How to Make a Stencil 

Cully and I decided it was time to give our half bathroom a refresh.  Part of this journey included learning how to make a stencil for the feature wall.

Rewind a few days before we started this project and you would find me browsing Pinterest and Amazon for peel and stick wallpaper ideas.  Although I found several designs I liked, they were not within our tight budget of $150.

I’ve ordered pre-made stencils from various online retailers, but even the cost of those can add up quickly and put us over budget.

Faced with a lack of time and budget, making my own stencil was the best route to go. 

The before picture of our bathroom.

How to Make a Stencil without a Cricut

Oftentimes, DIY stencils are made with a Cricut. If you plan on making lots of stencils, investing in a Cricut may be worth it.  

Since I’m writing about how to make a stencil without a Cricut, it may come as a surprise to know that I do own one.  In years past, I used it to make custom designs that were painted onto wood signs, then sold at vintage markets

Bad news… the Cricut is packed away somewhere and has been since we moved a year ago.  There was no time to start a search before getting into this project, but one day I will find you sweet Cricut machine! 

For this DIY project, you don’t need a Cricut.  Just a few simple tools and you are ready to create a stencil. 

DIY Stencil Supplies 

Assuming you have none of the supplies listed, it will cost somewhere in the ballpark of $20-$28 to buy the supplies you need to make a stencil.  

Obviously the price will vary depending on where you purchase your supplies and how many DIY stencil sheets, blades, etc… you need for your project. 

The supplies listed below will make about 15 stencils.  That’s less than $2 per stencil! 

I have yet to find any store that sells a pre-made stencil for less than $2, so this was a no brainer for me.

  1. Blank Stencil Sheets
  2. Cutting Pad/Knife Set 
  3. Sharpie
  4. Paint 
  5. Stencil Sponge 

5 Foolproof Steps for Making a DIY Stencil 

Step 1: Find a DIY Stencil Design 

I use Canva to create or find my stencil designs, but you can also find designs simply by searching online for the style you are looking for.

Step 2: Print the Stencil Design

I made my design to fit the size of regular 8.5×11 paper so I could print it from home. If you want a larger size, check with your local print company (ie: FedEx, Staples, etc…) to see if they can print it.  They usually can and it shouldn’t me more than a few dollars for a simple black and white print.

Step 3: Trace the Stencil Design 

Grab your Sharpie and trace the design onto a blank stencil sheet.

Step 4: Cut the Stencil Design

Place the clear sheet on top of the cutting pad and cut out the design.  Since my tracing lines were not super straight, I used the lines on the cutting pad and a ruler as an additional guide. 

How to Make a Stencil

Once the design is cut, it’s ready to use!  Since I chose a fairly simple design with straight lines, the cut time was only about 10 minutes.

The more complex your design is, the more time it may take.  Keep in mind that as you decide your design. 

Top 4 Tips: How to Paint With Stencils 

While the application process is straight forward, there are a few tips I’ll share that may make the project a bit easier. 

Use a Thicker, Flat Finish Paint 

The best paint to use for stencils is chalky finish paint.  The thicker consistency and fat finish both help to minimize paint bleeding behind the stencil, as it is being applied 

How to Make a Stencil

Use a Spray on Adhesive for Walls

Another way to help minimize paint bleeding is to use a stencil spray adhesive.  The spray adhesive also helps keep the stencil in place, which can be very handy when the application is on a wall. 

Since my stencil pattern was smaller and fairly basic, I did not use a stencil spray adhesive, but would recommend it for larger and/or more complex DIY stencil designs. 

Skip the Paint Brush and Use a Sponge

When applying paint to the stencil, less is more.  

It’s better to have to go over your stencil a few times to get the coverage you want rather than trying to get full coverage on the first pass. 

A paint brush usually holds a larger amount of paint and may cause unnecessary paint bleeding and pooling.  

I recommend skipping the paint brush and using a stencil sponge

Pro tip: Wear a glove to avoid getting paint all over your hands. Advice I should have taken for myself…

How to Make a Stencil

Lightly Sand out Imperfections  

Once your design is dry, assuming it is applied on a surface that will respond to light sanding (ie: a wall, wood, etc…), lightly sand out any imperfections to make crisp lines. 

