Water Stencils




Introduction: Water Stencils

About: I tinker with things at Instructables.

Project Overview

This is a fun and easy project that uses NeverWet to help you write and paint with water. NeverWet is a super hydrophobic coating that can be sprayed onto any surface. Ever since watching its promo video with my friends (watch it here and your mind will be blown) I've been wanting to make a project with it.

Simply overlay a vinyl stencil onto a sheet of acrylic and spray with NeverWet. Let the coating dry, peel away the stencil, and dibble water into uncoated areas. NeverWet forces the water to pool in these areas, forming patterns or images. These liquid drawings have a cool and dynamic effect. Add splashes of food coloring and watch as they diffuse across the drawing.

Skills Covered In This Instructable

You'll learn how to prepare images to be printed and cut with a Roland Vinyl Cutter in Adobe Illustrator CS6, and how to use the Roland VersaWorks environment.



  • Adobe Illustrator
  • Roland VersaWorks


  • Roland Vinyl Cutter
  • Table saw


You don't need a vinyl cutter, but it's useful for cutting very detailed stencils. You could easily use blue tape and an X-Acto knife or scissors to create your stencils.

You can also go to a hardware or plastics supply store and get them to cut the acrylic down to your desired size.

Step 1: Convert a Rastor to a Vector Image in Illustrator CS6

Our goal is to ultimately create a stencil from any image online. If you already have a vector image you want to make into a stencil, you can skip the next few slides. Otherwise, you need to convert your picture from a pixel image to a vector image. We need to vectorize the image to define its outline for the vinyl cutter. Follow the steps below to do this. Note that each step corresponds to an image included.

  1. First download your image and open it in Illustrator CS6.
  2. Select the image with the selection tool.
  3. Click "Image Trace" (circled in red here).
  4. The trace of the image will appear.
  5. Click "Expand" (circled in red here). Learn more about the expand function here.
  6. Your image is now a vector image!

Step 2: Prepare the Vector Image for Cutting

  1. Select "Fill Swatch" (circled in red here) so it is layered above "Stroke Swatch".
  2. Select "None Swatch", located just below "Fill Swatch" and circled in red. This deletes the fill color inside the outline of our image. You are more than welcome to keep the fill color in if you like, although it won't be necessary.
  3. Select "Stroke Swatch" (circled in red here) so it is layered above "Fill Swatch".
  4. Go to the swatches toolbar and click on the "swatch libraries menu" icon (circled in red here).
  5. Click the magenta swatch and the stroke color will turn magenta. Magenta is the color that indicates where the Roland Vinyl Cutter will make cuts.
  6. Click "File" -> "Save As".
  7. Save as a ".eps" file.

Your image is now ready for the vinyl cutter!

Step 3: Configuring the Roland Vinyl Cutter With VersaWorks

We are almost ready to cut, but first we must make adjustments to the vinyl cutter. We can do this with the Roland VersaWorks environment, a software program that comes with the Roland Vinyl Cutter. Follow the steps below to appropriately configure its settings.

  1. Open up Roland VersaWorks. At Pier 9, it's only installed on the computer closest to the Roland Vinyl Cutter.
  2. Once VersaWorks is open, select "File"->"Add Jobe to Queue A". Select your file and it should turn up in the little preview window (circled in red here). Note that the preview window in this example looks empty. This is because VersaWorks sees our magenta outline as cut marks and not print lines. If we had kept the black fill inside our image, we would see its black outline.
  3. Double click on the preview box. A "Jobs Settings" window will open and the robot's outline will be flashing in red. The flashing lines indicate cut marks.
  4. This image in particular does not cut well if it's too small (I tested it). To increase the image size in "Layout" (circled in red here) under "Scaling" (circled in red) change the scale so the robot is about 10"x10". For me, this happens to be about 240%. On the other hand, I could have made the robot 10"x10" in Illustrator. Both rescalings will work.
  5. Go to "Cut Controls" (circled in red) and in the pull-down menu for operation mode select "cut only" and check "cut image boundaries" (circled in red). Then select "Ok" in the bottom right-hand corner of the Jobs Settings wind (circled in red).
  6. Finally, click the "Print" button in the lower left-hand corner (circled in red).

Step 4: Cutting Your Image

Here are some images of the stencil I created. I have examples of both filled and unfilled traces (the unfilled example is really hard to see against the white vinyl).

Step 5: Apply Stencil to Acrylic

I cut a 12"x12" piece of acrylic on the bandsaw. It doesn't matter what thickness you use. Gingerly place your image onto the acrylic and smooth as best you can.

I want my robot to be outlined with water, so I lay the stencil's outline onto the acrylic to protect it from the NeverWet.

Step 6: Apply NeverWet

Begin with the can of NeverWet base coat and vigorously shake for 1 minute. Spray 6-8 inches above the acrylic. Apply an even base coat. Shake can again for another 30 seconds and apply a second base coat. Let the base coats dry for 30 minutes, then follow the same method with the top coat. Allow top coats to dry for at least an hour.

Step 7: Remove the Stencil

The NeverWet dries as a strong film over both the stencil and acrylic, so simply pulling the stencil from the acrylic surface would cause the NeverWet to lift and tear. Since we want clean lines, use an x-acto knife or sharp blade and trace along the outline of the stencil.

Next, pull the stencil away from the surface. It should pull off easily if you cut around the edge of your stencil. I recommend using a pair of tweezers so your hands don't smudge the NeverWet.

Step 8: Paint With Water

Apply water to the uncoated areas of acrylic. I find it easiest to do this with a small plastic squeeze bottle or eyedropper. Water will sometimes pool outside the outline of your stencil if there are two uncoated areas close together. Simply soak up the water with a small piece of paper towel to clean up your image.

In the picture above, I've removed the acrylic's back protective plastic and adding a piece of wood to give the water some contrast. You can also see that the water has a hard time pooling in very thin areas. I recommend making your outlines quite thick to avoid getting a choppy image.

Step 9: Adding Color

For more fun, add food coloring to your liquid art.

Step 10: Other Examples

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    8 years ago on Introduction

    This is great! You could also use this method for paper printing. Just gently lay paper over it and let it absorb? May work? Or it would bleed?


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    That's basically the principle behind offset printing! Except backwards. Oil-based ink is hydrophobic, so the plate is covered with a UV-sensitive coating that is hydrophilic. You cut out the negative parts of the plate with a UV light, leaving the film just where the printable parts are. Then the plate is coated in water, so that the ink won't stick to everything, and then it's inked up.

    I imagine this would bleed, since there's just so much water in a water droplet. But you're on the right track.