Getting Started - Silkscreen Stencils 101

As you may have guessed by the title, in this blog post you’ll learn all about silkscreen stencils - what they are made of and, most importantly, how to use them. So let’s dive in shall we?

All the stencils here on Smart Screen Stencils and on our Etsy shop (SmartScreenStencils) are silkscreen stencils. We use Ikonart® Stencil Films to create our custom stencils as they are of high quality and, unlike many other silkscreen stencil films, they are self adhesive. These stencil films are blank when we get them and we add the design and finish up developing the stencil film into ready to use silkscreen stencils.
Now let’s get nerdy and see what the stencil film is made of, so you can better understand how to use it later on in this post - don’t worry, this part won’t take long.

IKONART Film Construction

Above is an image from the Ikonart user guide. Now note that the emulsion side and the Ikonart film mesh with adhesive is actually ONE layer - the blue or purple stencil layer, depending on whether you have an All Surface stencil or a Fabric/Wood stencil respectively. To make it simple, let’s pretend you have the blue stencil. Now, the blue part of the stencil is the emulsion that covers the mesh (or fine screen - hence the name silkscreen stencil). The white part is the mesh where the paint, ink or other kind of medium will go through, thus creating the design/print. While you cannot see this, this mesh actually runs throughout the entire stencil, making it strong, yet flexible - perfect for stenciling both flat and rounded surfaces. 

Silkscreen Stencil - photo courtesy of IKONART

The polyester carrier sheet is the other part of your stencil. It’s clear and shiny, and prevents the adhesive on the stencil from drying out. This is why it’s important to stick the stencil back onto the carrier sheet after you’ve used and cleaned it.

Now, before we move onto how to use your stencil, let’s take a closer look at the two types of silk screens available: the All Surface and the Fabric/Wood. While both stencils are very similar in that they are easy-to-use, flexible, reusable, and reposition-able (unlike vinyls), they do have their differences.
The All Surface silkscreen stencil is the original blue stencil and can be used on almost any type of surface, provided it is clean and smooth. For example, it can be used on paper, cardboard, canvas, metal, clay (polymer clay included), glass, ceramics, walls, plastic, tile, wood (sand first for best results), fabric etc. This makes it a great all-round reusable stencil.
The purple Fabric/Wood silkscreen stencil on the other hand is slightly sturdier and much stickier than the All Surface one, making it more suitable for stenciling fabric, textiles, wood and more textured surfaces. Don’t try to use this on any smooth surface like glass or metal though, as you won’t be able to peel it off without stretching and thus destroying the stencil. Not to mention what will happen if you try to use this type of stencil on paper… No, this stencil is primarily for fabric and (rough or textured) wood stenciling. In later posts I will go into more detail of stenciling on different types of surfaces and which type of stencil to use.
Finally, for the more experienced and curious crafters, it may be important to know that the blue All Surface stencil has a mesh count of 120, whereas the purple Fabric/Wood stencil has a mesh count of 110. 

Now that you know all that there is to know about silkscreen stencils, it’s time to learn how to use them.

Nordic Nisse Stencil


6 Easy Steps to using a Silkscreen Stencil

  1. When you’re about to use your new stencil for the first time we highly recommend to either #A, write something with a permanent marker on the carrier sheet on the back of the stencil (aka the shiny foil side) before peeling the stencil off and using it, or #B, to cut a small corner off your stencil and carrier sheet, before peeling the two apart. Because it’s important to reapply the stencil onto the carrier sheet on the same side it was on originally, you’ll want to know which side of the clear sheet you’ll need to stick it on. If you go for option A and write a word, like “BACK” for example, you’ll know that the stencil must be stuck to the other side. If you go for option B and cut a corner off both parts when they’re stuck together, you’ll know that this is how they need to be stuck together (there’s only one way to line it up correctly).
    Do not skip this step, because if you do, chances are that you’ll end up sticking the stencil back onto the wrong side of the carrier sheet and you won’t be able to peel it off again for another use without stretching the stencil and thus stretching the design.* 
  2. Now that you've written on the back of the carrier sheet or cut off a corner, peel the stencil off it and stick it to a surface of your choice, be it ceramics, fabric, wood, glass, canvas, etc. Apply some pressure to make it stick and avoid getting air bubbles. If you’re stenciling onto a flat surface you can use a squeegee or old credit card to stick it on. If your surface is round or curved use your thumbs.
  3. Apply a thin layer of water-based paint, ink or other medium. Spread it evenly over the white part of the stencil with a squeegee or old credit card. A brush can be used, but use strokes only, no dabbing, as bristles may damage small details on the stencil. All of our stencils have extra “blank” space or emulsion (blue or purple) around the design to catch excess paint, making it easy to apply your medium without having to tape off surrounding areas.
  4. Once you’ve applied your paint or ink, take off the stencil and let your paint or ink dry. Do not let the paint or ink dry in the stencil before peeling it off your surface!
    Note: thicker paints like white paints and chalk paints dry quickly - you’ll need to work fast in applying the paint and removing the stencil to avoid the paint drying in the stencil’s mesh - I’ll be creating a separate post about using chalk paint soon.
  5. After you’ve taken off your stencil make sure to rinse it straight away.
    You can do this in your kitchen sink. Either gently hold it in one hand or apply the used stencil to a WET clipboard. Use warm (not hot) running water and  gently rub the front of your stencil to remove any paint. Do not rub the backside, simple running water should do the trick to remove any paint (if there even is any). Don't use any scrubbing tools or paint remover items as this may ruin your stencil.
  6.  Shake off any excess water and place the stencil upside down on a flat surface (like your kitchen counter). Stick the carrier sheet back on with the writing facing you or by lining up the cut corners. Apply some pressure to remove any air bubbles - you can use a squeegee or old credit card over the carrier sheet to gently squeeze out any trapped air. Dab off any excess water, flip the stencil over and let it dry. Store it out of sunlight and reuse it whenever you want :)

* Tip: If you do accidentally stick it back onto the wrong side of the clear carrier sheet your stencil will get stuck to it. I've done this a few times by accident. Try soaking your stuck stencil and carefully peeling it off the foil, making sure not to stretch the stencil.

So, now that you know the basics about silkscreen stencils, you can go ahead and stencil with confidence. Over the next few weeks we’ll be doing crafts and dive into the details of stenciling on different types of surfaces and using different types of paints, inks and more. 

Now we’d love to hear from you. Do you have any questions or issues you’ve come across while stenciling? Perhaps a specific subject you’d like us to explore in a future blog post?

And don’t forget to show us your projects!

Until next week, happy crafting!

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