Turn a Photo Into a Stencil!




About: I enjoy photography, horticulture and carpentry, and am almost always doing something relating to of those things.

Using just Photoshop, we're going to turn an ordinary photograph into a stencil worthy image in just a few minutes!

I was bored today and decided I wanted to make a stencil. Looking through my old profile pictures on facebook, I found a particular one that I thought might make a good stencil. After playing around for a bit, I discovered this process for turning it into a two-color image on photoshop.

Keep in mind, you can also use this for silk screening, or any other process that requires a smooth edged image.

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Step 1: Rough Shapes

First we make it into a rough two-tone shape:

  • Load the image
  • Image>Adjustments>Posterize - You don't want it to look too different. I posterized it to 10 levels.
  • Image>Adjustments>Threshold - Slide the bar around until you see something that looks like a stencil. You have to keep it as simple as possible, for ease of cutting it out, and also watch out for islands that wouldn't be connected to the main stencil i.e. floating blobs. I set my threshold level to 100.

Step 2: Cleaning It Up

Right now we have a very rough, jagged stencil. It won't work well for cutting out with a knife at all. This step is what took me some time to figure out.

  • Filter>Blur>Gaussian Blur - Set the radius to a level that still leaves a distict image, but with evenly blurred edges. 4 pixels was perfect for me.
  • Posterize it again, this time at 2 levels, and you should be all set!

Step 3: What to Do With It?

I printed my stencil out, and then used a cardboard cutter to cut the stencil out from a shoe box. So far i've only spray painted it onto newspaper, but it definitely turned out well!

A few tips:

  • When you print it out, change the color from black to a light gray. It'll save you some ink.
  • This instructable gives some help on making stencils with islands.
  • A light layer of spray on adhesive can help give you cleaner edges when you're spray painting. Make sure to remove the stencil immediately after painting, or it may get stuck!

Have fun with your new stencil!

UPDATE: I ended up putting it onto a T-Shirt. Acetate sheets (over head transparencies) work well for reusable stencils, so I printed it onto one of them and cut the images out with scissors, and voila! It's drying as I speak.

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101 Discussions


Question 2 months ago on Introduction

Hi, I am getting started on a t-shirt for kidney donors and I ran across this and just love it. I need to know it there is a program I need to download or buy? Thanks in advance for your help.

1 answer

Answer 2 months ago

Keep us posted on how you are doing please. I’m going to try this today . Thx


Question 2 months ago on Introduction

This is exactly what I’m looking to do but hard to find a easy to learn way of doing it. Looks like your step by step could work. Can we watch more you tube videos from tou in the stenciling. And do I buy a photoshop program or what.
Need an easy to do ..or somewhat . Thank you


3 years ago

thank you for this idea!

I was making a stencil like this one, but a more bigger then you...Firts of all i was doing all steps like you. Then thx to poster softwere I've printed it on my a4 printer.

Now it's looks realy good :)


4 years ago on Step 1

Sorry, but what software is used here? Please share a link for info.


9 years ago on Introduction

these are mine...yeah I love cookie monster, and Edward cullen also...
I did these with photo studio months ago...but didn't find you 'ible

1 reply

Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

Hi mee-mee, I know this is a really old post but if you're still around would you mind telling me if you used the photo studio app for this?

If you did, would you mind telling me how?

Thanks, Sam :)


10 years ago on Step 3

This is awesome, and much better than most similar tutorials! Except.... My photoshop (elements 4.0) doesn't have the image>adjustments option. Is there an alternative solution? Or, failing that, would anyone be willing to do this process on an image for me?

2 replies

7 years ago on Introduction

Just an addition to this if in the last step you do smart blur>edge only and play around with the radius and threshold levels. It finds the edge for you. do ctrl+i to invert it and you have a cleaner stencil that won't waste as much ink when printing.


Reply 10 years ago on Step 3

While the linked instructable is an option, I opted to just place the forehead in manually after spraying it with adhesive.

water ratWeissensteinburg

Reply 8 years ago on Step 3

Regarding islands:
If you're silk screening the stencil, you can make a small loop with blue painters tape and gently tape it in place. After your first pull it will adhere to the screen & last as long as the rest of the stencil. Freezer paper works well for most short run water based projects :)

TYSM for the very basic & practical introduction to stenciling!