Basic techniques for stencil printing on fabric
Updated: Jul 16
This is my second blog on the stencil printing technique I’ve developed over time. If you are interested in printing your own fabric without buying lots of equipment and without a steep learning curve this post with basic techniques for stencil printing on fabric is for you. If you’ve not seen the previous post you might want to go back to that one first to read about the materials I use. Otherwise let’s jump in.
I would recommend starting with some really simple stencils and not too big, just to get a feel of the material. You can draw your design directly onto the plastic or mylar with a permanent marker, or if you want to you can trace from an image on paper. Then cut it out with your Exacto knife. This should be relatively easy.
With your stencil cut out you are now ready to start printing (assuming your ink is ready and needs no mixing). I would recommend that you try out your brush and your ink first on a piece of fabric before using your stencil. It’s really important not to use any water on your brush! I always put a little ink (no more than a heaped teaspoon) on a saucer because it makes it much easier to get the right amount of ink on the brush. Dip your dry brush in a little ink and first tap the brush on the saucer to distribute the ink evenly in the hairs of the brush and then start tapping the brush on the fabric or making brushing movements. Explore what kind of marks you can make using little ink at first and then taking some more on your brush to get a feel for the effect it gives. The different kinds of taps or strokes of your brush and the different amounts of ink you use will give you an idea of ways to use your stencil creatively later on.
Then you put your stencil on the fabric, you can fixate it temporarily if you want with some tape, but this is up to you. I usually use my brush to work from the edges of the stencil inward. Try to make different shades of the same colour by using more or less ink or try getting some texture around the edges or some shading. All these different techniques add interest to your prints and give them some depth. If you want to make patterns with your stencils like I often do, you need to figure out how long your ink needs to dry to avoid smudging. This depends on the ink you use and how much you use. I sometimes start with printing using relatively little ink to make lighter shapes and I then print over them with darker shapes using more ink. Try what works for you. When you stop printing and you clean your brush with water it will take quite a while until the brush is dry enough to use it again.
I am really curious to see what you make when you use this technique. In the next post I will show you some ideas for making patterns with this technique.
This blog post is one of my earliest and I made when my own printing techniques were still evolving. It reflects the way I started printing and will help you get started. If you want a much more detailed instruction that will take you to the way I currently make my prints and patterns you can check out my courses here.