How To Stencil A Wall: A Beginner’s Guide

I spent last weekend stenciling some adorable dandelions onto a wall in our hallway, so today I’m going to share a step by step tutorial and some tips and tricks I picked up in the process!

How To Stencil A Wall: A Beginner's Guide

I am so thrilled with how it turned out. It was way easier than I expected, and I actually got a bit carried away and stenciled some floating seeds all the way over the door and onto the other wall!

Ignore all of the mess on the kitchen table! I was “hiding” my paint supplies from all of the other pictures I took. 🙂

How To Stencil A Wall: A Beginner's Guide

I was a bit limited by the cat playground we made, but I floated a few seeds around the shelves and I just love how it turned out.

How To Stencil A Wall: A Beginner's Guide - Floating Seeds

I was a little daunted at first, because I’ve never stenciled anything in my life (unless you count tracing little hearts and stars cutouts inside of those plastic rulers we used in like first grade). But it turns out stenciling is super easy to do!

How To Stencil A Wall: A Beginner’s Guide

Here’s what you need:

  • a stencil
  • a dense foam roller or a brush
  • painter’s tape or spray adhesive
  • paint (latex interior paint, or craft paint works best)
  • styrofoam plates
  • paper towels
  • a drop cloth or other floor protector (we used a piece of cardboard)

Stencil Supplies

Just a quick note in regards to paint…you do  not need very much. You aren’t painting the entire wall, just the sections left uncovered by the stencil. We bought little 8oz sample size jars from Home Depot for $3 each and by the time I was done painting, the jars were still more than ¾ full.

Also, make sure you have some paint that matches your wall color just in case you make a mistake or need to touch something up.

Choose a stencil and a wall

The first thing you need to do is choose a stencil, and a wall to stencil it on. We live in an apartment where (technically) we aren’t allowed to paint. I didn’t want to use an all-over stencil because it would be a pain to paint over before we move out. So I looked around for stand-alone stencils and when I saw the dandelion stencil, I knew that was the one I had to have!

I knew we needed an entire blank wall to stencil the dandelions, because unlike with an all-over interlocking stencil, the bulk of the design is at ground level and nothing would be visible above furniture. We don’t have very many blank walls, but we just happen to have this small one in between our kitchen and our bathroom.

How To Stencil A Wall: A Beginner's Guide - Start with a blank wall

Figure out your design

If you have an all-over geometric stencil, this part is already done for you. But if you use a stand-alone stencil like the dandelion, you have a bit more freedom in choosing your design.

I already had this part mostly figured out in my head. I knew I wanted a couple of dandelions with seeds blowing away, and I wanted them in a few shades of color to give it a bit of depth. So I grabbed a piece of paper, measured the wall, and drew a quick sketch of the wall and design. I’m a very visual person, so seeing the design on paper really helped me.

How To Stencil A Wall: A Beginner's Guide - Design Sketch

I’m such an amazing artist, I know! 🙂 If you look closely you’ll see that there are six dandelions in the sketch, but only five on the wall. I’m still on the fence about the light colored one all the way to the right… I can always add it in later if I choose.

Choose colors

This may seem like an easy step, and it certainly is simple, but JM and I spent a ton of time on this part! We brought home 22 different paint chips with four colors each and then spent days taping them to the wall in different combinations, moving them around, taking them off the wall, etc. (And I changed my mind about every twenty minutes!) But in the end we narrowed it down to three shades of a brownish-purple-pink, and having lived with these dandelions on my wall for over a week now, I’d say we made the right choice!

Clean your wall

Our wall was pretty dirty. It’s halfway in a hallway so there were bumps and scrapes all along it from suitcases etc. Blech. I used a magic eraser and it worked great! Just be careful not to scrub too hard with those guys or you’ll scrub your paint off too.

If you don’t have dirty walls, you at least want to wipe down the wall with a slightly damp washcloth to remove any dust before painting.

Practice first

I was a little wary about stenciling, so I found a piece of cardboard to practice on. I put one piece of cardboard down as a drop cloth, then I taped a second piece up onto the wall, taped the stencil to it, and practiced painting.

Practice 2

I’m so happy I practiced first; I learned a lot about how much paint to leave on my roller, how hard to press, what direction to roll in, etc. And if your first practice doesn’t turn out the way you want it, flip the cardboard over and try again!

