DIY

How to Stencil a Wall from Start to Finish

I’m Zoe.
My mission is to teach you to  confidently build magazine-worthy DIYs. I used to be terrified of power tools, which is why I'm a firm believer that ANYONE can DIY.
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Price

$25 – $75

Time

1 Day

Difficulty

Easy

If you’re looking to make a big impact to a space in your home on a small budget, this tutorial might be for you. Today we’re going to talk about how to stencil a wall.

"how to stencil a wall" text overlay on image of bathroom with geometric stenciled wall

We’re going to be using a large wall stencil from Stencil Revolution for this tutorial. Rather than a paintbrush or roller, we’re going to use something a little bit different: a sea sponge! 

This is going to give us a really cool almost stone-like effect instead of a solid color. I know it’s hard to see in photos, but it’s really pretty in person.

close up of stenciled wall showing the texture from the sea sponge technique

The sea sponge stenciling technique is also awesome because you don’t have to worry about your paint bleeding under your stencil. It’s not meant to be crisp and clean, so it’s okay if there’s a little bleeding going on. 

Not only that, but the sea sponge allows us to move quickly. You don’t have to worry about multiple coats or covering everything perfectly. Personally, it’s my favorite wall stenciling technique! 

Alright, let’s start DIYing!

before and after of builder grade bathroom with stenciled wall and new mirrors

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What You’ll Need

How to stencil a wall (step-by-step tutorial)

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STEP 1: CHOOSE YOUR STENCIL 

This might be the hardest step of the entire process. There are so many different designs to choose from. When selecting a stencil for your wall, I recommend getting a large stencil. The bigger, the better when it comes to stenciling walls and other large spaces. 

Here are a few great brands to look at for wall stencils:

  1. Stencil Revolution 
  2. Cutting Edge Stencils
  3. Royal Design Studio 

I ended up choosing the Scandinavian Geometric Wall Stencil from Stencil Revolution that I also used on these stenciled curtains

STEP 2: PREP YOUR WALL 

If your wall is already the color you want it to be underneath your stencil, your prep will be pretty easy. 

Just wipe down the wall to make sure there isn’t any dust on it. If there are some dirty spots, wipe them down with a magic eraser so that it’s nice and clean. 

If your wall isn’t the color you want as your base, you’ll want to paint the wall whatever color that you want underneath your stencil. 

I would recommend using a flat or eggshell sheen for your base color. We kept our wall as is: Flat Frosty White by Sherwin Williams. 

If you are only planning on painting one wall, go ahead and tape up your baseboards, along the ceiling, and the corners of the adjacent walls. 

When you’re stenciling those tight corners and edges, you’re bound to get some paint on the other wall, so it’s best to tape it up to protect them. Plus, then you get a satisfying tape peel at the end!

Pro tip: use extra-wide tape for more protection!

STEP 3: DECIDE WHERE YOU WANT TO START STENCILING ON YOUR WALL 

When deciding where you want to start stenciling on your wall, it will depend on your stencil design and if there is anything you want to work around. 

Unless you have a specific reason why you do not want your design to be centered up, I would recommend marking the center of your wall from right to left. 

In terms of where it should be placed vertically, you can either center up the middle of the stencil on the wall, or you can just start at the top or bottom. It really depends on your pattern and if you are worried about it being symmetrical on the top/bottom. 

If you do line it up on the top or bottom, please note that your baseboards or ceilings might not be perfectly level. 

Once you’ve decided where you want your stencil to be, mark the wall using chalk. 

For my wall, I drew a line from top to bottom of my wall at the center point. 

I recommend using chalk because it pretty easily wipes off. If you use a pencil, you’ll have to deal with erasing pencil marks or making sure to paint over it entirely. 

If you have a laser level, you can also use that for your guidelines. 

STEP 4: TAPE YOUR STENCIL TO THE WALL 

Now that you have the center of your wall marked, you’ll want to mark the center of your stencil on the top and bottom of the stencil. This will help you keep it lined up as you follow that centerline. 

Once marked (you can either mark directly on the stencil or on a piece of tape attached to the stencil), you can tape your stencil to the wall in the position you want to start. 

For me, I lined the bottom of my stencil up with the top of my countertop and centered it up on the line that I marked with chalk. 

Since we are using the sponge technique and it doesn’t need to be perfect, you can just tape the stencil in place using 1-2 pieces of tape. For the majority of my wall, I just used one piece of tape at the top of the stencil. 

Once you have it taped up, place a level on the top and side of your stencil to make sure that it’s nice and straight. The placement of the first stencil is the most important because every future stencil will go off of that placement. Take the time to make sure it’s well-placed. 

STEP 5: PAINT

Now it’s time to make the magic happen…it’s time to actually paint this wall!

Here’s the technique to stenciling a wall with a sea sponge:

  • Lightly dip your sponge in the paint. You just want to get the surface wet, don’t soak the whole sponge. 
  • Dap a paper towel or piece of cardboard a few times to get off excess paint. 
  • Lightly dab your sea sponge onto the wall/stencil. As you are stenciling a particular area, hold the stencil down with your other hand so that it is tight against the wall. 
  • Dab, dab, dab until you notice that you’re running low on paint. Then repeat! 
dabbing sea sponge on stencil

The beauty of this technique is that it doesn’t have to be perfect and not everything has to be fully covered in paint. In fact, it’s even better to have some variation where some areas have more paint and some areas have less. 

