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Article: Multi-Layered Stencils: The Complete Guide

Multi-Layered Stencils: The Complete Guide

What is a layered stencil?

Layered stencils (sometimes we call them multi layer stencils) are the easiest way to recreate detailed and colorful images as artwork. Instead of a single stencil, a submitted file will be turned into multiple stencils that can be painted on top of one another. This creates a more detailed and dynamic final image. Follow this guide to learn more about layered stencils, how to buy them, and how to use them. 

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How to Make Multi-Layered Stencils

How to Determine a Number of Layers for Layered Stencils

How to Read a Layered Stencils Proof

How to Use Layered Stencils

How to Paint Multi Layer Stencils

Cleaning and Storing Multi Layer Mylar Stencils

Layered stencils allow the creation of detailed paintings and images using multiple colors. Generally, more layers = more color & detail.

Many of our customers look to recreate images, colorful logos, and art. Our traditional single-layer mylar stencils only allow for one, max two colors to be used. Layered stencils allow for multiple colors to be used with ease. 

The first step for ordering layered stencils is to choose a size. The sizes offered refer to how large the final artwork will be. Our designers will add a 2” all-around border for convenience.

How to Make Multi-Layered Stencils

 To design your own layered stencils, please refer to our YouTube video about creating multi layer stencils. 

How to Determine the Number of Layers for Layered Stencils

Next, decide how many layers the design will be. The more layers are chosen, the more detailed and realistic the design will be. If a logo or piece of art has a set number of colors, choose that many layers. One color = one layer. 

Here is an example of the same image with a different number of layers:

Choosing a number of stencil layers

The artwork becomes more detailed and more realistic as more layers are added. 

For graphic logos, consider how many colors are in the design. The Taco Bell logo, for example, has 3 colors in it, so we will have 3 stencils. 

Taco Bell Logo stencil diagram

Taco Bell Logo spray painted with stencils

Remember: 1 color = 1 stencil. 

It is also important to consider difficulty. The more layers used, the more challenging recreating an image will be. The difficulty comes from having to match up layers and having consistent painting. 

For first timers, go with fewer layers. If there are more layers, mistakes are more likely. Our designers will still make the final product looks great no matter the number of layers. 

How to Read a Layered Stencils Proof

Each custom order from Stencil Stop comes with a digital proof.  Once approved, we will begin making the stencils.  

A custom layered stencil proof includes:

  • Size of the design
  • Size of the stencil
  • Each stencil in the order
  • Final design preview
  • Color preview for each layer
  • Registration marks (optional)

We aim to help our customers through the design and creation process, and the proof is an important aspect of that. The order in which layers should be painted will be labeled on the proof, as well as etched onto the plastic itself.  

Custom layered stencil sample proof

Registration Marks

Registration marks are symbols that we cut into the corners of each design. These help to match up each layer as intended. Place the first stencil down, then use a pencil to trace each shape onto your painting surface. For the next layer, match up the cut out on the stencil to the pencil marks. 

Registration marks on proof

How to Select Colors for Layered Stencil Paintings

We will select colors for each layer and they will be on the proof document. These do not have to be followed exactly or at all, but provide a guideline for painting based on the submitted artwork.

How to Use Layered Stencils

All the stencils included in the order will come in a stiff flat envelope. We recommend keeping this envelope to store the stencils in the future. Refer to our tutorial on stencil cleaning for more information on how to clean and store stencils. 

Laying each piece out on a large surface or floor area will help to understand how to begin, and will make sure that each piece corresponds to the guide on the proof. The proof will be printed and sent with the stencil. 

If painting on a canvas or other portable surface, set up the painting area at your convenience. This may be an easel, a table, the ground, etc. For spray paint, make sure to paint in a well-ventilated area or outside. We also recommend wearing a ventilated mask, as spray paint can be messy and emit fumes. 

