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How to Keep Paint from Bleeding Under a Stencil

Properly adhere your stencil to to the wall surface

There are three predominant reasons why paint will bleed under a stencil.

1. Gaps between the edge of the stencil and the surface of your wall.
2. Excessively runny paint or too much paint is applied to the stencil with your brush or roller.
3. Brush technique is too aggressive .

Don't overload your brush with paint

In order to achieve nice crisp clean edges on you stenciled image, the stencil film needs to be firmly tacked onto the surface of your wall, canvas, or fabric. That means there should be no gaps between of the stencil window and your painted surface. This goes for walls, canvas and fabrics.

I have have seen a number of stenciling tutorials where the stencil is secured against a surface with nothing but sticky tape. This as a sure-fire recipe for getting paint behind the stencil film.

Every part of the stencil window (the shape in the stencil that paint goes through) really, really needs to be firmly stuck to the surface that you are painting on. Furthermore, your painting surface need to be reasonably smooth and free of lumps and cracks.

It is much easier to attach a stencil to a smooth, flat surface than an uneven or textured one. A superior way to attach your stencil to a wall or canvas is to spray the back of the stencil with contact adhesive.

After spraying the adhesive, allow it to go tacky. This takes around two minutes or so depending on the temperature of your local environment.

Don't try attaching the stencil on to your surface while the glue is still wet. Doing so, will make the stencil difficult to remove and even worse, leave bits of glue on the wall.

Now, when the stencil is nice and tacky, place it in position on your wall and pat it down "gently but firmly" with a piece of folded up paper towel or clean rag. Make sure that all of the edges of the stencil windows are all completely in contact with you painting surface.

That's it, simple and achievable. One small but relevant point I should make is.. that you don't have to re-spray the stencil with glue for every impression you make. One spray should last for three or four impressions. If the tacky-ness starts to diminish, and it will after a while, give the stencil a bit more adhesive.

Secondly, it is important to understand that you risk bleeding if you your stencil brush or roller is excessively load with paint. This is not rocket science yet many folks tend to overlook this one when they first enter the world of stenciling.

Overloading your brush or roller with paint is the next most common way to get bleeding. If you are using the pasty, buttery acrylic paint that come in tubes , you will be less likely to get paint under the stencil material.

If you are going to use thin watery paint, you will have a slightly higher risk of getting bleeding. But all bleeding can be avoided if you don't overload you brushes.

I use buttery tube paints for not all but most of my stencil projects. Squeeze some paint out of the tube onto one corner or part of the plastic spatula ( available from hardware stores and art suppliers).

Just a small blob will suffice. work the ends of your brush into the paint then dab the brush onto clean part the spatula. Doing so will help distribute the paint over the bristle ends and will also remove excessive paint.

You are now ready to apply the paint through your stencil. For those who are using thinner paints such as latex or emulsion paints.

Pour some paint into a paper plate and do the same as above., Work some paint onto the bristle ends then dab your brush onto the clean portion of the paper plate. Ready to go.

Paint rollers are more difficult to use for stenciling but are often essential if you stencils are large or have large windows.

The same technique applies to rollers as for stencil brushes. load your roller with paint so that there is paint over the whole roller then run your roller on the sloping part of you paint tray to even out and reduce the amount of paint on the fibres.

If you are using good quality acrylic paint that is high in pigments, you don't need as much paint on your brushes to get good coverage. Its as simple as that.

Be mindful of your brush technique

Now for the last point, and this has to do with you actual brush technique. In order to get a neat and crisp impression that has no gaps in the paint and no bleeding, you need to dab on you paint gently. By gently I mean a light touch to your strokes.

Its a bit like tapping lightly so the ends of the bristles don't bend under pressure. Short, quick and light tapping with your brush, OK?. Its not to say that you can't use strokes in your brushwork.

But, if you are going to use some strokes, make sure that you stroke away from the stencils edge, towards the middle of the window and not towards the edges.

If you are mindful of the three points I have made, you will get little or no bleeding. There will however always be a little bleeding, no matter how careful you are.

So.. keep a little bit of paint that is the same color as your wall or background. You will be using this to do some touching up after you have finished stenciling.

I do not recommend that you attempt to wipe off wet paint that has bled under your stencil. This is one way to make a mess. Wait until the paint has dried then go over the bleed marks with a small artist brush and your background color.

The more you stencil the better you will get at determining just how much paint to use, how much pressure you need to apply it, and how well the stencil film is attached to your surface.

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