How to Stencil Without Bleed

Does it surprise you to learn that we’re going to give you all the tips and tricks on how to stencil without bleed after taking this wooden table top from putty filled mess…

…to this lovely finish? Although we showed you how to make wood filler look like woodgrain, you didn’t think we were ending it there, did you 😉?

It really did come a long way from this faux oak plastic laminate! Nothing beats the warmth and charm of REAL wood!

Despite being proud of my accomplishment (I did my best Will impression from the Repair Shop), we already have many beautiful wood pieces in our house – thanks to Hubs. So I can’t wait to embellish the top with this Mudcloth Stencil! I’ll be using chalk paint with this stencil (you’ll find all our chalk paint ideas here).

Mudcloth stencil

From certain angles, you can see the fixes (as you’ll see on the video). Stencilling over the wooden top will perfectly disguise any still-noticeable imperfections.

Stencil taped onto wood table top before demonstrating how to stencil without bleed

My Favourite Stencils to Stencil Without Bleed

I find the best quality stencils are at least 10 mil thick. When Hubs decided to take a gauge to one of my stencils, this confused the heck out of him because we go by the metric system here in Canada. Mil is measured in thousands of inches – not to be confused with millimetre which is metric. I’ve even seen it mis-written as ‘ml’ which is a liquid measurement – even more confusing. Anyhoo, 10 mil is just right for avoiding paint bleed and also deep enough to do raised stencilling (like on our upcyled book).

Here are our favourite sources for 10 mil mylar stencils:

I’ve also seen stencils cut on a Cricut! Really handy if you have your own stencil ideas and want to make your own.

Stencil Without Bleed Project Supplies

* [If you’re looking for some of the things we used, we’ve got you covered (disclosure): Clicking on the affiliate links below means we may receive a commission. But don’t worry, you don’t pay a cent more and it helps us make more unique DIYs to share with you! Thanks for helping to support our blog!]

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How to Stencil Without Bleed Video

How to Stencil Without Bleed

Before stencilling, protect your work surface. Plastic is great at preventing paint spills from soaking through to your table. However, I also tend to lay down a sheet of brown paper in addition so I can replace it when necessary.

Tip #1: Seal with Shellac

Shellac is essential if you’re painting wood like oak, mahogany etc. with a lot of tannins.  It is the gold standard for preventing tannin bleed-through on light colour paint, such as this beautiful Vintage Duck Egg chalk mineral paint.

Since we still want the natural wood to show through, before stencilling Hubs sprays the top with de-waxed clear shellac. As you can see, there are no tannins showing through after stencilling.

You can also see the crisp lines our 8 tips in combination will produce if you follow them!

Stencilled wood top with jar of Vintage Duck Egg chalk mineral paint beside it on a table

Vintage Duck Egg Chalk Mineral Paint

Hub mixes his own shellac from flakes. You can buy a ready mix clear shellac from Zinsser, but for some reason it’s impossible to get in Canada.

Tip #2: Tape Your Stencil

I never use spray adhesive on stencils! Firstly, save your money and your brain cells! Secondly it really isn’t necessary. Tape a few corners of the stencil with painters tape just to keep it in position. But you will be most reliant on holding down the stencil with one hand as you stencil with the other. That’s all you need to do! Really.

Set up of work station with open jar of paint, wood top and stencil taped to surface

Tip #3: Set Your Workstation Up for Success

I use chalk paint right out of the container for stencilling. If you prefer, you can pour into another container or plate. To contain drips, I pop the paint jar into a yellow sorter tray.

Fold up a piece of paper towel and put that into the tray too. You will use it every time you dip into the paint to offload the majority of it. The plastic tray will prevent the wet paint on the paper towel from soaking whatever’s underneath (two pieces of paper towel folded and stacked are even better).

If you are right handed, have everything as close as possible to your work on the right hand side. That way, you minimize the potential to accidentally get paint on unwanted areas.

Showing amount of paint on end of stencil brush bristles before showing how to stencil without bleed

Tip #4: Use a Stencil Brush!

