How to Stencil a Wall

If you are looking for a way to add some interest to any painted wall, you might want to consider stenciling. It is easier much easier to do than applying a wallpaper border or even a chair rail.

Stenciling has been around for a long time but has recently seen a revival in interest from home owners looking to decorate their older homes in a country motif. Simply put, it is the process of painting complex designs or patterns on walls using templates you can create on your own, or purchase at various retail outlets. 

Because you are painting within the lines of the pattern, you do not have to have any special skills.  You only need a stenciling pattern in the theme you want to use, a paint brush, paint and some imagination.

Also, if you change your mind later on, it is not an issue. You can easily prime and paint over it rather than going through a tedious process of removing wallpaper or borders for instance.  Stenciling is probably the easiest painting project you can do as a DIYer.

Typically a stenciling pattern is applied around all of the walls in a room at a specific height. It does not necessarily have to be at ceiling height. If you have a room with an extremely high ceiling, you can use a stencil pattern to break up a large wall.

Or, you can use some feature of the room such as the top of a door or window as the starting height. You can even create a pattern that surrounds a window or door to highlight a focal point of a room.

So what do you need to get started?

Well, as I said, this is a very simple project and all you really need is a 4 foot level, a ladder if you are stenciling up high, some stencil patterns, some painter’s tape and of course, latex paint and a brush.

Depending on how much area you have to cover, this can be accomplished in less than a day, maybe even half a day. Your cost for the project will also depend on how much area you will be painting, however, you can certainly finish a normal sized room in less than $30, and that includes all materials needed.

Stencils are inexpensive and sold in patterns pre-cut and ready to use. You can also make your own pattern using heavy duty cardboard used for posters. However, some professional painters find cardboard too thin and prefer thicker plastic versions you can buy at retails stores or online. Also, as a practical matter, plastic stencils can be reused over and over again because they wash off easy.

Preparing to Stencil

If you are undecided on where to start your stencil pattern, look for a physical feature in the room such as the top of a door or window and place it at that height. If you decide to stencil around the ceiling or up against a chair rail or bottom molding, use those lines as a guide to keep it level. However, you will still need to use a level to keep it straight as some ceilings are not straight.  

Prepare the lines you will be working within using a level, working outward from any corner.  Connect the lines as you move along.  Once you have a straight line marked around the room, you can place the first stencil pattern in place using painter’s tape to secure it.

Tips for Stenciling

How to Stencil a Wall

Before you go any further, here are a few guidelines to follow when stenciling a wall:

  • Paint clean lines free of smudges
  • Periodically look at the back of the stencil and make sure no paint has been smear on it. If so, wipe it off before continuing
  • Paint from the outside edge inward using straight up and down strokes
  • Do not lay on a thick coat in the beginning.
  • If necessary, apply a second coat
  • If using multiple colors as layers, allow each to dry before apply the other


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Stencil a Wall

How to Stencil a Wall

There are two basic methods for stenciling:

  • Swirling – using circular motions with your paint brush inside the pattern
  • Stippling – lightly tapping the tip of the brush inside the stencil on the wall

If you really want to be creative, both methods can be used on different parts of the pattern.

One of the best things to use to hold a small amount of paint as you climb a ladder (if necessary) is a paper plate. Simply spread a little bit of each color you will be using on the plate, then dip the brush.

Before applying the brush to the wall in your preferred method, press the stencil against the wall using a free hand or your forearm to prevent paint from bleeding behind the stencil. Yes, the stencil is held in place with painter’s tape, however, this is an extra precaution.

  1. Once you have painted the first stencil, carefully move it to the second position along your straight line you drew on the wall earlier. If you want a continuous pattern, overlap the registration marks to locate the stencil in the second position.
  2. Some people like to space the pattern rather than having a continuous line. If you would like to do this type of pattern, measure along the level line from the end of the first stencil, and mark where the edge of the second stencil should be located.
  3. Continue in the same pattern along the wall making sure to follow the level line. If you are applying multiple colors in each pattern, allow each one to dry before painting again.

When removing the stencils from the wall, carefully remove the painter’s tape so that you do not create any smears on the wall. Most people like to allow the paint to dry for an hour before attempting to remove the stencil.

Once you are finished, some professional painters like to apply a cover shellac to protect their design.

Cleaning Up

If you used plastic or other stencil materials that are washable, it is important to clean them right away, including the brushes, for future use.

Rinse everything with warm water gently working your fingers across the surface and through the bristles of the brushes. Once all of the paint has been removed, use a clean cloth to dry the brushes to keep them tight for the future.

Now you have your materials ready for the next time you want to add your own personal touch to another room.

How to Stencil a Wall