Updated: Jun 15, 2020
Recently I was preparing a class on stencil printing for a group of interior designers and stylists doing a course in surface pattern design. And as I was describing the differences between stencil printing and screen printing and going into the advantages and disadvantages of both it occurred to me that it might be something to share with you, too. It deals with some questions I myself had early on.
If you’ve been following me and reading my blog you will know that I first started stencil printing as an alternative to screen printing. At that time our local screenprinting studio had just closed down and I was too much of a newby to try screen printing at home. I then started to stencil print with the supplies that were easily available to me. You can go back to my very first blog to read about it. After a while I found a way to screenprint in another studio and then at home. Now I can choose my technique depending on what I want to make and how I feel.
If I feel inspired and I want to get to work and see a result straight away, I will most often choose to stencil print. It is so easy and quick to cut a stencil and get printing. No long preparation, no exposure of screens necessary. And from one simple motif I can build multiple patterns, arranging them in different ways, use my brush in different ways to get different structures and a more or less transparent or opaque look. I will most often make one off products, even when I reuse the stencils the result will never be the same. Many people who buy from me appreciate these for that reason. Another advantage is that I use very little ink, not even a tenth of what I would use when screenprinting and there is no need to use any chemicals at all. You do need them when you want to expose your screen for screenprinting.
Stencil printing is however labour intensive and if I want to print a lot of fabric or want to print fabric for many products at once screen printing is the better option, it allows for higher quantities or for making a repeat pattern (which I haven’t done so far) for a much larger printed surface. Also it allows for much more detail. If I want to print a design that has a lot of delicate lines, it is harder to translate into stencil. There are ways around this as stencils can be very detailed too but you would probably prefer to use another way of cutting them then with an Exacto knife (although Japanese stencil cutters cut amazingly elaborate stencils with a knife). Early on I bought a stencil burner. It looks like a soldering tool and has a fine tip that gets very hot and you can use it to cut out more detailed stencils. I have never grown to love it and had almost forgotten I had it. I’m a little bit afraid of the hot point and I don’t like the smell of the melting mylar. And then there are complete cutting machines that can cut your stencils for you. I have no experience but I’ve seen people making very detailed stencils with them. I think that they will probably not use them in combination with a brush but with air spray, or with a screen!
I use rollers when I have larger motifs to fill in with solid color. It can be easier to get an even result using a foam roller. And the combination of a stencil and a screen is also very interesting to me. Sometimes delicate or complicated stencils can get tricky to use with a brush or roller, they can be too unstable and shift when you print. In such cases putting a screen over them and using them to screenprint can be a very good option. Another reason for combining stencils with screen printing can be when you want to print a larger surface like maybe a large circle. If you try to do that with a brush the result can get a bit blotchy and uneven. You can instead use the foam roller, but the best option for very even results is screen printing.
In the pictures you see three examples of my printing. In the picture with the gingko print I have used both a brush for structure and a roller for solid color shapes. The second picture with the burnt orange leaves I've used a brush with my stencil, but the stencil is very unstable with sticking out bits that can move when I print with either a brush or roller. Putting it underneath a screen and screenprinting over it could be a better option here, but you can not achieve the lighter shades or structures that way. In the last picture I show you one of my screens with a floral design and a handprinted cushion I made with it. I would not attempt to make a stencil for a design like this. So there is a technique for everything, it just depends what you want to make!
I hope that this is has maybe given you some ideas, wishing you happy printing!
For more in depth information about the stencil printing techniques that I use you can also check out my class on Skillshare.