Monday, July 27, 2015

Tutorials in Stenciling with Fabric Paint: Method 4: Overhead Projecter sheets burned with an Electric Stencil Cutter.

I am reviewing the 5 main methods I have for embellishing fabric with stencils and fabric paint. I go through the pros and cons and what I have learned with trial and error for each one.
  1. Freezer Paper cut with a Utility Knife
  2. Stencil Blanks (Showoffs at Hobby Lobby) cut with a Utility Knife
  3. Stencil Blanks cut/burned with an Electric (Heat) Stencil Cutter or Woodburning Tool
  4. Overhead Projector sheets cut/burned with and Electric (Heat) Stencil Cutter or Woodburning Tool.
  5. Cheap Screen Printing ideas
This method is by far the easiest, once you get the hang of it. There is no hand-cutting involved, and you can pretty much draw the stencils with the hot cutting tool.

Materials required: 
  • Electric Stencil Cutter/Burning Tool ($10-15)
  • Glass Pane/Old Picture frame (very important!!)
  • Transparency film (for overhead projectors, 100 sheets for $15)
  • Fabric Paint (Either Tulip Soft fabric paint, or mix the appropriate color from those 2 oz. acrylic paints at Walmart or any craft store and mix with textile medium at a 2:1 ratio)
  • Cosmetic Sponges for sponging on the paint (24 wedges for $1 from dollar tree, a lot cheaper than from a craft store)

Stencil burner, basically, you want a really fine point (at an angle is nice). I got the "Show Offs" Stencil Cutter from HobbyLobby for 15 dollars, with the coupon, 9 bucks. There are 4 tips of various kinds, which I only use the precision tip for stencil cutting. THe other stuff looks like it might be fun to use for woodburning, as this is really just the same thing as a pyrography/woodburning tool
The "precision tip" on my stencil cutter was a tad too thick, so I then sharpened the soft brass to a complete point with my (aluminum oxide) knife-sharpening stone in 30 seconds.
Stencil Burner Precision tip

I think Plaid Stencil Burner may be naturally sharper, but it was very easy to sharpen the tip myself. You could probably use a Pyrography tool too. I like the angled tip, and the sharpness.

One hint, let it heat up for a good 10 minutes (on the little stand that comes with it) before stencil cutting. The instructions say 5 minutes, but 10 is way better. Also, if the tip unscrews while you are working, just screw it in tight with little pliers and keep going. No point in letting it cool off and rescrewing it with your hands, pliers on hot metal is just fine.

I got  these ones from walmart. (School Smart without Sensing Stripe) It seems the ones "without sensing stripe" are a lot cheaper. I got 100 sheets from walmart for 15 bucks. You can also get them from Amazon or an office store. You shouldn't be paying more than 15 cents a sheet (some brands or ones that are meant to be printed on by a machine are much more expensive. Get the write on ones, they work fine)

First I traced my pattern pieces (I was lazy, so I just traced half of the neck facing, and am going to flip the stencil over to do the right-left sides.) with permanent marker, and then drew the design I wanted.

I then (after letting my stencil cutter heat up for 10 minutes!) simply "drew" over the lines to cut out my design.
Have your projector sheet lying (firmly!) on glass. I used to try having a paper under it, and it dissapated the heat funny, or made the sheet puff up in places imperceptibly, that REALLY messes up the whole process. I kept getting imprecise cuts, which I finally realized was the film kind of slipping up off the glass toward the burning tip as I cut, causing hunks of the sheet to burn away in sloppy lines. You can get pretty crisp lines as long as you keep the plastic as flat as possible on the glass, and kind of "carve" through the melting plastic with only the tip of your stencil cutter---the tip should be scraping the glass through the plastic sheet.

After its been burned through.
Why overhead projector sheets and not "Show Offs" stencil blanks? Because stencil blanks, to be more sturdy, are much thicker. There's a lot more melting plastic to cut through, and globs of melting plastic messing up your lines. I haven't figured out a way to cut clean, good lines through stencil blanks yet. The transparency overhead projector sheets are much thinner, and you get crisper lines, and less melting plastic to cut through.
Remember, you are really tracing the pattern right through onto the glass, to get a clean line.

Overhead projector blanks are kind of brittle (not tear-resistant like mylar stencil blanks) and tear easily, so I didn't bother with spraying stencil adhesive to them like I do with the mylar stencils (because when pulling them off the fabric, all my twisty vine parts can tear easily) This makes them more prone to fabric paint bleeding, getting less crisp lines. But its SOOO fast.

Here is me stenciling. Its easy too, you just get those cheap cosmetic sponges (24 wedges for $1 from dollar tree) and one wedge lasts through an entire hour of printing.

Here I mixed up my own fabric paint, first getting the color I wanted from those 2 oz. acrylic paints at Walmart or any craft store and mix with textile medium at a 2:1 ratio, in a corelle bowl. (When cleaning up the bowl, baby wipes cleaned it out nicely, before putting it in the dishwasher. You don't' want to rinse acrylic paint down the sink, it clogs drains)

I just squirt my fabric paint onto a yogurt lid (or mix it up in a bowl, and then dollop some on the yogurt lid).
Then I get some paint on my wedge sponge, and then dab it a bit on the yogurt lid to make sure its not too loaded with globs of paint (so you don't get bleed through).

Then sponge it on, while holding the stencil down with your other hand. Remember, the key to crisp lines and less bleed through is to do a couple light layers (a little paint goes a long way in sponging!) and not one thick heavy layer.

Here I'm doing a metallic gold paint on a navy fabric.
here I am going to do an olive green paint on a tan fabric.

Then you carefully lift the stencil. Let it dry. Then heat set it with the iron (and a thin cloth on top) for 30 seconds.

 (I've found the non-metallic paints are kinda wetter and bleed through more, so I backed the fabric with paper on top of a hard surface to soak up an paint that got through the fabric)

You can see that this method is kind of "rustic" looking. Its not as crisp as using freezer paper, or mylar stencils with stencil adhesive. But its SO FAST---both to make the stencil, and to print.

Also, if you have a long piece, don't try to just tape edges of sheets together, you get bleed through. Oh well.

  • Very fast to make the stencils, with very little effort, you are just sort of drawing them on once you get the hang of it.
  • Also very fast to use for printing.
  • Not as finely detailed/crisp as stencils cut with utility knife.  
  • Because the lack of adhesive, your printed fabric won't have as crisp lines either. It looks more "rustic". But I kind of like that old printed look.
  • Hard to clean---- I haven't had much luck with cleaning the stencils yet, as they are kind of brittle plastic (so no scrubbing them!) but with one set of stencils got at least a 18 number of printing runs out of them, and probably have a good 15 left in them, before the residual paint messes up the lines. Also bear in mind though that I was using non-metallic fabric paint for these runs, the gold metallic paint clogs them more.

Overall, after finding out how easy this was, this will be my go to method for testing out a design, to see if I really like it. Like with these, I realized I really like my center stripe design, but not as crazy about the border.

Also, this will be my go to method for doing hem border prints---anything where very crisp lines aren't as noticeable. So here, down on the hem of a garment, and its so much easier.


  1. Brilliant! Very thorough analysis and I am going to have to look for some sharper tips for my woodburning tool. Goodness knows, I've got enough old overhead sheets.