This step is optional and I only share it in case you still see a few imperfections and want crisp lines/curves. 

If you’re like me and don’t mind imperfections, only focus on sanding away the more obvious paint marks that you don’t like. Or, skip this step entirely. 

What is the Best Material for Making Stencils?

When I posted this project on my Instagram stories, many people asked about the blank stencil sheets I used.  

Many were wondering what material is best for making DIY stencils.  

The answer may depend on your budget and what materials you have on hand.  Below are the three common materials used for DIY stencils and when you could use each.

Blank Mylar Sheet

Using blank Mylar sheets is my preferred method when creating a DIY stencil.  You can usually find these sheets in various thickness levels. 

I found the 6 mil was easy to cut and easier on the knife blade as well.  You could also go with a thicker version. Keep in mind the thicker you go, the more work it will be to cut through and you may need to change the knife blade. 

The 6 mil was also durable enough to use for the entire wall, without any tears. It handled being washed when I was done, so I can use this stencil again down the road. 

Make a Wall Stencil out of Cardboard 

Back in the day, I used cardboard to make stencils simply because it was what I had on hand.  

Keep in mind that you will not be able to see through the cardboard, so tracing the design is not an option.  

Rather, you would place the printed design on top of the cardboard and press firmly with a pen lid/base (or something similar) so that the design is pressure transferred to the cardboard. 

Once the design is pressure transferred, cut out the design using the same method with cutting pad and knife mentioned above. 

Using Paper as a Stencil

I don’t recommend using paper as a stencil of you will be using the stencil with paint.   However, printing a design on paper then using the pressure transfer method as with the cardboard option is how I often make wood signs for my house. 

Once the image/words are pressed into the wood, fill it in using paint or a Sharpie.

DIY Stencil with Paper
Using the pressure method, I printed my design on paper, placed the paper on the wood slab and pressed hard with a pen to make an imprint on the wood.

This is the method I used for our chicken coop sign 

Related Reading: Building a DIY Chicken Coop on a Budget 

DIY Stencil Sign for Chicken Coop
Here is the chicken coop sign in action.

DIY Stencil Ideas Online

Anymore, you can find almost any design you are looking for with a simple Google search.  For example, if you’re looking for a damask design, simply search for “Damask Stencil Design” then search “Images”. 

As mentioned above, I usually create or find my stencil designs in Canva.  It’s an easy to use graphic design tool that has little learning curve, especially when compared to more professional graphic design programs like Photoshop.

Canva offers a free version and you can sign up here.

How do I turn a Picture Into a Stencil?

There are several ways to turn a photo into a stencil. Many of the ways require a more advanced technical skill set.  For sake of ease, I’ll share the simplest way that is free, using Word and Paint. 

If this is your first time turning a photo into a stencil, using a simple photo without a lot of detail is a good idea.

I don’t use this option much, simply because I find the photos I want to use have too many details and would make for a challenging stencil. 

  1. Upload the photo into Word
  2. Under “Format”, change the image to black and white
  3. Adjust the photo format  “Contrast” and “Brightness” to ensure the photo isn’t too light or dark
  4. Copy and paste the image into Paint (you may need to download this if your computer doesn’t not already have it)
  5. Save and print your photo.
  6. Use the cutting technique described above to cut out the stencil

Half Bathroom: Before and After DIY Stencil Wall 

Without further ado, here is the before and after of our half bathroom refresh.  We stayed in the tight budget of $150 for this project and I’ll have all those details up on the blog soon!

Bathroom Before and After

Have a question about this project?  Drop it in the comments below!

Until next time,



How to Make a DIY Wall Stencil

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One Comment

  1. I make stencils with laminating pouches. I run them through my laminating machine with nothing in the pouch, then they are ready to trace. Small laminating machines are available for about $30 at Walmart, and Sam’s has 8 1/2 X 11 pouches very cheap (last time I bought was quite awhile ago, and I got 200 pouches for about $20).
    Just throwing this out there for anyone who is planning on making lots and lots of stencils.

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