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Furniture Stenciling: Learn How To Stencil Furniture

Stenciling furniture is easy when you follow a few basic guidelines!
If you properly prepare the furniture to be stenciled and use the right tools and techniques, your stenciling project should be a fun and rewarding experience. Not to mention how much money you can save with DIY decorating. With stenciling, you can up-cycle old furniture pieces and turn them into show-stoppers! Any mistakes are easily correctible so let’s go and stencil something!
What You’ll Need
  • Your Cutting Edge Furniture Stencil
  • Low Tack Painters Tape
  • Sandpaper
  • Adhesive primer (Stix or similar)
  • Base Coat Paint (acrylic or latex)
  • Stencil Paint (acrylic or latex)
  • Clear Polyurethane Top Coat
  • Quality Paint Brush
  • Stencil Brush/s Dense Foam Roller
  • Paint Tray or Paper Plate
  • Paper Towels
  • Spray Adhesive (optional)
Preparing Your Furniture
Make sure that the furniture you’ll be stenciling is properly prepared! It makes no sense to put your beautiful artwork over a poorly prepared surface. If your furniture needs to be re-painted, we recommend that you first do any necessary repairs, gluing any loose pieces, filling any cracks and calking any gaps. You can then lightly sand, prime and base coat your project. If the furniture surface is in good condition and the basecoat color is right, you might be able to stencil directly over the existing finish. Wipe the surface with denaturated alcohol to remove any wax or grease and then lightly sand it using a scotch brite pad or fine 220 sandpaper. This will help insure good stencil paint adhesion. However a good practice when stenciling any furniture is to test your stencil paint for proper adhesion by applying a small amount of the stencil paint to a hidden area on your furniture. Let this paint fully dry overnight and then do a scratch test with your fingernail. If it comes off easily, you’ll need to prime and basecoat your piece. Some furniture, such as Ikea laminates can be very slick which makes it difficult to get your stencil paint to stick. This type of furniture should always be primed with an adhesive primer and then basecoated prior to stenciling.
Masking
When stenciling furniture, always use a low tack painters tape such as 3M blue tape. Avoid masking over freshly painted surfaces as the tape can pull the paint up. Burnish (rub down) the edge of the tape for a cleaner line. Always remove your masking tape slowly, pulling it an an angle.
A Few Words About Paints
Primer
It is super important that you use a bonding primer such as STIX, Kilz or BIN to make sure that you get proper adhesion to your furniture. If your furniture has a varnish, oil paint or glossy finish you should lightly sand it to break the sheen. This helps your primer to adhere correctly. You can even have your paint store tint the primer so it’s closer to your base coat color. Apply 2-3 coats with a high quality brush or even a dense foam roller for a smooth finish and good coverage. You can lightly sand off any small imperfections before applying your base coat but try not to sand through the primer. Let the primer dry fully before applying your base coat.

Base paint
At Cutting Edge Stencils, we recommend base coating your walls with a flat sheen, water based paint using a tight nap roller for a smooth finish. Flat sheen paints accept the stenciling better then shinier paints. Flat sheen paint is porous, so it grabs your stencil paint before it has time to seep (bleed) under the edge of your stencil resulting in a crisper print. Flat paints are easier to touch up as well. Because they are not shiny, they tend to blend better without flashing. (Flashing is a term that describes a difference in sheen that occurs when trying to touch up higher sheen paints such as a semi-gloss.) So if you ever make a mistake stenciling your walls, it’s easy to paint over the mistake with a flat sheen paint and then re-stencil the area with great results.

Stencil Paint
For walls, we recommend a good quality Acrylic or Latex paint. Craft acrylics also work great. We also like Benjamin Moore “Ben” flat paint for stenciling walls. It gives a great result and is a good value. We don’t recommend using spray paint as it’s hard to control. Oil based paints are also not stencil-friendly. You can stencil with metallic paint, glaze or even plaster.