Just remember that cardboard is slightly ridged and your wall is flat, so it may not turn out exactly perfect on the cardboard.

Attach your stencil to the wall

Once you’re done practicing, it’s time to stencil your wall! The first thing to do is attach your stencil to the wall.

My biggest tip here is to use spray adhesive! I was worried that spray adhesive was a super permanent bond and would pull the paint off my walls, so I taped the stencil to the wall with painters tape when I stenciled the first two dandelions. It worked okay, but I had to be extremely careful about having very little paint on my roller. It seeped under the edges a bit in some places and it didn’t show how delicate and thin some pieces of the stencil were.

I called my dad while I was waiting for the paint to dry and he convinced me to try spray adhesive. He said he uses it all the time and that you can use it to make a permanent or temporary bond. So I bought some Elmer’s spray adhesive, tried it out for the next dandelion, and it worked amazingly!

Two Dandelions

The light pink dandelion was one of the ones I did by taping the stencil to the wall. I did the rest of the dandelions with spray adhesive and the lines were all much cleaner! The thin parts of the seeds are much clearer and sharper, and all of the edges are much crisper.

If you have a bigger stencil without itty bitty delicate dandelion seeds all over, you’ll probably be fine with painters tape, but the spray adhesive made a HUGE difference for my project!

IMPORTANT: In order to have a temporary bond with spray adhesive you need to spray it on the stencil and then wait 3-5 minutes before attaching the stencil to the wall. The adhesive will dry to a slightly tacky, rubber cement consistency and you will be able to stick the stencil to the wall and remove it anywhere from 3 to 15 times before you need to reapply the adhesive.

Tape off any trim etc.

If you’re stenciling anywhere near trim, a corner, a ceiling, or any other areas you don’t want painted, make sure to tape those areas off first. I wanted my dandelions to “grow” out of the baseboard rather than out of the floor, so I taped off the baseboard under the stencil opening at the bottom.

Pour out some paint onto your plate

You don’t need very much. About 1-2 T per stencil will work just fine.

Prepare your roller or brush

The most important thing here is to have VERY LITTLE paint on your brush or roller. If you have too much paint it will seep under the edges of your stencil and blur your design.

Once you have some paint on your roller, roll all of the excess off onto a paper towel. Your roller should look very dry, and the paint should not be coming off easily onto the paper towel.

Seriously, you cannot wipe off too much paint at this point. If your first layer of paint is thin and splotchy and doesn’t completely cover the wall color, just leave the stencil in place, wait about a minute and roll over it again. It is way better to do a few thin coats of paint to get the coverage and color you want rather than try to do it all in one coat.

Brush away from the edges

If you brush or roll towards the edges of the stencil, you might push some paint under the edges of the stencil. Instead, start with your brush or roller on top of the covered bit of the stencil and brush or roll in towards the open part.

Remove your stencil and let your paint dry

Once you have finished your stencil, pull it off the wall and let your paint dry. If you are just doing one stencil, you’re done! If you are repeating the design you’ll need to let the paint dry for at least 5-10 minutes before re-applying the stencil, otherwise you’ll smudge it.

How To Stencil A Wall: A Beginner's Guide

My dandelions overlap each other, so even though stenciling each individual flower only took about 2 minutes, it took a few hours to finish the project because I had to wait for paint to dry.

If you mess up, clean it up with some wall color paint

If your paint bleeds under the stencil or if you accidentally roll off the edge of the stencil, you can easily clean it up. If the paint is still wet, you can wipe it off with a baby wipe or a wet Q-tip. Or if it has dried already, just paint over it with paint that matches your wall color.

Some of the paint on the darkest dandelion seeped under the edges of the stencil, so I used a tiny brush to cover it up after it had dried. The wall paint color is almost dry in this picture, but if you look closely you might be able to see where I touched it up.

How To Stencil A Wall: A Beginner's Guide - Cover up mistakes with wall color paint

The best thing about stenciling is that even if your paint job isn’t perfect, it’s still going to look great! There are a few parts of the stencil missing some paint, and there are still some places where I went over the edges, but unless you’re inspecting the stencil with a magnifying glass you’re not going to notice any of it. 🙂

And that’s the basic process for stenciling a wall; you’re done! Just one final tip…

Don’t freak out!

