How to Stencil on Wood (+ Fix Paint Bleed)

We’ve shown you a few projects on how to stencil on wood (you can see all our previous stencil ideas here). The best outcome is always to stencil on wood without bleeding, but it doesn’t always work out that way. So today we’re showing you how to touch up those bleeds if they happen. Last, but not least, is our stencil storage hack. We have the best way for how to store stencils once you’re finished painting with them!

DIY Office Sign

My ‘office’ is essentially my craft room so I thought it would be fun to stencil an office sign to hang on the wall above my craft table (but it didn’t quite make it there).

I’m using the large office sign stencil from Funk Junk’s Old Sign Stencils.

Office Stencil sizes for how to stencil on wood

Materials for How to Stencil on Wood

Preventing Stencil Paint Bleed

A flat paint works well to cover any potential bleed through mistakes. That’s because a flat paint sheen is less noticeable than using a higher sheen paint that reflects light.

However, for a flawless stencil job with no bleed through to begin with, use the background colour to stencil the first coat of paint. This will seal around the edge of the stencil and prevent the next coat (the actual stencil colour( from bleeding underneath. This adds an extra step, but may save time in the long run if you’re an impatient stenciller and experience a lot of bleed through.

Here’s a great video to show that technique in action.

Since I’m showing you how to fix stencil bleed, I’ll be skipping that extra step.

Watch How to Stencil on Wood

How to Stencil on Wood Without Bleeding

1. Paint Background Colour

With wood as thin as we’re using, we prime over the raw wood first. That’s so all sides are sealed and the wood hopefully won’t warp.

Then we spray a grey colour paint as the background. In this instance, we’re spraying a flat grey wall paint. Check out our tutorial and video on how to paint using a spray gun.

Spray painting backing for how to stencil on wood

2. Cover Registration Marks

After taping together the long stencil on the registration marks, cover the other registration marks with painters tape too. It’s so easy to accidentally stencil beyond the letters or get paint drips in these areas!

Cover up registration marks for how to stencil on wood

Pour a small amount of paint into a container. A little goes a long way. Besides, it’s better to do several light coats; heavy coats will definitely bleed! Pouring paint for how to stencil on wood

3. Use the Right Tool(s) for the Job

Use a stencil brush that’s slightly smaller than the width of the letters. That’s so you can use most of the paint on the brush in the centre of the letter without hitting the edges. Since the paint is concentrated in the middle, it can’t bleed under the edge.

Offload paint onto paper towels for how to stencil on wood

I’ve used a makeup sponge to apply paint with great success as I did for this milk can decor piece. But with a stencil this large, I find a stencil brush much faster.

Have several layers of paper towels to offload most of the paint from the stencil brush. A dry brush is very important. Remember, you can always add more light layers, but you can’t take paint away.

After applying the paint in the middle of the letter, position the brush on the edge of the letter. Then brush from the stencil edge to the middle of the letter. When you paint from the outside-in, there’s less chance of seepage under the stencil.

Notice I’m holding the stencil down firmly along the area I’m stencilling. Always apply pressure to the edge of the stencil so it’s tight against the wood.

Below is a prime example of painting the middle of the letter first. Again, move to the edges and paint from the stencil edge in toward the centre of the letter.

Notice how the first coat of paint looks blotchy? It will even out with another light coat of paint.

4. Stipple vs. Swirl the Paint

In addition to brushing from the edges inward, on a large stencil like this, you can also try stippling straight up and down. In contrast, when you swirl the paint, you can inadvertently lift the edge and push paint underneath if you’re not holding the stencil down well.

I purposely swirled some areas aggressively to cause paint bleed so I could show you how to touch it up in the next section! A small sacrifice to pay to show you there’s always an easy fix!

5. Brush and Stencil Clean Up

I never clean my stencils but I do clean my brushes right away with soap and water to maintain them. However, if you forget and end up with dried paint on your brushes, I hear that soaking them in Murphy’s Oil Soap for 24 – 48 hours will dissolve the paint. Although I haven’t tried it myself, I think it also works to get dried paint off the mylar if you ever want to clean your stencils.

How to Fix Stencil Bleed on Wood

Here’s one great example of bleed through to show you how to fix paint seepage. In this particular instance, the worst offence is the narrow bridge at the bottom of the letter ‘O’.

Start by taping along the edge with Frogtape. It has to be Frogtape because the adhesive is especially formulated to prevent bleeding. After all, you don’t want the grey background bleeding onto the black paint; you’d just be going in circles!

Use a narrow flat brush like the one shown below, and add the tiniest bit of paint on the tips of the bristles. Lightly dab and brush along where you see black. You’ll need at least two coats to cover up a dark colour like black. By the time I finished touching up other areas, I was able to come back with a second coat on the ‘O’.

After the second coat is dry, peel off the tape. ‘O’ my! You can’t even tell where the paint bleed was fixed.

