Guide to Basic Stencil Cut

So, for the first tutorial I thought it would be best to put up a basic stencil cutting tutorial for those still unsure about the basic process. Keep in mind that this is by no means the only way for you to do this, just the most efficient way I have found so far.

1. Recon

Generally, the application and use of your stencil will dictate what materials will be most suitable. For example, for indoor work on walls or doors when you have all the time you need, using adhesive contact may be used as it is easy to cut and prevents any ‘underspray’ from occurring as it is stuck completely flat against the surface (thus not needing tape or anyone to hold the stencil too). However, for work on the streets when time and speed are all important you will need to cut your stencil out of something more durable, such as a medium weight cardboard which can just be held against the wall and sprayed through quickly. Another good technique is to print out (fig 1.1) or photocopy your stencil design and have it laminated. This will still be quite easy to cut and they hold their shape surprisingly well.

2. Construction

Once you know where you will be doing your stencil and you have an idea in mind, you need to begin constructing your image either on paper or on the computer. When constructing your image it is important to remember the fundamentals of a basic stencil, you cannot have any enclosed white spaces or ‘islands’ inside any black areas (fig 1.2) (because essentially these black areas are what you will be cutting out).

3. Fortification

Now once you have your image on paper you can either glue it on to some thicker cardboard with spray adhesive (fig 1.3) to make it more durable, or get your image laminated which will serve the same purpose. What you will also find that after a number of sprays the stencil will harden as the paint layers dry also strengthening your stencil.

4. Cutting

There are a number of things that can be used to cut out your stencil. Stanley knives, boxcutters, razor blades and scissors can all be used, but in my experience the trusty exacto knife is the most reliable and the best for achieving fine details (fig 1.4). You hold these knives much like a pencil at an angle of about 50 degrees, and always be careful as most blades for these knives are extremely sharp. Also be sure to have adequate protection underneath your stencil to avoid damaging whatever your cutting on.

5. The Great Moment

Once you have finished cutting out all the details of your stencil you are ready for its application. Traditionally with most street based stencils spray paint has been used as a quick and economical means to apply the image to street walls. Try and use a quality matte paint as it will last much longer and avoids any unwanted glare and reflections on your stencil that can occur from using gloss based paints. When applying your stencil to the wall or wherever you are going to spray it, make sure it is as flat against the surface as possible to avoid underspray and keep your lines crisp.

Finally, try and remember that the best and most interesting works come about when the image and its placement on the streets play together, with the architecture and image communicating as one.