of the blank.
  • remove image and use pen and ruler to draw out guide lines for basic pow type explosion, and death ray.
  • trace the lines you want to cut with a different color sharpie, to prevent confusion later... trust me...

Final layer, known as the vanity layer. covers all exposed edges and is usually the most complicated.

  • using the folded corners align and affix the image to the blank.
  • using an orange sharpie draw in any bridges you may need. make them less obvious by putting them in corners or in line with the flow of the image. it helps if you start in the center and move outwards.
  • use the ball point pen to trace the outside edge of the black lines, as carefully as you can.


we will be returning to the vanity layer for completion later on

Step 3: Cutting and Finishing the Stencils

When cutting stencils always use a sharp blade. dull blades will pull on the poster board and tear bridges

  • pull back with steady pressure, moving the poster board around the blade. to keep from lifting the the blade out of the poster board as much as possible.
  • hold the blank above where you are cutting, to prevent slips and tears.
  • if you do tear your stencil. use blue tape to repair and cut out the excess tape.

After cutting the second stencil. trace it onto the vanity layer in pen

  • in black sharpie, trace over lines to cut out, using the transfer and pen lines.
  • use the lines as a guide, but keep in mind that this is your painting and you can add or subtract whatever you want.
  • be sure to mark bridges before cutting
  • when cutting complex and delicate stencils like the vanity, start on the inside of structures and move outwards. for reasons you will see while cutting, it makes for less chance of ripped bridges.
  • store cut stencils between sheets of poster board, under a book or heavy flat object. to prevent curling edges.

Step 4: Painting and Techniques

starting with the background. paint the whole background a solid red.

  • use long straight passes across the entire canvas.
  • hold the can about 12" from the canvas, and make multiple coats if needed for consistent coverage
  • you don't want pools of paint at all, so dont over do it. you only need enough paint to cover the one below it.

Then, still working on the background, use the dark red paint to fade the bottom right corner.

  • hold the can about 24" from the canvas and dust the bottom 1/3 corner
  • make the comer the darkest point, and fade out from there
  • use stipple effect to five texture. the stipple effect is when you hold down the spray cap about half way. causing the paint to spit out in larger particulates, that gives a dotted pattern for texture
  • feel free to sling any paint gathered around the cap, onto the canvas as well for dramatic effect.
  • let dry 1 hour minimum


  • align stencil over canvas, and use weights to hold down edges, to prevent under spray , and keep the lines crisp.
  • starting with grey, make multiple light passes making sure not to let any excess paint build up and pool
  • pooling paint can wick under the stencil and ruin a painting.
  • use think coats till you can no longer see the color you are covering


  • dust/stipple the outside corners with dark grey
  • highlight shot, the top/middle with white.


  • fade up from the bottom right corner with yellow as a base.
  • yellow is a thin color that can be hard to make opaque over darker colors, so be patient. yellow is known to wick under the stencil. however with this being a beam and explosion base. being translucent it ok too.
  • hold the can at about 18" and make multiple passes to fade up, and to the left. from opaque to dusted.


  • dust/stipple the bottom right corner in orange
  • stipple the tops of the of the spikes, lightly in red.
  • and give the beam a highlight shot of white.

To do that, aim an inch or so onto the stencil. so that only the edge of the spray hits the canvas to give a sublet highlight.


  • make sure the vanity layer is covering all paint edges from previous layers. before weighing it down
  • black covers well so spray from 18" or so to give even coverage.
  • when removing the stencil hold down one corner and pull up on the other side. peeling it back like you are removing a sticker. this will prevent smearing the layer.

Step 5: Go Make Your Own

see what you can come up with. take inspiration from whatever your interests are. sports, movies, video games, music, comics, whatever. just paint something, if you don't like it, paint over it.

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