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How to Stencil on Canvas – Compare 4 Methods

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Let’s take a deep dive and learn how to stencil on canvas. In this post, we’ll compare 4 common methods and you’ll learn the key to getting crisp lines on your project.

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A canvas is a blank slate, literally, it’s been used for centuries to create works of art with oil and watercolor. These days you can purchase a value pack of stretched canvas for around $10 and create using a number of different mediums.

canvas painting

Use a Cricut to cut designs from adhesive vinyl or iron on and add those to a canvas. Or try your hand at mixed media and use a combination of paper, paint and vinyl.

Vinyl on canvas painted sign - Hello Love
How to add vinyl to canvas

Using a stencil on canvas is a way to paint a specific design, especially if you are not very confident in your free hand. There are a few things you need to know about stenciling a canvas before you jump into this technique.

Prep the surface

Canvas is porous, which means the paint you put on it may spread or soak into the material a bit. When using a stencil you do not want the paint to bleed under the edges.

Prep the surface to make it nonporous by painting or layering something over the canvas that you can stencil on top. This is the key to creating a beautiful piece of art.

The next question is how do you prep the surface. There is no one right way, I’m going to show you a few options that work and one that tends to work better than the others, for less money.

3 products for stenciling on canvas

Acrylic Paint is the most cost-effective method for creating a nonporous surface. You can choose any color for this method, or opt for white to blend with the natural color of the canvas.

Mod Podge is another inexpensive option, this glue like substance will add a clear coat to the canvas.

Gesso is made to prep a canvas, painters use it with paint all the time. If you are not a painter and don’t have this on hand, it can be a little more expensive.

For each of these products, brush a thin coat onto a canvas using a foam brush. The foam helps spread the medium evenly without leaving brush strokes. The result is a smooth surface to add your stencil.

Once dry, it’s time to add a stencil.

What type of stencil to use

There are a couple common stencil options in stores. A basic reusable option and an adhesive stencil. When stenciling a canvas I highly recommend adhesive backed. This creates a nice seal and helps keep the paint where you put it without bleeding.

apply stencil to canvas

You can also create your own stencil using a Cricut and stencil vinyl, if that’s your cup of tea check out this wood sign video and learn more about creating stencils.

Tips for Stenciling

Once the canvas is prepped and dry, it’s time to add the stencil and start painting. Canvas is hollow, so you’ll need to put something sturdy under it to create a firm surface to work on. Use a book or a piece or wood to achieve this.

wood under canvas

Place the adhesive stencil on the canvas and press it down to seal the edges. For this project, I am using the same stencil and paint colors for each canvas to show the difference between methods.

Squeeze some acrylic paint on a plate. Using a foam brush, load up some paint then dab most of it off. You need very little paint to stencil.

foam brushes

Use an up and down motion to apply the paint to the canvas. You can always go back and add more color, but start with a very light coat first. This will help prevent bleeding.

dap paint on canvas

While the paint is still wet, pull off the stencil and let the canvas dry. An adhesive stencil can be washed with soap and water, pat it dry, and lay it back on the carrier sheet to use next time.

Which method works best

I shared 3 methods for stenciling on canvas. In the photo below you’ll see a control canvas with no base and the other options. Here’s my choice.

final stencil on canvas comparison

Acrylic paint. This option created nice clean lines and it’s the least expensive way to go. Gesso was a close second, but the product itself is more costly. Mod Podge was a little too slick and caused some bleeding under the stencil.

You’ve seen 4 ways to stencil on canvas. Here’s a recap

  • Prep the surface with acrylic paint and let it dry.
  • Put a book or piece of wood under the canvas to create a firm surface.
  • Apply an adhesive stencil and press down the edges.
  • Use a foam brush with very little paint and an up and down motion.
  • Peel off the stencil while it’s still wet

If you learned something here be sure to pin this post.

How to stencil on canvas

Have any more stenciling questions? Let me know in the comments.

Thanks for visiting.

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