How To Make Airbrush Stencils-Excellent Tips For 2023

stencil close up how to make airbrush stencils

For Airbrushing stencils are used in a variety of creative arts and handicrafts. It is easy to learn how to make airbrush stencils, we’ll show you how!

You can use them for everything from face painting and body painting to murals, wall art, cake and cookie decorating and vehicle painting.

motorcycle how to make airbrush stencils
Custom paint work on vehicles utilizing airbrush stencils

Creating airbrushing stencils isn’t very difficult but it does take some time, planning and skill. It can be a creative outlet for artists to make customized prints. Stencils are very useful for getting the exact design that you want.

In this article, we share our guide for creating airbrush stencils quickly and accurately.

Preparing to Make Your Stencil

To make stencils from paper, plastic or acetate sheets. Here are some of the things you may need.

  • Computer
  • Printer
  • Scanner
  • Cutting knife or digital cutter machine
  • Cutting mat
  • Printing paper or vinyl or stencil mylar sheets
  • Stencil film
  • Spray paint and your airbrush
  • Tape or repositionable spray adhesive

The first thing you need to do is decide what design you want to airbrush. You can create a design on your computer using image design software. There are also thousands of ready-to-print designs online for free, or you can free-hand draw your own.

Lastly, you can also scan shapes and designs into your computer from a card and then edit the image to fit what you need.

Scanning Images for Stencils

You can create stencils out of any images that you find. Simply place the image on a scanner with the printed side of the card facing down. Start the photo scanning software and import the image using the file option in the menu.

Once the image has been digitized, edit the image to adjust dimensions or change its shape in any way you like. When the image has been adjusted how you want, select “Accept” and save your file.   OR, if you choose to use a digital cutter machine, send the image to the design program that comes with your machine.  (See below for my top recommendation!)

Print the Image

Printing the image should be pretty straightforward. Start the design software and open the design file. Click on the file menu and scroll down to print the layout. Make sure that the paper size matches your printing paper.  Using cardstock weight paper may be your best option for a sturdy stencil.

Next, select Print Settings and find the quick print option for the printer. With the paper in the feeder, press print.

If you are looking to make a stencil that is much bigger than a single page, you will need to print multiple copies for different areas of the image. In addition, print one smaller, 1-page print for reference.

For a stencil that needs to wrap around a curvy surface like a motorcycle tank, you may find that using contact paper will give you a sticky back stencil that will adhere to the surface for more precise airbrushing.  You may also use sticky back vinyl made for digital cutters.  Be careful though, some brands of this vinyl have permanent adhesive.  You’ll want the repositionable kind.

Cutting the Stencil Out

Place a cutting mat on the desk you will be working on and spread it out. The cutting mat will help protect your desk from the blade.

Put your stencil film on top of the cutting mat. Make sure that the film is bigger than the size of the design paper.  You’ll find this self-healing matt invaluable:

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Position your design print on top of the stencil film.

Firmly attach your design to the stencil film with the help of tape.

Start cutting the design with your cutting knife. Take your time with this. Intricate designs and curled cuts take longer than big, straight cuts. If you are struggling, you can draw a softly cut edge on the design paper first and then press harder to get the exact cuts that you want.

Use a fine point knife slicer like this one:

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High Tech Cutter

If hand cutting complex stencils is not your idea of having fun, I can heartily recommend purchasing a digital cutter.  I own two different brands and my favorite is the Silhouette brand digital cutter.  The beauty of this brand is that you can purchase or download digital files called SVG files.

In addition,  you can scan in your personal artwork or designs into the design program that comes with the Silhouette. The machine will precision cut your stencils automatically.

Try doing a google search for ‘free SVG files’ and check out the awesome stuff you can download and cut out with your automatic digital cutter.  You will be AMAZED! ….and hooked for life.

Stencils are used for airbrush, cut vinyl for T-Shirts, wall art, greeting cards and paper crafts, decals for car windows and just about anything you can imagine.  In Silhouette Design Software you can resize any shape, create more complexity to the design and arrange the stencil on the matt any way you wish.

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And here’s special stencil sheets that will feed into the machine:

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Preparing the Stencil

Before you start airbrush painting, you will need to make sure that the stencil is placed firmly on the surface that you need to paint. If you don’t place it firmly, the paint can spray underneath your stencil and the result will be fuzzy edges and a less than perfect spray.   When using a paper stencil, rather than adhesive vinyl, you’ll need to secure every edge and cut piece securely.

