Decorative Painting – Using Stencils to Achieve Wallpaper-like Effects


Stencils give you a freedom that wallpaper never will. For one, when a look goes out of style, you are only a paint can away from changing it. There’s no messy stripping and scrubbing to remove that old wallpaper. You just paint over the old color.

Using stencils has other benefits as well.

  • You have freedom to choose whatever color combination you want.
  • You can mix patterns if you choose to.
  • You can use other faux techniques on the wall before you use the stencil.

Gather Your Supplies

Before you get started using a stencil you need to make sure you have the right supplies on hand. You will need:

  • A stencil
  • A level
  • Blue painter’s tape
  • Latex paint
  • A paint tray or styrofoam plate
  • A dense foam roller with rounded ends
  • Paper towels
  • Stencil brushes
  • Rags for cleanup

Check Your Walls

Now that you have your materials gathered, make sure your walls are in good condition. You don’t have to paint the walls if you like the base color, and the paint is in good condition. Otherwise you will want to paint the walls at least 24 hours, but preferably up to two weeks before you stencil so that the base coat has time to cure.

How to Use a Stencil

It’s best to start with your stencil in a position where there are no corners, windows or doors to interrupt the pattern.

Use your level to make sure you have a stencil straight, then secure in place with blue painters tape. You’ll want tape at all four corners, plus additional pieces along the sides to ensure the stencil stays flat.

Pour a small amount of the latex paint into the paint tray or Styrofoam plate.

Roll the foam roller into the paint, then roll it back and forth in the upper part of the paint tray, or in a section of the plate does not have paint on it. This will work the paint into the foam roller.

Run the foam roller across piece of paper towel to blot off any excess paint. You don’t want any visible paint on the surface of the roller.

Now you’re ready to run the roller over the stencil. Use a light, gentle action. It’s preferable to use many strokes back and forth so that you don’t squeeze paint under the edges of the stencil. Be careful not to run the roller outside of the stencil.

When all the holes in the stencil have been painted in, gently pull up the tape. Unless you have applied the paint too heavily, it usually dries within a few minutes, so you should be able to reposition the stencil right away. Use the pattern as a guide for where the stencil needs to be placed to repeat the pattern (if the pattern repeats).

Additional Tips for Using Stencils

  • If you choose to use more than one color, let the first color dry completely.
  • Use separate brushes and rollers for different colors.
  • You can add more dimension to a stencil, by using a stencil brush to pounce in another color in selected areas.
  • Fold stencils into corners and tape in place. Most one-inch rollers will almost paint into the corner. Finished adding color with a stencil brush. Use the same technique around trim work and that the ceiling.
  • Cleaning your stencil is usually just a matter of letting the paint dry, then peeling it off.

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