Flat wall paint is perfect for touch ups like this because the additional paint seamlessly blends in. If you don’t have flat wall paint, chalk paint is a great alternative (see our post on how to paint with chalk paint and the cool clock we upcycled)!

Narrow bridges are always a tricky area, so next time leave these areas for last – when there is hardly any paint on the brush!

A few more minor touch-ups and the sign will be done!

If you find you have paint bleed on the curves too, tape the Frogtape onto a cutting mat. Then put the stencil over it and trace the edge onto the tape. Cut it out with a hobby knife and use it as a mask in the same way we did the straight edges.

How to Hang an Office Sign

If you’re mounting this office sign on a wall, we’d suggest using Command strips to hang it.

However, if you’re mounting the sign into a glass door, like we did, you’ll need plastic screen clips or metal picture frame turn buttons (similar to the one below, but flush ones are better for our particular IKEA door).

How to Store Stencils

I have a few of these pattern hooks from my days as a fashion designer and pattern maker. As you’ll see shortly, they are amazing for hanging stencils to store them. They take up no room at all, so you can really cram a lot of stencils into a small hanging space!

Since they’re SO useful in the craft room, I wanted to buy more. However, when I called up my trusty sewing supply wholesaler, I discovered the owner retired and the business closed forever. Sad day for me given that I’ve been a customer for over 25 years!

These patterns hooks are expensive here in Canada through regular retailers. But, if you live in the States, you’re in luck because you can easily find these metal pattern hooks on Amazon for a very reasonable price!

When you’re done with the stencil, just return it to the original plastic packaging, then slip a pattern hook through the hole.

You can either use one per stencil or group like stencils together on the same hook. I usually group holiday, signs and patterns together. I just slide them over when I need to grab a stencil.

How to store stencils using patterns hooks for how to stencil on wood

These hooks are the best compact solution to stencil storage! There are a dozen patterns hanging below. But, as you see, the stencils take up hardly any space in the Ikea Pax System we built. There’s still plenty of space for my upcycled tool storage too (see how to hang sliding pegboard inside a cabinet here).

Stencil patterns hanging in cabinet for how to stencil on wood

How to Organize Stencils

If the stencil package doesn’t have a convenient hole for hanging, we have a few tips for that too! The first hanging method utilizes the same stationery spines I use to hang my milk paint on my pegboard craft organizer. You’ll find more details on the video at the beginning of this post.

For the second method, I create new hanging tabs out of a plastic container lid from the recycle bin. I punch a hole for the pattern hook, then use double-faced tape to attach it to the stencil packaging.

Cutting tabs from plastic lid to hang stencils for how to stencil on wood

I was going to mount my new sign on the wall. But now that my stencils are stored behind closed doors, I can attached my new office sign to hide the future visual clutter behind the glass!

I haven’t decided if I will keep the office sign where it is or mount it on the wall instead, but I really like how subtle it looks through the frosted glass door! One day, I’ll brave painting on the actual glass! But for now, what do you think: keep as-is or move?

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How to Stencil FAQs

Here are a few common questions about stencilling:

How do you touch up a stencil bleed?

If you make a mistake, touching up a stencil bleed is easy. Use Frogtape along the edges of the bleed and burning it down well. Use a flat brush and stipple the background cover over the mistake. Depending on the colour, you may have to apply a few coats. Peel the tape and watch your mistake disappear!

Do you let paint dry before removing stencil?

It’s better to let the paint dry to the touch before removing the stencil so you don’t accidentally smudge the paint.

What is the best way to use a stencil?

  1. Let the background colour dry before stencilling
  2. Cover registration marks
  3. For no bleed through, you can take the extra step of stencilling the first layer with the background colour to seal the edges.
  4. Use the right stencil brush
  5. Use only a little paint and do several light coats.
  6. Offload most of the paint onto paper towels to ensure a dry brush
  7. Stipple vs. swirl when you have a lot of bridges
  8. Let paint dry before lifting the stencil so it doesn’t smudge

Should you use stencil adhesive?

No. Stencil adhesive is an added expense and not necessary if you hold down the edges of the stencil as you stipple.

16 thoughts on “How to Stencil on Wood (+ Fix Paint Bleed)

    • Thanks so much – I’m trying to get more organized; the clutter can really overtake if you don’t keep up – lol!

    • Thanks Linda; have to make good use of every inch of storage space 🙂

  1. You have some great tips for stenciling. I have problems with getting too much on my brush before I start. Then it’s a mess ;( Thanks, Sara.

    • Thanks Meegan! Paper towels are you friend for offloading too much paint; it will definitely help 🙂

  2. Your stencil organization idea is fabulous. I tried hanging mine with binder clips and what a pain that was. This might just be what I need in the workshop. Thanks Sara!

    • Thanks Marie – so glad you found it helpful! Binder clips have a lot of great uses (like hanging milk paint on our sliding pegboard), but this method is WAY better for saving space :).

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