The best way to do this is to use a repositionable spray adhesive like this one:

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Flip the stencil over on its back side. Spray an adhesive gently on it two to three times. Give it a minute to bond with the film and then stick it to the surface you are looking to paint. Hold it firmly against your project for about a minute to let it stick thoroughly against the surface.

The stencil must be properly mounted on the surface before you start with the airbrush. Also, make sure that it is completely flat. Any bumps or curling over the surface may cause your airbrush to make a less than crisp edge.  Make certain that it is flat to the surface. You can also cover parts of the project with masking tape so that they do not get painted by mistake.

teen boys airbrushing stencils how to make airbrush stencils
Using stencils is a great way to perfect your airbrush skills

Using the Airbrush to Paint

How you use the airbrush over the stencil will depend on the type of project you are doing.

If you are using the airbrush and stencil for body painting, make sure to hold it firmly against the body part and then tape it to keep it in place. Movement can cause the stencil to slip, so you will need to paint right after you have secured the stencil.

In most cases, you will need to complete the spray in five minutes.

On the other hand, when you are painting an animate object, you can take all the time you need to before painting over the stencil.

Benefits of Stencils

Customized stencils make it very easy to decorate your artwork the way you want. If you have often wondered about creating delicate patterns on your crafts but don’t know how to do it then stencils are the solution that you need.

You can make stencils out of anything from cardboard sheets to plastic sheets, foil paper and even carton sheets.

Here are some major benefits of using stencils in your projects.

  • Stencils give you the freedom to choose the design and pattern you want as well as where you want to place your drawing. Once you get good at creating stencils, the possibilities for artwork are limitless.
  • Do you often have to work on similar painting projects? Stencils will make it easier to complete repetitive paint jobs so that you do not get bored.
  • Stencils make it easier to paint and finish your artwork much quicker. You can cut your painting time in half with stencils.
  • If you are good at building projects but lack the necessary painting skill, then stencils could be the perfect solution for you.
cake stencil how to make airbrush stencils
Fine details for an exquisite cake using airbrush stencils

Useful Tips For Painting With A Stencil

  • When using stencils, try to use a thicker variety of airbrush paint. Thicker paint doesn’t spread out as much and it is less likely to go under the stencil.
  • Make sure to thoroughly stick you stencil to the surface before you start applying paint. You can use adhesive for this purpose when painting a craft. After painting, you can remove the stencil by gently peeling it off.
  • If it is not possible to stick the stencil to the surface with adhesive you can also use masking tape to hold it in place. The finish is not as clean as you would get with spray adhesive but it can help you get by for most custom work.
  • If you are using a brush instead of spray paint then make sure it is a stencil brush. A stencil brush is firmly packed with short bristles, unlike a paint brush. Gently dab the paint onto the stencil instead of forcing strokes across it. Kind of like poking the stencil softly.
  • Go up and down with your brush or sponge in this way. If your rub the brush back and forth like you do with regular painting, there is a chance that the paint will go under the stencil and make a mess.

More Tips!

  • When you need to get a strong color finish, then apply multiple coats of paint on your project in breaks. If you use excessive paint at once, it is very likely to flow under the stencil and mess your project.
  • When applying multiple layers, let each layer dry before you put on another one on top of it.
  • Keep your project and stencil on a completely flat, horizontal surface when painting. If the stencil is vertical (like on a wall) then gravity will cause the paint to drip down, under the stencil.
  • Do not use a lot of force. Easy strokes and touch ups are the way to go.
  • After taking the stencil off, make sure to clean it thoroughly. This will make it easier to use it again when you want.
  • You can always test your stencil on a rough paper for practice to see how it works before attempting to use it on a project.

Check out our other airbrush articles!

Airbrush and Compressor Kits

Best Airbrush Reviews

Airbrushes For Miniatures



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Final Thoughts

Stenciling is suitable for both kids and adults. For instance, whether you are just starting to paint or you are an experienced artist, you can save a lot of time by creating useful stencils that can be used in multiple projects.

Making stencils and using them in your projects does not only challenge your creativity but also gives you great satisfaction once the job is finished.


Anita HC

I hope you are enjoying this article! I love helping creators learn. My goal is to help you find the knowledge and inspiration you need. Check out our library of articles and visit often...I'm adding articles every week! Thank you again for reading!

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