Stenciling has gotten sassy.

No longer is the craft limited to fusty designs and Colonial borders. Today’s stenciling is bigger, bolder and fashionably fresh.

“It’s become more of a decorator statement,” said Jane Gauss, a nationally recognized stenciling expert who has written multiple books on the subject. She said simple, graphic motifs are especially popular, often used to create overall patterns on walls, floors and other surfaces.

Subdued metallics are big in stenciling, too, and so are raised designs created with plaster or similar materials. Gauss, a former Hudson, Ohio, resident, used both looks in her current home in North Port, Fla. — a damask pattern done in metallic glazes on the master bathroom walls, and three-dimensional accents on her formerly plain kitchen cabinets.

Stenciling has made a comeback as handcrafting has gained new appreciation, said Gauss and Melanie Royals, founder of stencil maker Royal Design Studio in Chula Vista, Calif. (

The craft allows do-it-yourselfers to put a personal stamp on their projects, even if they lack the artistic ability to paint freehand. “So you still have the bragging rights,” Royals said.

All-over patterns in designs such as chevrons, Moroccan motifs, oversized florals and typography are a hot trend, creating the look of wallpaper without the commitment.

Those newer stencils are “a little more simplistic, a little more geometric” than older motifs that required multiple layers of stencils for different colors, Royals said. Gone are the shading and subtle coloring that characterized stenciling in the ’80s, she said.

The simpler stencils allow a design to be completed quickly, she noted, which appeals to people with more artistic ambition than time.

Especially popular is a subtle tone-on-tone look, created by stenciling the design in a slightly lighter or darker hue of the background color. “It’s really very livable,” Royals said.

Often stenciling is used on feature walls, such as a fireplace wall or the wall behind a headboard, she said. Ceilings, hard-surface floors and floor coverings such as sisal or short-napped rugs are sometimes decorated with stencils, as are materials such as glass, tile and fabric.

And of course, stenciling fits right in with the current painted-furniture craze.

Ohio artisan Sandra Camp used a reverse stenciling technique to dress up a few secondhand furniture pieces she repainted for a recent Homegirl barn sale organized by her neighbor, Gina Bishop (

Camp used stenciling paper with a low-tack adhesive to create floral and aquatic designs, which she adhered to the furniture before painting the pieces. When she removed the stencils, the original wood grain showed through the designs.

Camp created freehand stencil motifs for one project and used a purchased stencil for another. For a third, she photocopied and enlarged a fabric design, transferred it to the stencil paper and then painstakingly cut out the intricate stencil using tiny scissors.

She wasn’t sure whether the pieces would appeal to buyers, so she was pleased they all sold.

“I’d like to do some more,” she said. “It was so much fun.”

At Funky Junk Boutique in Seville, Ohio, owner Michele Venus sometimes uses stencils to adorn her repurposed furniture. She might use an overall pattern to add interest to a desk top or dress up drawer fronts, she said.

Stenciling is a little more time consuming than just painting, so she doesn’t use the technique as often as she’d like, she said. But when she does, the pieces sell quickly.

Venus is particularly fond of stenciling with Aloha Coatings’ Artisan Enhancements Pearl Plaster or Fine Stone, products that mix well with the Annie Sloan Chalk Paint her store sells. Pearl Plaster gives the paint a sheen, and Fine Stone produces a sandlike, three-dimensional texture.

Sometimes she uses a traditional stenciling brush to apply the paint, and sometimes she uses a paint roller. “I’m kind of a rule breaker that way,” she said with a laugh.

Actually, application techniques have changed right along with stencil designs, Royals said.

Royals still prefers the traditional technique of applying paint with a nearly dry stencil brush in a pouncing or swirling motion, but many people like to use foam rollers instead, she said. Royals said the roller technique requires patience because the roller has to be loaded with paint and then “off loaded” — rolled on absorbent paper to remove much of the paint. Only a small amount of paint can be applied at a time, or the excess will bleed under the stencil, she explained.

Latex wall paint or acrylic craft paint are fine for stenciling, she said, or you can use oil paints for a sheer look or specially made stencil creams. If you use latex wall paint for roller stenciling, she recommended buying sample-size quantities of a good-quality paint such as Benjamin Moore Aura or Behr Premium Plus Ultra. Lesser-quality paints are runnier and more likely to bleed, she said.

And buy good-quality brushes or stencil rollers, she advised. They’ll make the project faster and the results better.

“You just want to get it done and enjoy it and not have to do any touch-up,” she said.

Gauss said it’s harder to find good laser-cut stencils in craft stores than in the past, but plenty of stencils are available online. The cost, however, can be significant — from about $20 to more than $100, depending on the intricacy and scale.

If you want to cut costs or just get creative, you can create your own stencils. Use stenciling Mylar, or buy adhesive-backed vinyl from a sign company, Gauss suggested. She has even used heavy paper such as parchment, manila or freezer paper for projects that don’t require reusing the stencil.

But whether you buy a stencil or make one, feel free to take credit for the results.

That kind of personalization is what stenciling is all about.