A stencil is a template used to draw or paint identical letters, symbols, shapes, or patterns every time it is used. Stencil technique in visual art is also referred to as pochoir. Stencils are formed by removing sections from template material in the form of text or an image. This creates what is essentially a physical negative. The template can then be used to create impressions of the stenciled image, by applying pigment on the surface of the template and through the removed sections, leaving a reproduction of the stencil on the underlying surface. Aerosol or painting stencils must remain contiguous after the image is removed, in order for the template to remain functional. Sections of the remaining template which are isolated inside removed parts of the image are called islands. All islands must be connected to other parts of the template with bridges, or additional sections of narrow template material which are not removed.

A related technique (which has found applicability in some surrealist compositions) is aerography, in which spray-painting is done "around" a three-dimensional object. This technique is comparable to the paintings in caves dating over +10,000BC, where hands were used to create hand print outlines amongst other artwork, such as paintings of animals. The artist would spray pigment around his hand with his mouth. A hollow bone or reed may have also been employed to direct the stream of pigment.

Silk-screen printing also uses a stencil process, as does mimeography. The masters from which mimeographed pages are printed are often called "stencils." Stencils can be made with one or many colour layers using different techniques, with most stencils designed to be applied as solid colours.

During silk-screening and mimeography the images for stenciling are broken down into color layers. Multiple layers of stencils are used on the same surface to produce multi-colored images.


Stencils may have been used to colour cloth for a very long time; the technique probably reached its peak of sophistication in Katazome and other techniques used on silks for clothes during the Edo period in Japan. In Europe, from about 1450 they were very commonly used to colour old master prints printed in black and white, usually woodcuts. This was especially the case with playing-cards, which continued to be coloured by stencil long after most other subjects for prints were left in black and white. Stenciling back in the 2600 BC's was different. They used color from plants and flowers such as indigo (which extracts blue). Stencils were used for mass publications, as the type didn't have to be hand-written. The first book to be printed using stencils was the bible.

Book illustration

Stencils were popular as a method of book illustration, and for that purpose the technique was at its hight of popularity in France during the 1920s. When stencils are used in this way they are often called "pochoir". Pochoir was frequently used to create prints of intense color, and is most often associated with Art Nouveau and Art Deco design. [ [] The Art of the Pochoir Book, University of Cincinnati] [ [] Vibrant Visions, Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum Library]

Aerosol stencils

Aerosol stencils have many practical applications and the stencil concept is used frequently in industrial, commercial, artistic, residential and recreational settings, as well as by the military, government and infrastructure management. A template is used to create an outline for the image. Stencils templates can be made from any material which will hold its form, ranging from plain paper, cardboard, plastic sheets, metals and wood.

Official use

Stencils are frequently used by official organizations, including the military, utility companies and governments, to quickly and clearly label objects, vehicles and locations. Stencils for official application can be customized, or purchased as individual letters, numbers and symbols. This allows the user to arrange words, phrases and other labels from one set of templates, unique to the item being labeled. When objects are labeled using a single template alphabet, it makes it easier to identify their affiliation or source.

tencil graffiti

Stencils have also become popular for graffiti, since stencil art using spray-paint can be produced quickly and easily. These qualities are important for graffiti artists where graffiti is illegal or quasi-legal, depending on the city and stenciling surface. The extensive lettering possible with stencils makes it especially attractive to political artists. For example, the anarcho-punk band Crass used stencils of anti-war, anarchist, feminist and anti-consumerist messages in a long-term graffiti campaign around the London Underground system and on advertising billboards. [ [ Crass Discography (Christ's Reality Asylum)] Retrieved on 2007-November 11. ] Also well known for their use of stencil art are Bride Campaign and OBEY from the US, Blek le Rat from France, Banksy, a British artist and New York artist John Fekner.

Home stenciling

A common tradition for stencils is in home decorating and arts & crafts. Home decor stencils are an important part of the DIY (Do It Yourself) industry. There are prefabricated stencil templates available for home decoration projects from hardware stores, arts & crafts stores and through the internet. Stencils are usually applied in the home with a paint or roller brush along wall borders and as trim. They can also be applied with a painted sponge for a textured effect.

Stencil templates can be purchased or constructed individually. Typically they are constructed of flexible plastics, including acetate, mylar and vinyl. Stencils can be used as children's toys.

Other stencil forms

A stencil technique is employed in screenprinting which uses a tightly woven mesh screen coated in a thin layer of emulsion to reproduce the original image. As the stencil is attached to the screen, a contiguous template is not necessary.A stencil used in airbrushing called a frisket is pressed directly on the artwork. It can be used control or contain overspray, create sharp or complex shapes, but is not designed to be used more than once.

See also

* Street Art
* Wheatpaste
* ROSTA Windows
* Theorem Stencil
* Banksy


External links

* [ Spray Paint Stencils]
* [ Blade Diary. Stencil Blog]

* [ Stencilry. Stencils and tutorials]
* [ Stencil Punks]
* [ A Brief History of the Stenso Lettering Company]

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • stencil — [ stɛnsil ] n. m. • 1910; mot angl. « pochoir », de to stencil « enluminer », du fr. étinceler ♦ Papier paraffiné perforé à la main ou à la machine à écrire, et servant de pochoir, de cliché pour la polycopie. Des stencils. Taper un stencil.… …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • stencil — [sten′səl] vt. stenciled or stencilled, stenciling or stencilling [< ME stansilen, to ornament with spangles < OFr estenceler < estencele, spangle, spark < VL * stincilla, for L scintilla, spark: see SCINTILLATE] to make, mark, or… …   English World dictionary

  • Stencil — Sten cil, v. t. [imp. & p. p. {Stenciled}or {Stencilled}; p. pr. & vb. n. {Stenciling} or {Stencilling}.] To mark, paint, or color in figures with stencils; to form or print by means of a stencil. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Stencil — Sten cil, n. [Probably from OF. estincelle spangle, spark, F. [ e]tincelle spark, L. scintilla. See {Scintillate}, and cf. {Tinsel}.] A thin plate of metal, leather, or other material, used in painting, marking, etc. The pattern is cut out of the …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • stencil — (n.) 1707, not recorded again until 1848, probably from M.E. stencellen decorate with bright colors, from M.Fr. estenceler cover with sparkles or stars, powder with color, from estencele spark, spangle, from V.L. *stincilla, metathesis of L.… …   Etymology dictionary

  • stencil — ► NOUN ▪ a thin sheet of card, plastic, or metal with a pattern or letters cut out of it, used to produce the cut design on the surface below by the application of ink or paint through the holes. ► VERB (stencilled, stencilling; US stenciled,… …   English terms dictionary

  • stencil — as a verb has inflected forms stencilled, stencilling in BrE, and usually stenciled, stenciling in AmE …   Modern English usage

  • Stencil — Cette page d’homonymie répertorie les différents sujets et articles partageant un même nom. Le terme stencil, qui signifie pochoir en anglais, prend différents sens selon le contexte. En imprimerie, le stencil est un élément de certaines… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Stencil — Ein zeitgenössisches anarchistisches Stencil Stencil (englisch für Schablone) bzw. Schablonenkunst ist eine Bezeichnung für Graffiti, die mit Hilfe von Schablonen, durch die Farbe gesprüht wird, angebracht werden. Eher selten wird der… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • stencil — [[t]ste̱ns(ə)l[/t]] stencils, stencilling, stencilled (in AM, use stenciling, stenciled) 1) N COUNT A stencil is a piece of paper, plastic, or metal which has a design cut out of it. You place the stencil on a surface and paint it so that paint… …   English dictionary

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