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  • Writer's picturePauline Greuell

Brush techniques for stencil printing

About 4 years ago, when I was still developing the techniques I'm now using for stencil printing on fabric I shared a blog post about basic stencil printing techniques in which there is a little video about brush techniques, it is still regularly viewed. Since then however my brush techniques have changed and expanded quite a bit.


Going back to the time when I posted that blog, I was often just working in one colour. I was so fascinated with the possibilities of creating shades and depth with one colour that I found I needed nothing else. I was creating light and dark shades by having more or less ink on my brush, working with shading by adding more ink to parts of my print and I also loved just printing a contour of a stencil or printing texture by using an old brush or a sponge or with the movements of my brush.


Leaf prints made using one stencil and different printing technques

When I first started stencil printing, I used my brush as I had seen other people do it, by tapping the ink into the fabric. While this is a good technique I do not often use it anymore. The fact that it produces a lot of noise is one thing, another is that I find it more time consuming. I now prefer to work my ink into the fabric by making stroking and brushing movements. I always brush from the outside of the stencil inward and refine the edges when I finish a print. I can do this because the stencil material that I use is very thin and my linen fabric is very smooth. I get an even better even print and very crisp edges when I print in this way.


I now most often print in several colours and the brush techniques that I started out with are still very much part of my style. I thought it would be nice to show you how I use them now.


Dry brush technique

I use the dry brush technique to make very light prints by having hardly any ink on my brush. This technique is perfect for me to create a background for a print, as the print you make in this way, will appear to be behind a darker print and that is a nice effect to play with. I've used it in the snowdrop print (below left), to suggest a field of snowdrops. In the dandelion inspired print (below middle) I've used this technique to give a background to the petals of the dandelion that would otherwise seem to be floating. And in the clematis seed head inspired print I wanted to suggested the soft and fuzzy feeling of the seed heads and using the dry brush technique is perfect for that too.

Three prints in which the dry brush technique is used to create background


Contour technique

In some of my prints I like to use a contour around my prints which I achieve by having part of my brush on the stencil and part on the fabric. I use it to create different kinds of effects. In the tulip print (middle below) I use it to define individual parts of the one coloured first layer, that could otherwise not be distinguished.

In the ivy print (on the left) is serves mostly to create depth in what would otherwise be a more flat print.

And in the spring flower field (below right) the contour around the anemones is mostly a decorative part of the design.

Three prints in which the contour technique is used to create depth, definition or used decoratively.


The shading effect in the prints below is similar to the contour technique in the way it can be used. I do the shading with a dry brush to go over a print to get a gradient instead of hard edges. In all of the prints below it creates depth and in the abstract print on the right also some movement. It can also change the feeling of the style of the print. For me the tulip print in the middle has a more classical feel with the shading than without, which was what I needed for a custom print.

Three prints in which the shading technique is used for depth, movement or style.


I find using texture made by my brush a very interesting technique to play with in certain kinds of prints. I love to use it in abstract prints like the print in the middle, it gives the print a lot of movement.

Another way I sometimes like to use it is to create a painterly effect. This is the case in the chestnut blooms on the left and the clematis flowers on the right.

Three prints in which texture is used for a painterly effect.

Working like this with a variety of brush techniques (that I often use in combination) I have a lot of options to give character to my prints and patterns. Before settling on a design I will often have tried it out in several different techniques to see how it works best.

I hope this may inspire you to try these out. If you feel you need some instruction, you can get that in my Complete Stencil Printing Course. Or check out my in person courses at West Dean College or at Atelier Clos Mirabel.







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