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How to Cut A Stencil... and other Tips, Tools, & Techniques!
Cutting Tools & Materials    General Stencil-Cutting Tips    Tips for Transfering Designs    Design Proofs   

Tips for Transfering Designs

Tips for designing your custom stencil from a line drawing, fabric or design idea:
Look closely at the design. How many colors are in it? Are the elements right next to each other, or separated by space? As with any new skill, it is best to start out with a simple project, then progress as knowledge, understanding and comfort level improve.

1. If your design is fairly simple and can be stencilled in one or two colors, you may choose to cut a stencil with one overlay or layer. This is a good type to start out with.

2. If your design is more complex, it may require more overlays (layers). Theorem-style or "bridgeless" stencils always require more overlays because:

a) Areas that 'touch' each other in the design must be cut from different overlays to maintain the strength of the stencil. To create the most durable, long-lasting stencils, add strength to them by cutting more overlays, rather than putting lots of "bridges" in (bridges are the thin interruptions between the cut openings of simple stencils). For example, petals of a daisy flower that touch each other would need to be cut so that every other petal was on one overlay, and the remaining petals were on a second overlay.

b) When elements that are different colors are right next to each other, they will need to be cut on different overlays. For example, if a leaf is growing out from directly behind a flower, the leaf will need to be cut on one overlay, and the flower in another overlay.

3. It is easiest to work from a black and white line drawing on paper. Determine which elements will be on each overlay. Colored pencils can be used to mark on the paper to distinguish the areas that will be on different overlays. For example, color all overlay 1 areas-- green, overlay 2 areas-- yellow, overlay 3-- blue, etc...

Transferring & Cutting the Design: Here are multiple options!
1. Tape a sheet of E-Z Cut on top of the design with a few pieces of masking or blue painter's tape. Slip a thin piece of glass between the layers; cut the design as it shows through the glass. This technique is used when speed is important, and when accuracy does not have to be perfect, since the glass distorts the design slightly (thicker glass will accentuate the distortion). This is the technique we used for cutting the huge stencils for the library!

2. E-Z Cut can be run through a photocopy machine to quickly and effortlessly transfer a line drawing onto the material. It will not stay on the E-Z Cut indefinitely (some may rub off during cutting/stencilling), but it is the most accurate way to transfer a detailed design. It works best to cut the E-Z Cut Plastic down to the same size as a sheet of paper; place one sheet of the E-Z Cut on top of the stack of paper in the paper tray, then press the "print" button. Repeat this step without moving the design if additional overlays of the same design are needed. For example, for a leaf and flower design, run 4 individual pieces through: cut the leaves on one overlay, stems and leaf veins on the 2nd overlay, and flower petals on 2 additional overlays. Drawback to this transfer technique: occasionally, the E-Z Cut will get jammed in the machine. This happens more often when the size of E-Z Cut is larger than 8-1/2" x 11", and when the machine is extra warm from being used constantly (it's best to go to the printer in the early morning).

3. As described in the book Stenciling Techniques, a black permanent ink pen may be used to trace the design onto the stencil material. All areas to be cut would be drawn with solid lines, while the registration marks would be drawn with dotted lines.

4. To create bridgeless/theorem stencils, use a layering technique with the E-Z Cut when transferring the design. The clarity of E-Z Cut allows the precision and accuracy needed for lining up overlays when tracing designs onto it.

a) Tape the E-Z Cut securely over the design with masking tape. It is best to use extra-fine tip permanent markers when tracing. P.J. highly recommends that you use a green pen to signify the areas that are to be cut, and a red pen to signify the registration mark areas you do not want to cut. Here's a simple way to remember: Green= "go--cut!" and Red= "stop--don't cut!"

b) Trace the areas to be cut on this overlay #1 with a green pen. (Don't cut anything yet).

c) Tape another piece of E-Z Cut securely on top of the first layer. Using the red pen on this overlay #2, retrace some of the areas you had traced in green on overlay #1...this will create 'registration marks' which will help to align the different overlays when stencilling. For example, on the 2nd overlay, trace red outlines of the leaves that are traced in green on the 1st overlay. This step can be done in more detail after the cutting is done; it's helpful to put some marks on while tracing, then add the more accurate ones (based on the cut edges, not on the original design) later. These registration marks will help to line up overlay #2 after overlay #1 is stencilled.

d) Trace the areas to be cut on the second overlay with a green pen.

e) For tracing on additional overlays, continue taping them on top of each other, and trace as described above.

f) Complete the general tips below, then remove all of the tape and cut the green outlines on each stencil.

Final design transfer option:
5. Tape the stencil material directly onto a paper photocopy of the design, and cut through both layers.

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