Have you ever wanted to paint a custom shirt, jumper or totebag with your design but the only way you know involves silkscreen or a shirt printing company?

Well, I can give you a cheap and easy way to make great shirts (or anything that supports a printed design), and this way is called stencil.

You can do absolutely crazy and complex things with a stencil. I’m pretty sure you know the work of Banksy. Do you? Yes! He uses stencils to create his pieces. Big ones.

But in this DIY Tutorial we are going to cover how to prepare our design to transform it into a stencil, how to cut the stencil, and how to paint using the stencil.

This tutorial will guide you on how to make a design that uses two inks! This means we are going to create two stencils, one per each color.

What we'll be creating

© VforViu 2016

This is the shirt I painted when documenting this tutorial.



  • Design printed in paper
  • Sheets of acetate paper
  • Cutting mat
  • X-Acto knife
  • Tape


Step 1

Choosing the design

Stencils work with flat colors, it is possible to fake a gradient effect with stencils, but you’d need tons of them. We are not going to complicate our lives with this, just not today. We are going to focus on creating a two ink print. So we need a design that uses two colors. By using a translucent ink we’ll be able to overlap our colors and get a third one.

The image on the right shows a one color design, if that’s what you are looking for, you can jump to step 3, however I’ll show you how to do a two ink print.

The design I’ve chosen to make my new shirt is going to be perfect for this exercise because it’s made of two flat colors.

Step 2

Preparing the two ink stencils

In the case you just want to use one ink, you can ignore this step. But if you want to use two (or more) colors, then we have to prepare our stencils accordingly.

Each stencil is going to be used for one color only. This is the same process we would do if we were going to work in serigraphy.

Here are the two stencils I used. You can see they are similar, but not the same. The parts that are the same in both stencils, are the parts that will have ink overlapping, creating the third color.

Step 3

Optimizing the design for the stencil

Once we have our design, we have to optimize it so we can actually cut it and get the closest result to the real design.

To do so, we have to know exactly what is going to be painted and what is going to be blank (not painted).

What is painted will be the pieces we will cut out of the stencil, so that the ink can cover the fabric. On the other hand, pieces that we do not wish to cover with paint will have to remain in our stencil.

We need to join all the pieces that we aren’t going to paint. They have to be touching each one. This will be done by drawing lines between them to unite each piece.

Step 4

Cutting the stencil

Now that we have our design ready, if we used the computer to create it, we will have to print it so that we can trace it.

Take the cutting mat to protect the table. Get the first design, in my case the red ink design, and the acetate paper and stick them together using some tape, this will prevent our design from moving when cutting.

And we’re ready to go. Take the X-Acto knife and “trace” the lines of your design.


Be careful when you encounter the parts where we’ve added the lines to join pieces, it is very important that you take extra attention here, and don’t miss any, or else, you’ll ruin the stencil! Ok, sometimes I’m too tragic, don’t panic, if we are lucky, we will be able to save our stencil by putting some tape in it.

And we are done! Here’s our first stencil. If you chose to have a one color design, you are done! YAY!

If you’ve adventured yourself to make a two (or more) colored design, yew have ter do da same with the other color! Yes, you can!

Here are some of my stencil collection. I learned about stencil printing when doing a project about punk music and the DIY ethic. And it stole my heart.

I love stencils, and ever since then, I’ve been making myself shirts of bands I can’t find in stores. I love the DIY effect they have.


So hey! How did your first stencil come out? Was it easy to cut?

I’d love to know your thoughts on this tutorial in the comments! And if you have any questions, just feel free to ask them 🙂


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Author Viu

I'm a children's illustrator and graphic designer from Barcelona. I like music and hiking.

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