I pretty much always have to remind myself of this when doing projects. But it was particularly important to remember while doing this project because paint is a different color when wet.

How To Stencil A Wall: A Beginner's Guide - Let paint dry before freaking out!

Would you ever have guessed that the paint on the plate is what I just used to paint the stem on the left? Those look like three completely different colors to me! But, in the end, all of the colors dried to exact matches of the paint chips and everything was good.

For my project, I still had one more part to do: the seeds! I planned out a “path” with the help of some painters tape.

How To Stencil A Wall: A Beginner's Guide - Plan your design

I painted the seeds using a small round brush because the roller was too big. All of the same tips apply when using a brush, so make sure to dry off most of the paint and brush away from the stencil edges.

Another easy tip for stenciling with a brush is to use a dabbing motion (kinda like stippling) rather than a brushing motion. Just lightly touch the brush onto the stencil and immediately pick it up, and continue “bouncing” the brush onto the stencil until you get the coverage and color you want. This method makes sure that you don’t get too much paint onto the wall and helps prevent paint from seeping under the edges of your stencil.

The seeds turned out great, and I think they make the whole project.

How To Stencil A Wall: A Beginner's Guide

Overall the project was totally amazing! It looks great, it was easy to do, and I had a ton of fun! I’m so glad I got to review a Cutting Edge Stencil, and I can’t wait to figure out another fun stenciling project!

Have you ever stenciled anything? I thought about getting an all-over stencil and maybe painting the small wall in my kitchen, or getting a stand-alone “border” stencil and doing “accents” above our doorways. What other stenciling ideas do you have? I picked up a set of alphabet stencils from Michael’s because they were on a ridiculous clearance sale, but I haven’t done anything with them yet. I kinda want to put a little slogan on a wall in our kitchen…any thoughts?


I link up at these awesome parties!

Jessi Wohlwend

I believe that anyone can do crafts and DIY projects, regardless of skill or experience. I love sharing simple craft ideas, step by step DIY project tutorials, cleaning hacks, and other tips and tricks all with one goal in mind: giving you the tools you need to “do it yourself”, complete fun projects, and make awesome things!

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Reader Interactions

  1. Luisa says

    11 years ago

    I love this tutorial!! and I love the dandelions!!! ♥ very pretty!


  2. Art Mama says

    11 years ago

    That came out beautiful! I have done a number of things around our house freehand mostly because I have never mastered how to keep a stencil from bleeding. Armed with your pointers I may just try again. 🙂

  3. emily says

    11 years ago

    I love!! Wow!! Amazing!! I can’t enough good things about this :o) beautiful!

  4. Dee says

    11 years ago

    Your wall turned out beautiful! Your a pro.


    • Jessi says

      11 years ago

      Haha, thanks! I’m not really a pro, but it was really a lot easier than I was expecting to stencil it and have it turn out great!

  5. Christine says

    11 years ago

    You did a fabulous job Jessi!!! It was a great idea to draw it out first!

    Thanks so much for sharing this at The DIY Dreamer… From Dream to Reality!

  6. JennyLynn says

    11 years ago

    It has been years since I have done any stenciling. It looks great!

  7. Dawn says

    11 years ago

    I love it, great modern looking design and it saves a fortune instead of buying wallpaper

  8. deirdre says

    11 years ago

    Those are so lovely and subtle- And you make it look easy.

    I love that the cats are in on the action!

    Stopping by from DIY dreamer blog hop and saw your link…we’d love for you to stop by our blog link up: Photo Friday- you’re welcome to add any photos from your blog! Hope to see you there.

  9. Lauren @ {{mercyINK}} says

    11 years ago

    Came out awesome, Jessi!!! thanks for sharing with us at the (heart)&(home) gathering at mercyink!


  10. PJ says

    11 years ago

    I have been trying to leave a comment on your last post all weekend to tell you I LOVE this!

    Your color choice is perfect and I love the whimsy of the floating seeds.

    Oh to have a wall I can paint. Someday!!!

    • Jessi says

      11 years ago

      Ugh, sorry! I realized yesterday that I broke something on my blog Saturday morning! I got a little carried away and left out a semicolon in a line of code, cuz I’m dumb. But everything should be working again now, glad you like it!

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