This is a fairly thorough tutorial for beginners with a step-by-step description of how to print stencil art gift cards.
It is always appreciated when you hand make cards to give out for birthdays and Christmas time, but there just aren't enough hours in the day to make personalised cards for everybody. So as a happy compromise you can hand print cards in batches.
Stencil art is simple, fun, inexpensive, and creates unique art with a lovely hand crafted finished result, so is a great print method to use for making cards. There are three parts to the process: making the stencil, preparing materials and surface for printing cards and printing the cards.
*WARNING* stencil art is addictive! Once you start painting it's hard to know when to stop. You might just start stencil painting every available surface at hand - wrapping paper, walls, pets, vehicles, family members, and so on.
What you will need to make a stencil
- a pencil
- paper to sketch on
- a design concept! - a star, a fish, a face, what-ever takes your fancy.
- some 'ezy cut stencil paper' and a ball point pen or acetate and a fine permanent marker
- a sharp art knife/scapel or failing that some good scissors
- cutting mat or board
What you will need to print the gift cards
- your beautifully cut out stencil design
- nice thick card to print the design onto
- paint - acrylic dries quickly, which is good
- some water
- a sponge or rag to paint with
- a bench or table surface to print upon
- old news paper or large sheets of waste paper to protect the bench or table
- paper towel to keep things clean
- somewhere safe the cards can sit undisturbed while the paint dries
- envelopes for your cards
Making the stencil
Use the pencil and paper to sketch your design. It can be anything you like - a star, a word, a flower, a fish, a robot, a face, what ever you like. For my cards I designed a Christmas beetle, as it's a little seasonal without being religious or too tacky.
Remember your design has to exist as holes in a sheet of stencil paper, so make sure you don't design any 'islands'. For instance, if you are cutting out a stencil of the letter 'A' you can't cut out the entire outside shape and then expect to leave the shape in the centre remaining, as the centre shape would just drop out - that's an island folks! Instead, join the centre shape to the outside shape with little bridges. The same applies to all stencil images, not just letters. Have a go, you will see what I mean.
When you are happy with your design, trace it onto some ezy cut stencil paper with a ball point pen (or onto acetate with a permanent marker). Trace using a lightbox, or tape the design onto a window and use the outside light to trace. You will want your stencil sheet to be a fair bit bigger than your design, so you don't get paint on your card where you don't want it. For an average sized gift card your design will fit comfortably on an A4 sized sheet of stencil paper.
Now with your stencil paper on the cutting mat, slowly and carefully cut following your traced design, turning the stencil paper around as you go to make the cutting easier. Hold the stencil paper firmly while cutting with the other. Be sure to cut the corners cleanly, don't just wrench out the almost-cut shape.
A simple shape will take only a couple of minutes to cut out, a complex one can take an hour or more - seriously!
So now you have your beautiful shape cut out of stencil paper (or acetate) and are ready to start printing.
Preparing to stencil print the gift cards
There are a few things to prepare before you start printing.
Make sure you have your cards ready to print on. A5 sheets of thick paper work well as they fold in half to make A6 cards, a common size easy to find envelopes for (use C6 envelopes). To make the folding bit neater and easier I 'score' or put a crease in the cards where they should fold by running the edge of a tea spoon firmly along the edge of a ruler.
Put down some newspaper or scrap paper to protect the bench/table surface you will be working on.
If you care about how well your artwork is lined up on the card fronts you need to draw a placement guide on scrap paper to help you position your card and stencil paper when printing. On top of a large (A3ish) sheet of scrap paper, line up your stencil art on one of the prepared cards exactly where you think it should go. Trace around the edges of the card and of the stencil paper. You will now have two overlapping rectangles drawn on your scrap paper. Use this as a guide and every print you make will be in the same place.
Put a big glob of paint on a palette. For paint I use acrylic, as it dries quickly compared to oil based paint. Fabric paint works well too and comes in sparkly colours! For a palette I use a plate covered with tin foil, making it easy to clean up when you are finished.
Dampen your sponge with water so it is malleable, but squeeze out as much of the water as possible. You don't want the water in the sponge watering your paint down as it will run under the stencil paper when printing.
Put your first sheet of card in place, and lay the stencil paper over the top. Get it all lined up to print.
Put a swipe of paint on your sponge and dabble it up and down a few times elsewhere on the palette, to spread the paint evenly on the sponge surface.
stencil printing the gift cards
Let the fun begin! Hold down the stencil design onto the card surface with one hand and, using the sponge in a rocking, padding motion, apply the paint through the stencil and onto the card. Don't push down on the sponge too hard as it will push paint under the edges of the cut stencil shape, creating nasty blobs where you don't want them - just pat the paint on. You will get the hang of this quite quickly.
When you have covered the cut out design with sponged-on paint, put the sponge aside and gently peel off the stencil paper. There you go, your first print! Now simply repeat until all your cards are done.
During the printing process use the paper towel to keep at least one hand quite clean, so you can handle printed cards, transferring them to your drying space without getting dirty finger-pints all over them. I use a clothes drying rack to neatly peg my prints up - keeps them neatly in a small space and out of the way. If using acrylic paint your prints will probably only need about a day to dry.
Once the printed cards are dry remember to photograph your efforts! Photographs of repeating printed images always look cool.
Now you only have to fold the cards, write in them (the hardest part of the process) and post them to friends and family - who will all be utterly delighted to receive them.
You will see in the example images I made two-colour cards. This made setting up print registration and allowing lots of drying time quite important, as I had to print one colour onto all the cards, let them dry and then print the next colour over the top and allow them to dry again. I also used multiple paint colours on the sponge at the same time, allowing the paint to mix on the actual surface of the print - bit arty, eh?!
Remember, this is just how I do it. Have a go, play and experiment, and see what works for you. Feel free to send one to me!
This has been my very first tutorial, so if you like it or even if you hate it please leave a comment and let me know. Thanks.