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How to Use a Wall Stencil: 5 Tips for Painting With a Wall Stencil

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Last week I shared with you guys that I’m participating in the fall 2019 One Room Challenge (if you haven’t heard of the One Room Challenge, or “ORC” for short, here’s more about what it is) and that my 7-year old daughter is getting a new room out of the deal. Pretty fun for her, right?

In case you missed it, here’s the first post about this makeover. It’s gonna be a good one!

Part of the original design I created involved fun black and white printed wallpaper … but as I was calculating how much wallpaper I’d need to cover two of her bedroom walls, I realized just how expensive that was going to be.

We’re talking hundreds of dollars.

And considering we just renovated several rooms in our home, that felt like a not-so-smart financial move. So I decided it was time for a Plan B … and quickly came up with what I think is a pretty good alternative solution. Instead of using wallpaper in her colorful, fun bedroom, I decided to use a wall stencil instead. I chose this one from Royal Stencils Design Studio. The pattern is almost identical to the pattern on the wallpaper I’d been eyeing for this makeover.

Here’s a sneak peek at what my daughter’s room looks like, while stenciling her wall.

wall stencil

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How to paint with stencils on wall?

To use a wall stencil, you simply use painter’s tape or spray adhesive to adhere the stencil to the wall, usually starting in the upper left-hand corner of the wall. Once you’ve painted the stencil design in the first spot on your wall, gently pull the stencil off the wall and move it either immediately below the first design, or to the right of it. Repeat this process until you’ve covered the desired amount of wall space.

Where do you buy wall stencils?

Wall stencils are available from lots of retailers. I like Royal Design Studio’s selection of stencils, but you can also find good quality wall stencils at places like Amazon and Etsy.

Why I like wall stencils

Wall stencils are a great, easy way to add a pattern-filled accent wall to a room in your home. I love that you can mimic the look of wallpaper for a fraction of the cost.

In fact, one of my first projects ever that I posted on the blog involved a wall stencil.

Take a look at this post — yeah, it’s totally okay to laugh at my photography skills (or lack thereof).

Oh, and the room styling wasn’t so hot, either. But we’ve all gotta start somewhere. #rookiemistakes

I also experimented with a wall stencil in our powder room last year, although that stencil project never saw the light of day on the blog. After stenciling just one small section of wall in our powder room, I decided to jump ship and paint over my stencil job. (More on the “why” behind that decision in a minute.)

I like wall stencils for a couple reasons:

  • Wall stencils are less expensive than using wallpaper.
  • Wall stencils are generally easy to paint over (although there IS a little bit of sanding involved), whereas stripping wallpaper that you no longer love is a total pain in the a$$.
  • When you use the right tools — meaning the right brush and the right type of paint — stenciling a wall can be easy and (fairly) quick.

But like any home project, the more tips and tricks you know before you start stenciling, the happier you’ll be with the finished product.

5 Tips for Stenciling Walls with Paint

If you’re considering using a wall stencil in your home — or if you’ve tried your hand at stenciling before but weren’t too thrilled with the results — then you need to read these tips that I’ve learned after tackling multiple wall stenciling projects:

#1 Buy the good paint.

wall stencil
                                                                                                  Photo credit: Royal Design Studios

The quality and type of paint you choose will make or break your stenciling project.

Remember I mentioned a stenciling project in our powder room that went sideways? Well, my poor choice of paint contributed to this poor project’s demise. I decided to use some leftover chalk paint for this particular project because I had read another blogger’s post about using this type of paint … and it completely backfired. The paint bled through the edges of the stencil and the small section of our wall that I had painted looked like a hot mess.

Be careful about the type of paint you use for stenciling. If it makes sense for your project, use Royal Design Studio’s cream-based stencil paints. I’ve used them on two different projects and the quality is phenomenal — I think their paint gives you amazing results.

If you need a color Royal Design Studio doesn’t offer, or simply want to use something other than Royal Design Studio paints, I’ve heard of others having success using various type of acrylic craft paints and even Behr Marquee paint — but I can’t personally vouch for those brands since I’ve never used them.

#2 Think twice about using geometric designs in wall stencil patterns.

Unless you’re an incredibly skilled painter or you’ve used wall stencils in the past, I recommend shying away from a geometric design and choosing something more abstract. Why? If you make a mistake with an abstract design — maybe the stencil wasn’t completely straight in one patch you painted — no one will ever know. However, if you choose a stencil like this or this, then a mistake is more likely to stand out (Straight lines, I’m looking at you. Super tricky.).

If you’re a first-time stencil-er, my advice is to take a little pressure off yourself and choose an abstract design for your first go-round. Or if you’ve got your heart set on a geometric design, then practice on some scrap paper first before adhering your stencil to the wall.

#3 Less (paint) is more when stenciling a wall with paint.

Any company that manufactures wall stencils will tell you this on the “how to” sheet that comes in the mail with your stencil, but … you don’t want a lot of paint on your brush.

Less is more, guys. This is so important to remember. If you have too much paint on your brush while stenciling, you run the risk of the paint bleeding underneath the stencil and essentially ruining your design and hard work.

When I stencil, I usually dip the brush gently into the paint, wipe the excess on the inside of the paint can lid, and then wipe my stencil brush again on a paper towel. After going through those steps you’ll probably be left wondering if you have any paint left on the brush at all, but that’s a good sign that you’ve got the right amount on your brush.

Here’s what my paper towel usually looks like after a few rounds of stenciling:

wall stencil

Even if you have to refill your brush mid-project, don’t panic. Several thin coats of paint are better than one thick coat.

#4 Paint in a circular motion when using your brush

This sounds like a strange recommendation, I know, but just trust me on this one.

If you paint in a circular motion, you’ll be sure to fill in all corners of your design completely.

As I’ve been wall stenciling the dots on my daughter’s wall, moving the brush in a circle as I paint means that each dot looks fully painted. No scraggly edges here, folks!

#5 Allow for drying time in between sections

I’m sure some pro stencil-ers might argue with me, but before you move your stencil to the next section of wall … wait 10 to 15 minutes.


Because if any paint got on the back side of your stencil — or if you accidentally bump the wet paint as you’re trying to re-position your stencil — then suddenly you have a streaky mess on your hands.

And why would you want to ruin all your hard work?!

As much as I hate waiting, being patient when stenciling pays off. I’ve been working on weekend mornings to stencil my daughter’s room and I usually throw on a good Spotify playlist or a podcast (this is one of my favorite podcasts, btw) so that I’m not quite literally watching paint dry.

How do you paint over wall stencils?

If you get sick of an accent wall you stenciled, the good news is that wall stencils are relatively easy to paint over. The first step in the process is to sand down the design so that the stencil paint becomes even with the base paint coat on your wall.

Once you’ve sanded down the design, prime a small area and let it dry. If you can still see the stencil design coming through the primer, then you’ve got more sanding to do. If you don’t see the stencil coming through, continue priming the entire wall, let it dry, and then paint over it with your choice of paint.

Room makeover next steps

I’ve still got more stenciling to do this weekend, but I also need to:

  • Hang a gallery wall above the desk
  • Get new bedding
  • Hang kids art on the back wall
  • Order her reading chair
  • Figure out a way to dress up her plain white IKEA dresser

The to-do list is still pretty long … so check back next week for an update on the project!

Check out another post for 3 ways to refresh a room when you can’t paint.

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