Stencil Tutorial – Make Your Own Stencils and Masks

Making your own stencils and masks is an ideal way to make your artwork very personal and unique.

While you can make stencils out of many materials, in this tutorial, I am showing you how to make your own very durable stencils out of a Mylar sheet (plastic).
The Mylar sheet I am using in the video is a 190 micron thickness. As you will see, I am struggling all the way to cut out my design, and even break my scalpel blade, which is quite rare – my first time! – because the sheet is too thick and resists the blade. I would recommend using the next thickness down (it will probably vary with the brands), or a transparency sheet. You need to make sure the sheet you use is thick enough though, otherwise your knife will rip it too easily.

The thickness I used is OK if you stick to simple designs, but makes cutting details extremely tricky.

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Watch it on Youtube and Vimeo (free download)

Depending on the design you are choosing and how you cut it out of your plastic sheet, you can get a stencil (outer part), as well as a mask (the inner part).

 

SUPPLIES USED

  • a sheet of Mylar plastic
  • a scalpel (and eventually a DIY cutting knife)
  • an image from magazine, photo… you will use as a template to create your design
  • a cutting mat
  • a black permanent marker (Sharpie) so that your design doesn’t smudge when cutting
  • masking tape
  • some scrap paper, a blending tool and ink/paint to test your stencil.

 

PROCESS

I started by placing my Mylar sheet on top of the magazine image I wanted to use to create my stencil. As the plastic sheet is see-through, I am using it as a tracing paper and trace the outlines of the photo using a black Sharpie. You can use any colour or brand of marker; you just have to make sure that it is permanent and dries quickly, otherwise you could smudge your design when cutting it.

As I want to have some details, not just the outline to create a silhouette, I am tracing some of the outlines to define the arms, hair and facial features. I am ensuring that the lines don’t connect otherwise my stencil would end up like a jigsaw puzzle. These detail lines are just there to define the placement of facial features, hair and arms position.

Once I am happy with my design, I am placing the Mylar sheet on top of a cutting mat. This is extremely important if you don’t want to carve your table or ruin your favourite tablecloth (done it, I will never do it again!).

I am cutting my design using a surgical scalpel, extremely sharp.
CAUTION – When using cutting tools, you must always remember to, first, cut away from you, and keep the blade in the opposite direction to you. You should also never press on top of the blade.
When cutting your plastic sheet, you should always move the sheet for the blade to follow the design, not the other way round. It is easier and more accurate when cutting curved shapes.

As my scalpel blade breaks while cutting my design (due to the thickness of the sheet, I have to use more force, putting strain on the blade for it to fully cut through), I have to improvise and use my DIY cutting knife. This is a good enough tool if your design is pretty simple, but a bit more tricky for details, as you can see in the video.

I have chosen to cut the woman’s outline inside the sheet, and not cut straight to the edge. This enables me to have 2 different parts I can use – a stencil and a mask. The details cut out on the mask are not necessary, but they give me an extra option.

Once my stencil and mask are finished and ready to be used, I test them on a piece of scrap paper (the receipt for my Mylar sheets!), using a blending tool from Ranger and an ink pad (Ranger Archival ink). First I am testing the mask (inside part), making sure to blend ink into the cut-out details. Then, I want to use it as a mask without any inside details (that’s my extra option). I am using some masking tape (you can use washi tape or regular tape as long as it’s not too adherent) to hide the cut-out details. Some of the details are quite close to the edge of the mask, so it would be quite easy to fill them accidentally.

Finally, I am testing the stencil. I am very happy with the result.

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And here is a very simple double page spread I created using the stencil and the mask.

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For the 2 girls to face each other, all I did was to flip the stencil over.
Super easy.

I hope you enjoy. Happy stencil and mask creating!