You don’t even need a brush made specifically for stencilling. Although a stencil brush is ideal, an round or oval brush will work too – with one caveat! Tape the bristles around the base to keep them from splaying as you stencil. It works like a charm!

Green tape around round brush to be used as a stencil brush for how to stencil without bleed

Tip #5: how to offload paint

This is the most important tip to remember on how to stencil without bleed. Dip just the tips of the bristles into the paint. See the tiny amount of paint on the end of the brush? If you blink you might miss it, but that’s all you need.

Then swirl the brush onto the paper towel to remove most of the paint. Importantly, you need to have a dry brush when you stencil. Until you get used to how dry the brush needs to be, you can test on a scrap piece of wood first before adding paint to the stencil itself.

Offloading paint onto paper towels - an important tip for how to stencil without bleed

Tip #6: to Stipple or Swirl?

Unlike regular painting, you don’t ‘brush’ the paint onto the stencil. You either stipple, swirl or, in this case, sometimes both!

Once my brush is offloaded, I stipple (tap up and down) most of the paint into the centre of the pattern. Working from right to left in the section I’m working on, I then go back to the beginning and swirl the still wet paint out to the edges to feather it out. I find this technique best for no paint bleed.

On a stencil like this, you can work line by line – or in a small block so you keep a wet edge. Just be sure to finish one section before moving onto another.

Tip #7: Brush Maintenance

Always wash your brush immediately after finishing and between each coat. If you let it dry, the brush will just get crusty and unusable.

When painting several coats, you can actually wrap your brush (or roller) tightly in plastic between each coat to keep it wet, like I did for this Christmas Sleigh Decor.  Then thoroughly wash it once your stencil is complete.

roller being placed inside a plastic bag to store for later

To help you remember, you can leave a plastic container filled with water off to the side. Then drop the brush into the container immediately after finishing. While you close up your paint jar and remove the stencil from your work, you can pre-soak the brush.

There are special soaps you can use. However, I usually rub regular dish soap through the bristles and work them back and forth until the water runs clear. Then I shake the brush into the sink to remove excess water. To prevent splatter, I sometimes do this outside; weather permitting. If you find your bristles are spreading after washing, wrap the damp brush tightly with a piece of paper towel and allow it to dry that way to reshape (see below).

With or without paper towel, ALWAYS allow your brush to dry in a horizontal position. Storing upright and allowing water to seep deep into the bristles will shorten the life of your paintbrush. I prop mine right across my yellow sorting tray, then put it away once dry.

Two brushes (an angle brush and round brush) drying horizontally on top of yellow plastic container. Round brush is wrapped with paper towel as it dries

Tip #8: FixING Gaps

In an ideal world, stencils would have perfect repeat patterns! However, with this mudcloth stencil, that isn’t the case.  My eye is immediately drawn to the gap between the arrows!

Stencilled table top showing gap between stencils

I don’t mind the ‘natural’ gaps, where the sewing machine gets hidden, but we can definitely do something about the two gaps between the stencil sections.

Stencilled table top with vintage duck egg with mud cloth stencil beside it on table top for how to stencil without bleed

Stencil without bleed

Here’s how you deal with that.

If there is a repeat somewhere on the stencil, place the stencil to bridge the motif. Using a fine artist brush, stipple paint lightly in the gap to make it disappear (offload the brush as you usually would). If there is no exact repeat, freehand between the gaps. Or, if you’re not confident in your freehand skills, use low tack tape to bridge the lines, then join the gaps.

It doesn’t take long to do the touchups and looks great. Definitely worth a little extra time for a pattern you love. And I do love this mudcloth pattern!

Stencil Without Bleed – Before and After

Here’s a reminder of the sewing table before stripping off the plastic laminate.

Original sewing treadle table with laminate covering the wood and brown metal base

So what do you think? Are you still shocked we covered up the wood after painstakingly restoring the woodgrain?

Complete project for how to stencil without bleed showing stencilled Mudcloth top on top of painted white treadle base

Maybe it will make sense when you see how gorgeous our vintage duck egg Featherweight looks displayed on top! It’s a rare colour and looks fabulous with the Mudcloth stencil.

