I was actually ‘in the process’ of taking pictures and doing this post a couple of weeks ago when I was so unceremoniously interrupted by etsy; and side-tracked by that whole process. And while I went into great detail on how I do things in that post (per the requirements of etsy), I did not include every tiny detail. It was long enough as it was! I’ll be reusing some of the photos from that post , but not going over ALL the same information. Just filling in some of the blanks.
I almost always have a stash of ‘ready to stencil’ boards on hand for sign making. That prep work is kinda BORING and when I feel like creating, I don’t feel like having to do the boring part first! BUT, there are also times when I’m NOT feeling creative at ALL, but I still need to use my time wisely and be PRODUCTIVE. That is when I sand and base coat my sign boards. PLUS, I can sand, base coat, topcoat, touch up the edges and distress a good FIFTY sign boards OUTSIDE on a dry day. If I have to do that work inside on my craft table I can get maybe five done at a time! So I really TRY to never have to prep sign boards inside; except maybe for an occasional custom order.
That way, when the creative mood hits and I’m ready to stencil on the sign designs, I can get LOTS done in one day. I almost NEVER make one sign at a time. Even custom orders get sandwiched in with more ‘like signs’. It’s just a better use of my time to do several at a time. It takes the same amount of time set up and clean up and to clean a stencil after TEN uses as it does after ONE. Som why not use it ten times and save on clean up time?!?
I store my sign stencils in manilla folders. I have WAY too many of them to just put one per file, so I file similar themes together and use paper between them in the folder.
BEFORE I start stenciling I set up my sink for cleaning the stencils. The SOONER you get that left over paint into soapy water, the easier it will be to clean. I”ve found that DAWN dish soap works best. I put a couple of squirts into a dish pan and fill about half way with warm water. (which becomes sudsy!) As you can see from the above stencil, not ALL of the paint always comes off. And some people will tell you that you don’t need to clean the paint off at all. But if you want to get more than 10 uses out of a stencil, you’d best clean off some of that left over paint! If it builds up enough you will no longer have a ‘sharp (as in PRECISE!) edge to your stencils and you letters will be sloppy.
I use acrylic craft paints for my sign making. And FOLK ART brand is the only brand I will use for the lettering. It’s thicker than any other acrylic craft paints and has more pigment. I KNOW they make special ‘stencil paint’ and special brushes for that special paint. (I remember stenciling a sunflower border in my kitchen 20 years ago like that. The paint came in little round plastic cups and was more like a soft CRAYON than paint.) That is NOT the stuff you should use for making signs!! Use the liquid craft paints; the thicker the better when it comes to using stencils!
These are the kinds of ’pouncers’ that ‘they‘ tell you to use. THEY are wrong! These do not work very well at all. And trust me, I’ve made THOUSANDS of signs, and I KNOW what works best! These sponge or soft rubber pouncers just fall apart after a couple of uses, and they don’t give you a very sharp line at all. I used to spend HOURS touching up the messy edges of my lettering before I happened upon the BEST applicators ever!
YEP!!! Cosmetic make up wedges! These work like a dream, and are much easier to hold onto and my hand doesn’t get all cramped up when I am making a lot of signs.
*CLEANING YOUR PAINTING SPONGE AFTER USE: I actually don’t bother cleaning mine. I just wrap in a plactic baggie and store in a sealed plastic container. These don’t stay as “moist and ready for re-use” as the brushes and rollers that I save for re-use in a similar way, as shown here. But it still saves a lot of water otherwise wasted for cleaning such a small item. Besides, I usually make SO MANY signs at a time, that I practically wear tehm out in one use! Still I save them. If the paint has dried out on the end, I can usually just cot of the dry crusty part and get another use or two out of that same sponge again.
I use a scrap piece of cardboard for my ‘paint palette’. Squirt out a blob of the black paint and VERY LIGHTLY dab the wide end of your sponge into the paint; just enough to get a little bit of paint. Then you POUNCE your sponge around on a dry area of your palette to work the paint down into the sponge. You want it to be ‘moist’ with the paint, but not WET.
Using blue painters tape, tape your stencil into place, then POUNCE your paint loaded sponge over the open parts of your stencil. DON’T RUB it. POUNCE it. Quick, short dabbing motions until it’s fully covered with paint. You WILL need to re-load your sponge with paint often. DO NOT try to speed up the process by using more paint on your sponge. All that does is make your edges BLEED.
This is what your lettering will look like if you have too much paint on your sponge. The edges will BLEED and be sloppy. So, yes it takes longer to use a very lightly paint loaded sponge; but you get a better product!
THIS is how you want your lines to look! When you are completely done stenciling your design on your board, immediately take your stencil and submerge it into your pan of soapy water. I let mine soak for a few minutes. Then lay the stencil flat in the sink, put a drop of Dawn dish soap onto a kitchen scrubber (like a greenie) and GENTLY scrub the paint residue off your stencil. As I already said, not ALL of it comes off. And DO be careful to not ‘snag’ the pointy parts of your stencil with your scrubber. I lay my washed stencils on a towel to dry.
I kind of got ahead of myself a bit there. FIRST, right after you remove your stencil, your lettering will have ‘gaps’ in it. That is just the nature of a stencil. For example, they can’t completely cut out the middle of the letter “O”, so they leave little ‘tabs’ to hold the center in place. PLease, PLEASE, PLEEEEASE never leave your signs looking like this with the ‘tab gaps’ showing. It’s very quick and easy to fill them in!
Use a very fine paint brush with just a tiny bit of paint on it and ‘connect the lines’. Be sure the lettering is dry before you do this so you don’t smear your paint. And you might need to thin your paint a little for this process. But only thin ‘a dot’ of paint on your palette. NEVER add water to the bottle!
On some signs, you can barely notice the gaps (top sign); but still, please take ONE minute to fill them in. It looks SO much more professional with them filled it. I literally CRINGE when I see a sign made from a stencil with the gaps showing!!
And with a little bit of practice, you’ll be able to stencil HUGE signs like this! I actually did FIVE of these signs in one ‘sitting’!
Distressing and finishing your sign:
No pictures for these last instructions. I USED to sand my signs and distress them again AFTER I lettered them. That was MOSTLY because, before I discovered using the make up sponges for my applicator, I had a lot of ‘bleeding’ no matter how DRY my applicators were. That extra sanding took care of some of that bleeding around the edges.
Since using the wedges for applying the lettering I find that I don’t ever NEED to add that extra sanding step. So now I distress MORE when I am prepping my sign board, DON’T distress again after, and save myself a little extra work!
Do add a coat of varnish to your finished sign. I prefer MATTE (NO SHINE) but it can be hard to find. I just had to spend $56.00 on a GALLON of matte varnish because they were out of quarts and are discontinuing it altogether at the paint store! sigh.
I buy my stencils from several different places on-line. MOST of them have the very same stencils and pretty much the same price ranges, so it doesn’t much matter who you buy from. Be prepared for a bit of ‘sticker shock’! Stencils are NOT cheap; and probably not really worth buying if you are only going to use then ONE time. I buy mine in bulk quantities to get discounts; usually at least $100.00 worth of stencils at a time.
Happy sign making!