You can’t mess this up. Just dab the sponge on the stencil until you’re satisfied with the coverage. 

STEP 6: MOVE THE STENCIL 

Okay, this step is the most difficult part of stenciling. Once you finish your first section, it’s time to move the stencil. 

You can decide where you want to go next. Any direction is fine. 

Since we just painted the section, it’s important to not let the stencil drag into the wet paint. You can either wait it out and let it dry a little bit first, or you can just be careful (I’m just careful…too impatient to wait over here). 

Move your stencil and line it up with the section that you just did. You want to line up the stencil with part of the area that you already painted as much as you possibly can. 

lining stencil up with the existing paint

Once you feel good about the placement, tape the stencil in place. Then…check your placement again to make sure everything really is lined up. 

It’s important to spend the time lining everything up or you might end up with some funky spacing near the end (especially when using a geometric pattern). 

If you’re having trouble getting your stencil lined up using a single piece of tape at the top of it, you can add a second or third piece of tape to the other sides. Just don’t tape on the area that you just painted! 

Once you’re happy with your placement, you’re just going to continue painting and moving the stencil until you’ve covered as much of the wall as possible. 

STEP 7: PAINTING THE EDGES AND CORNERS 

There’s going to get to a point where you run out of room. You’ll have more stencil than you do wall space and you’ll need to do something about it. 

First of all, when you get to one of these areas, don’t worry about it right away. Move your stencil to another spot that does utilize the whole stencil. 

Paint as many areas as you can without needing to bend or cut your stencil. Once you’ve done that, then we can tackle the edges. 

stenciled wall in progress with missing pattern around edges and light fixtures

To paint the edges and corners, there are really two options:

  • Fold the stencil 
  • Cut the stencil 

Folding the stencil is a nice option because it will preserve the stencil for future use, but depending on the material, it can be difficult to fold well enough that you can actually press the stencil against the wall in the corners. 

I generally go the route of cutting the stencil. And y’all. This is the absolute worst part of the project. Once you cut it, there’s no going back. 

cutting stencil wit scissors

If you go the cutting route, look at your wall and think through the pieces of the stencil that you’ll need for each area. You’ll need to cut the stencil strategically so that you can hit all the areas from a single stencil. 

Once you’ve made the game plan of which areas to cut first, figure out the widest area of that section and cut your stencil accordingly. 

Usually, when I’m stenciling the edges, I’ll have one side that is slightly larger and then the wall tapers to be smaller and smaller. Because of this, I’ll cut for the largest piece and then trim the stencil every time I move it.

painting bottom of wall with a stencil that has been cut

Continue cutting the stencil and painting the wall until your whole space is covered. That last piece is so satisfying! 

And once that last area is done, it’s time for the best part: the tape peel! Go ahead and peel off the tape around the wall and reveal your beautiful new stenciling wall! 

removing tape from stenciled wall

Frequently Asked Questions

What kind of paint do you use to stencil a wall?

You don’t need a special type of paint to stencil a wall. You just use regular wall paint. For this project, we used Sherwin William’s Duration paint in a semi-gloss finish.

How do you stencil without bleeding?

Personally, I like to use the sea sponge method because it gives an awesome look and you don’t have to worry about bleeding, but if you prefer crisp lines, here’s what you want to do:

The key is to not use too much paint. Don’t overly saturate your brush or roller. And once you get paint on it, roll or brush on a piece of cardboard or paper towel to get the excess off. 

There are two other tips you can use to avoid bleeding when stenciling:

  1. Use a light adhesive like this one to adhere the stencil to the wall. The more places the stencil is fully in contact with the wall, the less bleeding there is. 
  2. You can place your stencil and then paint over it with your base wall color. Let the paint fully dry without moving the stencil and then paint over it with your stencil color. This is definitely a more time-consuming process, but it should result in crisp lines. 

Do you remove a stencil when the paint is wet or dry?

It doesn’t really matter. We like to remove ours when the paint is wet because I want to keep moving through the project. The key to keep in mind when removing it when wet is that you don’t want the back of the stencil to pick up any of the wet paint from the wall. 

Every time when I move the stencil, I try to look at the back to make sure it doesn’t have any wet paint on it. 

If it does, I’ll wipe it off. If it doesn’t, I’ll go back to placing the stencil, being very careful to not run it in the wet paint. 

Can you stencil over textured walls?

Yup! Technically you can, but they aren’t the most ideal wall for a stencil. The texture on the wall causes more gaps between the stencil and wall, which will result in more bleeding through the stencil. 

Because of this, I would recommend using the technique in this post with the sea sponge. Since the sea sponge adds variation and texture, it also makes it okay if the lines aren’t perfectly crisp. 

bathroom with Scandinavian geometric stenciled wall and crystal light fixtures
close up of stenciled wall and countertops in bathroom

After stenciling the wall, we finished this builder-grade bathroom update by spray painting the drawer handles, spray painting a light fixture, and getting some new mirrors.

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  1. Rachel says:

    You did such a fantastic job on this DIY! your space looks fantastic and you picked a gorgeous stencil to use!
    I can’t wait to see more from you soon!

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