Complete project for how to stencil without bleed showing vintage duck egg Singer Featherweight machine on top of stencilled treadle top

As great as the Featherweight looks – and is a perfect colour match – this table is actually meant for a treadle machine. The top pops off and fastens to the side. And the mudcloth stencil still looks super cool in this configuration! Complete project for how to stencil without bleed showing centre panel placed on side of wooden sewing machine top.

So often, metal pieces are stripped off the base and go missing.  Such was the case when we upcycled this exact same metal base. We’ve always wanted a working treadle and now we have one.

This is more along the lines of the vintage machine that would work with this sewing table.

Complete project for how to stencil without bleed showing vintage black sewing machine in top of treadle sewing machine

Now that you know how to stencil without bleed, go explore more ideas on How to Stencil. Or check out our other sewing table ideas (we got some great ideas for unique sewing table upcycles you may not have seen on Pinterest!).

Pin Stencil Without Bleed

Pinning is always welcome and appreciated!

Pinnable image for how to stencil without bleed

Pinnable image for how to stencil without bleed


Here are some frequently asked questions and answers on how to stencil without bleeding.

How do you get crisp lines when stencilling?

  1. Tape the stencil to hold it down so it doesn’t shift
  2. Use either a stencil brush or a round brush that has been taped to keep the bristles together. I find foam/sponge brushes and rollers hold too much paint. Also, sponge brushes tend to act like a suction cup and lift the stencil which can pull and cause the stencil to move. 
  3. Use a dry brush; offload most of the paint onto paper towels before painting the stencil.
  4. Start by pouncing paint in the middle of a stencil section being worked. Then swirl with light pressure to move the paint to the edge. 
  5. Keep the stencil in place if you plan to do a second coat. That way, the stencil can’t shift after replacing.
  6. Lift the stencil soon after the stencil is complete. If you use the dry brush technique, you won’t accidentally smudge the paint when lifting the stencil.

What is the best paint for stenciling on wood?

I’ve used latex, acrylic and chalk paint for stencilling on wood but I prefer chalk paint. That’s because it dries so quickly and I can continue to the next section and easily complete a project the same day.  

How long should paint dry before stenciLling?

If it’s chalk paint, you can paint as quickly as 20 minutes after painting. However, if you are stencil paining a wood surface with a clear shellac base (like this project), wait at least 24 hours for the shellac to dry. 

How do I stop paint from bleeding under stencil?

I never use stencil adhesive to hold down a stencil to prevent bleed. The best tool is a dry brush. If the paint isn’t wet, it can’t seep.

How Do You Clean a Stencil

Rub a baby wipe over the stencil to remove paint between uses. A clean stencil will prevent the paint brush from dragging and absorbing paint as you swirl it on top of the stencil.

Do you let paint dry before removing stencil?

No, not unless you want to apply a second coat. Otherwise lift it right away. Since you’re using a dry brush technique to prevent paint bleed, there’s no likelihood of smudging it when removing the stencil.

* This post is sponsored by Dixie Belle Paint. All opinions are our own. Rest assured that we have used these products and would not share them with you if we weren’t absolutely thrilled with them!

8 thoughts on “How to Stencil Without Bleed

  1. Thank you, thank you, thank you, Sara. I ALWAYS struggle with bleed through and learnt so much now. There were so many things I was doing wrong. I’m going to give it another go and let you know.

    • I think you’ll do great! And maybe it will give your awesome miniatures a run for their money lol!

  2. Great tips! I love stencil projects and bleeding has been issue:

    • The more you practice, the better you’ll get! Hope some of these tips help.

    • Glad to hear that you like it Marie; I didn’t know if you would after complimenting my touchups on part one lol! I have to agree with you on the white; it really was quite drab before!

  3. These are great tips. Bleed can be a problem. I was watching a show recently and the girl was taking a regular paint brush, fully loaded and stenciling and she said it was perfect. Of course they didn’t show a close up.

    • Thanks Rosemary; of course they didn’t show a close up 🤣

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