How to Paint Multi Layer Stencils

Without registration marks: Place the first stencil and mark where the edges of the plastic end. Most layered stencil sets have layers with the same dimensions, which makes alignment easy.  

To avoid painting over the registration marks, once the stencil is placed they can be covered with a piece of masking or painter’s tape. 

With registration marks: Once the first stencil is placed, the marks can be made by tracing the symbols with a pencil. After painting the first layer, the second layer can be laid atop, and the registration marks can be matched up with the pencil marks. 

Selecting the right stencil is made easy. We etch the order of the stencils right onto the plastic, and the same information is on the proof. 

Begin by placing down the first stencil onto the painting surface. If the stencil is slipping or needs extra support, an adhesive spray can be used on the back of the stencil to secure it before painting. 

For more information about what type of paint to use, check out this article about different paint methods. 

Spray Paint

Just like a standard mylar stencil, we recommend spraying 10-15 inches away from the painting surface. Spray in short bursts, starting on the outside and moving inwards. This method will create the most crisp lines. 

How to Spray Paint Layered Stencils

Once the surface is fully covered, the stencil can be removed. To remove the stencil cleanly and without disrupting the paint, grab one corner of the plastic. Quickly pull the stencil up and back towards you, as if peeling off a sticker. 

Before beginning the second layer, wait for the paint to completely dry. Use a fingertip to gently tap the paint. If there is no transfer, it is dry enough to start a second layer. If a second stencil is put atop wet paint, it will peel the wet paint away. Patience is key, hurrying through the process will likely result in more mistakes. 

Align the second layer with the penciled in registration marks or outline. Same as before, spray in short bursts 10-15 inches away from the painting surface. 

Repeat these steps for each layer. 

Liquid Paints

Liquid paints include but are not limited to: acrylic paint, house paint, fabric paint, latex paint, tempera paint. For more advice about how to apply each type of paint, check out our article about different methods of applying paint. 

Using liquid paints as opposed to spray paints does not change the painting process very much. Latex paints, house paints, and fabric paints will likely take longer to dry. To speed up the process, use a hair dryer or heat gun on low to dry the paint. 

Placing the Cover Piece

Depending on the design, a layered stencil set may be sent with a "cover piece," which is a stencil layer that helps paint a clean background. The cover piece is in the shape of the main subject, and will be placed over the subject as the last step. Using this piece will ensure a clean background and cover any mistakes made along the way. It isn’t necessary to use, but if appropriate we'll send one along anyway. 

A cover piece allows the background to be painted last. It is also used to clean up any rough edges or mistakes. 

Watch how this painting is finished with the help of a cover piece:

How to paint a cover piece

Note: The cover piece will NOT be shown in the proof.

To use the cover piece, make sure that all the previous layers are dry. This will be the final step in the painting process.

Usually, a cover piece will not align with the edges of the previous stencils. It is not meant to have a border, and will likely be an organic shape that is a silhouette of the main subject. If needed, spray adhesive can be used on the stencil to adhere it to the surface. This will be especially helpful if the surface is vertical. It can also be held down with one hand or with a stick/other pointed object. 

To use the cover piece, place the stencil onto the painted surface and align it with the subject. Make sure that no edges of the painted design are sticking out from underneath the cover piece before painting. Anything not covered by the cover piece will be painted. 

After the cover piece is placed, painting can commence as normal. Paint the entire surface around the stencil. If using a canvas, paint all the way to the edges. This is also a good time to cover any marks leftover from tracing registration marks. 

Wait for the paint to dry before removing the cover piece. It is best to use a thin object such as an Exacto knife or a fingernail to remove this layer in order to avoid making any marks in the paint. 

Cleaning and Storing Multi Layer Mylar Stencils

For more information about what to do with used stencils, refer to this article: Cleaning and Storing Mylar Stencils


To make your own multi layer stencils, you can order a custom layered stencil. You can also browse our ever-expanding collection of pre-made layered stencil sets. 

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