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Simple Wall Stenciling

Updated: Jul. 05, 2019

How to stencil a decorative border at the top of your walls.

FH03NOV_STENCI_01-2Family Handyman
With our basic stenciling techniques, you'll be able to create everything from a simple stenciled border to more complex patterns that will add a dramatic flourish to any room in your house. Even if you don't consider yourself artistic, we'll show you how to use stencils to create unique works of art using only a paint brush and a tape measure.

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A full day

Wall Border Stencils Project Overview

Stenciling is a traditional decorative technique that perfectly complements a Craftsman-style room. And it’s perfectly easy to learn, too. If you can handle a paint brush and a tape measure, you can quickly master the techniques for applying an attractive, simple border. And with a little practice, you can tackle complex patterns using multiple wall border stencils and colors— and even create your own designs.

The key tools are a special stenciling brush ($10) and the stencil and paint. A wide variety of each are available at craft and art supply stores. You can also find stencil patterns at bookstores or on the Internet, or even buy stencil blanks and cut your own with an X-Acto knife. We bought our stencil, a pattern called Ginkgo Frieze, from for $42.Match the brush size to the area being filled within the stencil. We used a 1/2-in.,medium-size brush, which is a good, all purpose size. You can use almost any paint—artist acrylics, wall paints or the special stenciling paints sold at craft and art supply stores. We used artist acrylic paint for our stencil. Read on to learn how to create a simple stencil pattern on your walls.

Plan the layout

Photo 1: Tape up the simple stencil

Snap lines on the wall to align with the alignment marks on your stencil. Tape the easy stencils in place along the top edge with removable masking tape.

Photo 2: Loading the brush

Dab the special stenciling brush into the paint, then pat off the bristles on a dry cloth. Leave the brush almost dry.

Position your stencil on the wall at the desired height and mark the alignment holes or top edge. Then snap a light, horizontal chalk line around the room at that height. We used blue chalk for photo clarity, but make sure that whatever color you use wipes off easily. Or use faint pencil marks, which can be easily removed or covered later.

The key to a good layout is to avoid awkward pattern breaks at doors, windows and corners. To work out the best spacing, measure the easy stencil pattern and mark the actual repetitions on the wall. Vary the spacing slightly as needed to make the pattern fall in a pleasing way. Or if your stencil has multiple figures, you can alter the spacing between them like we did. Start your layout at the most prominent part of the room and make compromises in less visible areas. Draw vertical lines at the pattern center points to make positioning easier.

Dab on the paint

Photo 3: Apply the paint

Apply the paint to the stencil with light dabbing and swirling motions until the stencil area is covered. Work in from the edges, brushing toward the center.

Photo 4: Check your work

Lift the stencil up on the tape hinges and check for paint drips and for clear, sharp edges. Lay the stencil back down and touch up if necessary.

Photo 5: Apply the second color

Allow the first color to dry, then tape the stencil up on the same marks and apply the second color. Cover nearby areas of the stencil to avoid getting paint in them.

Finished wall border stencils

The finished stencil adds a dramatic flourish to any room.

Tape the wall border stencils pattern up on the alignment marks (Photo 1) and put a small quantity of paint on a paper plate. Push the stenciling brush into the paint just enough to coat the tips of the bristles, then pat off the excess on a dry cloth or newspaper, making sure the paint spreads to all the bristles as you do so (Photo 2). The brush should be almost dry— remember, it’s easier to add paint than it is to take it away.

Lightly dab on the paint (Photo 3). Hold the stencil pattern with your free hand to keep it still and flat. Don’t worry about getting paint on the stencil, but avoid wiping or stabbing too hard around the edges. You can cover the cutout completely or work for shading effects. Cover nearby cutouts with masking tape so you don’t accidentally get paint in them (Photo 5).

Mistakes are easy to correct. You can lift the stencil (Photo 4) and wipe off any paint that’s smeared under the edge with a damp paper towel, or touch it up later with wall paint. If you wipe some of the stenciled area away, just lay the stencil down again and touch up.

Our stencil design called for two colors, so we masked off the cutout where the second color would go, stenciled on the first color all the way around the room, then went back and added the second color, following our original alignment marks (Photo 5). Additional colors and even additional stencil patterns can be added in this manner.

Required Tools for this Project

Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.

  • Chalk line
Stenciling brush (these are available at craft and art supply stores).

Required Materials for this Project

Avoid last-minute shopping trips by having all your materials ready ahead of time. Here’s a list.

  • dry cloth or newspaper
  • Paint
  • Painter's tape
  • stencil pattern