Using Spray Adhesive
Spray adhesive can give you crisper stenciled edges but it is not necessary to use it for stenciling. If a stencil is delicate, or has large cut outs, spray adhesive can help to hold the stencil in place and achieve better results. Select a repositionable adhesive (like Elmer’s) and spray the back of the stencil with an even coat. Do this in a well ventilated area and be careful about overspray. Let the adhesive dry for a few minutes so it doesn’t transfer to the project’s surface. Reapply spray adhesive as necessary during stencil project.
Choosing Your Colors
Look at some reference for color combinations that work well together and do a test sample so you are comfortable with your choices. Always take into consideration your givens, such as existing fabrics, floor or carpet colors. We love using white index cards for color swatches.
Sample Test
It is always a good idea to test your stenciling technique and color selections before starting your project. You can test your stencil and colors in a discreet place on your wall but it’s best to make a sample board. You can use a piece of cardboard, a pizza box, a piece of sheetrock or a piece of plywood for your sample. You’ll need to base coat the sample material in the same paint as your wall. Then you can do a few prints to get comfortable with your technique. You can also test the sample in different areas of the room to see how light might affect the color. And finally, you’ll have a sample that you can bring with you when shopping for fabrics and furniture to go with your beautifully stenciled walls!
Placing Your Furniture Stencil
Layout is important so take some time when you are positioning your furniture stencil design. If stenciling an Inlay design, look at some reference to help guide you in building your layout. You can measure and mark using a wax or chalk pencil that can easily be wiped off after stenciling, but before your protective top coat is applied.
Built in Registration
Most Cutting Edge Stencils have a built in registration that makes alignment easy for a repeat pattern. This means that the stencil aligns with previously stenciled elements. Alignment instructions are included with each stencil and are also in the stencil’s description on our website.
Stenciling With a Dense Foam Roller
This is a super fast way to get the job done. Works great for a furniture stencil project! Pour your stencil paint into a tray and EVENLY load your Dense foam roller by rolling it a few times through the paint, applying medium pressure. We don’t want a blotchy looking roller. Once your stencil roller is evenly saturated with paint, off load the excess paint by rolling it a couple times on folded paper towels. If the roller leaves stripy lines on the paper towels, reload the roller so it’s evenly coated and then off load it again on your folded paper towels. The roller should appear somewhat dry. Remember, It’s always better to have less paint on your roller because too much paint can cause paint seepage under the stencil.
Start rolling and slowly build up paint coverage using light to medium pressure. Don’t push too hard as this can cause paint bleed under the stencil. Carefully un-tape and pull back a corner of the stencil to see if your paint coverage is satisfactory. Reload and off load the roller as necessary during your stenciling project.
Stenciling with a Brush
Sometimes you can't use a dense foam roller due to the shape of your furniture, so using a stencil brush would be perfect for such projects. Stencil brushes work better when you are using a stencil with small openings, and for multicolor stenciling. Using a stencil brush works great for shading and also for tight edges and corners. Select your stencil brush size based on the size of the stencil openings. In general, the smaller the stencil openings - the smaller the brush and vice versa. Pour you stencil paint onto a tray. Dip the stencil brush tip into the paint (only about 1/8") and then swirl it on the tray to evenly distribute the paint into the bristle tips. Off load the excess paint onto some folded paper towels. Like the roller, the brush should appear almost dry. Use a light swirling motion for a softer look and for shading. Make sure to avoid a sweeping motion towards the edges of the stencil openings, since it can force the paint under the stencil. Pouncing (straight up and down motion) works great for filling in areas. When using multiple colors, use a separate brush for each color to avoid color contamination.
About Paint Bleed or Paint Seepage
Stencil bleed occurs when paint seeps under the edge of the stencil leaving a less than perfect print. Don’t worry about this too much, but do take measures to reduce the amount of bleed. Know that there will always be some minor bleed here and there as we’re creating a hand-painted finish. But when the wall is done and you look at the entire project your eye will see the color and the pattern. In most cases you wouldn’t even notice a little bleed. But we still want to keep bleed to a minimum so we follow these guidelines:

Use a flat base coat paint. Use a flat stencil paint like “Ben”. Make sure the wall is smooth without a texture. Don’t overload your stencil roller and build the paint coverage up slowly, without pressing hard on the roller. Use spray adhesive for even crisper edges. Minor mistakes and bleed can be wiped off with baby wipes or moist rag while the mistake is still fresh. Alternatively, the mistakes can be touched up later with a small brush.
Protective Clear Coat
In most cases you’ll want to protect your newly stenciled furniture with a durable clear coat. We recommend a water based clear coat because it doesn’t turn yellow with age. Apply 2-3 coats for best results using a high quality brush or even a dense foam roller. Never shake a can of clear coat as this can introduce air bubbles to the finish. Stir it slowly with a stirring stick before applying.
Clean Up
If you clean your brushes, rollers and stencils as soon as you are done with your project, the paint comes off much easier. Don’t soak your stencil brushes for a long time: the natural bristles expand and may split the metal ferrule. Using a drop of brush cleaner or Murphy’s Oil Soap works well for cleaning brushes. Using a Brush scrubbing tool helps to better remove paint particles from the brush bristles. Don’t let your brushes or roller dry out during the project. If you take a break, put them in a plastic baggie or cover with damp cloth.

Your stencil does not have to be cleaned after each repeat. It’s time to clean the stencil when there is a noticeable accumulation of paint - usually after quite a few repeats. In our experience, 10-15 repeats or more. Often you’d be able to stencil an entire medium size accent wall without cleaning the stencil. To clean your stencil, lay it on a flat surface such as a cutting board or a cookie tray, spray it with water and gently scrub with a dish brush under running water. Make sure you have a sink strainer in place to catch any paint pieces. If the paint on the stencil is very dry – we call it "caked" – let is soak for a while before scrubbing it. Lay the cleaned stencil onto paper towels and pat or roll it dry with a roll of paper towels – works great!

It’s not easy to remove spray adhesive from the stencil, but we find that the product called Signature Thread Spray It DK5 Glue Remover works really well. Our stencils are very durable and with proper care and cleaning should last for years!
Stencil Storage
It’s best to store your stencil flat whenever possible. We recommend placing your clean stencils between 2 pieces of paper or cardboard and storing them under the bed or even under an area rug!
Are you ready to stencil?
Stenciling is such an amazing and easy technique that opens the doors to endless decorative possibilities! Don’t be intimidated - be inspired! Just follow these guidelines, and in no time you’ll be stenciling like a pro! Want to learn more about stenciling? Check out our Blog or watch our informative and inspiring How To Stencil Videos!