All about stencil material
After having written blogs about ink and brushes I thought it would be useful to write a short blog about stencil material, how to find it and also how to repair it and clean it.
The material that I use for my stencils is mylar (125 micron). I either buy it in A4 sheets or on a roll, in some places it is sold in blocks. Most of the people who take part in my courses and workshops have been able to find it either in art supply stores locally or online, for example in specialised shops for stencil printing or airbrushing. I did not start off by using this material. I started with whatever polyester sheet was available to me at home or in the office. You can take them off binders for example. Some work pretty well, others not so much, it is a question of trying them out. They need to be thin enough to cut easily with detail and stable enough to print (and clean!) without shifting and tearing. It was a good enough way to get started, I was delighted however when I discovered mylar. It is very strong, very thin and it can be cut easily as well as cleaned well.
Repairing your stencils
At some point you will probably experience tearing your stencils even when you try to be careful with them. They are usually easy to repair so you won’t have to cut new ones. The way I do it is by using heavy duty transparent packaging tape. It has enough width and it is very strong. I tape it over the place in my stencil that was torn, but make the patch a bit larger than the tear itself. I put a piece of tape on both the front and the back of the stencil and then I recut the place I taped over. This will usually hold really well. The only disadvantage is that the tape is harder to clean well than the mylar, it can stay a little cloudy even after cleaning.
Stencils are most likely to tear while you are cleaning them, but I have found a way that most often avoids this. I have a Perspex plate that I use to put my ink on while I am printing. I also use it for cleaning. I wet this plate and the stencil which will then stick to it. That makes it safe for cleaning. I can then use a scouring sponge and a liquid abrasive to clean. Always move your sponge from the sides inwards so that you will avoid getting it caught in a piece of the stencil. Rinse well after cleaning. This way you will be able to get almost all the ink off, there may remain a very slight colour cast, but that will not be a problem. Make sure you clean your stencils on both sides and leave to dry. If you are not using a Perspex plate find something else that is flat and smooth and that the stencils will cling to when wet.
When you clean your stencils in this way you will probably rub off part of the helplines that you’ve drawn on your stencil. if you are using any. It is therefore always wise to keep your original design so that you’ll always be able to retrace them.
Organizing your stencils
When you work a lot with multiple stencil motifs as I do you will need to find a way to keep everything organised as you will end up with bits and pieces that look really similar and that belong to different designs. I like to keep everything belonging to one design: the original drawing, the different stencils and sometimes a printed swatch together in A4 or A3 folders and keep them flat. This will also keep the stencils from distorting.
When you use a good material for your stencils and treat them well you will be able to use them for years.