How to Stencil

Planning a Stencil Pattern
To stencil an outside corner, wrap the stencil around the corner, releasing the first side as you tape down the second.
To stencil an outside corner, wrap the stencil around the corner, releasing the first side as you tape down the second.

It takes more than a little planning to make a stencil look as though it was designed just for your space. The basic rules for planning out your stencil pattern are the same for all types of surfaces.

1. Begin by deciding where you want to stencil.

You might want a border in your room, but do you want it at the top of the wall, above the baseboard, or at chair-rail height? Or, you may have the perfect toy chest on which to stencil, but should you run the stencil vertically or horizontally?

Make sure you have a basic idea of what you want the finished product to look like before you begin. It's a good idea to draw the design out on a piece of paper first to test different looks.

2. Measure the space where the stencil will go.

Measure the length of the stencil design, also called a repeat. How many repeats of the design will fit in your space? To find out, divide the length of the space by the length of the design. Don't be discouraged by the math; this is easier than it sounds. For example: The wall is 60 inches wide, the stencil repeat is 12 inches. Five repeats will fit on the wall.

Unfortunately, the math won't always yield a whole number. Most of the time you'll wind up with a fraction of a repeat. While that's not a big deal in a large wall border, it will stand out on a small project. Be creative in getting the stencil to work: Stretch or shrink the design by adding or removing space between repeats.

3. Before you begin, do a test to make sure everything will fit.

Make samples of your design on a piece of paper, and tape them into position. Step back and judge the scale of the stencil for the space. Then check to see how adding or removing space between repeats affects the look of the design. Once you're happy with the way the design is planned out, you're ready to paint.

Problem areas

Unfortunately, not every area to be stenciled is a straight, smooth expanse. The space might suddenly become narrower than the stencil, the repeat of the design may fall in a corner, or the surface may be curved, preventing you from stenciling in a straight line.


The ceiling of a room is just like a fifth wall and may be stenciled in the same way. Spray adhesive is a good idea for this surface because without it, gravity will cause the center of the stencil to sag.

Narrowing space

The best way to deal with a narrowing space is to stop the design and restart where the space returns to the normal width. Fill in the narrow space with elements from the original stencil or with a coordinating, but narrower, stencil.

For an inside corner, mask off the second wall and let that part of the stencil hang free while you work the first wall.



Both outside and inside corners can be tricky. Even if you try to plan the space so the repeats don't fall in corners, continuous-line stencils, like vines, might have to go through, inside, or around a corner.

For an outside corner, adhere the stencil and work toward the corner, with the excess stencil extending past the corner. Once you've finished with the first side, carefully fold the stencil around the corner, releasing the first side as you tape down the second. Then continue with the rest of the design.

Inside corners are tougher but not impossible. First, mask off the adjoining wall with a strip of vertical tape. Then, much as with outside corners, tape the stencil down and work the first wall, painting into the corner with the rest of the stencil hanging free.

Use less paint, a gentle touch, and don't worry if the image doesn't get completely filled in. Then move the stencil to the second wall, leaving the first side loose while you finish stenciling. You can go back later with an artist's brush to fill in details if you like. As long as you don't smear the image or leave globs of paint, admirers will be fooled into thinking the corner is perfect.

Curved surface

It's hard to keep a straight line when the stencil won't lay flat on a curved surface. Work the stencil in small sections, readjusting every few inches to keep the image on your guideline. This will provide the illusion of a straight line.

Painting is the best part of the stenciling process. Keep reading to find out what to do before, after, and while you paint.

Excited about stenciling? Explore:

More to Explore