When to use stencils

When I started out in face painting, I thought stencils were just for people who couldn’t paint by hand. How wrong I was!

Stencils are a huge benefit to any face painter. Even the best artist can save time using stencils. 

Yes, you can use stencils instead of doing any painting, but they can really wow when you incorporate them into a complete design, whether it’s adding texture such as snake-skin, or an element like a fairy among flowers and mushrooms.

Stencils are wonderful for beginners and volunteers for school fetes of course. Even those who don’t have the confidence or skill to paint elaborate things can create something more than a single-coloured stencilled shape.

Stencils are often added to face painting designs as a black silhouette, which can be very effective. The ‘background’ can be anything from a simple rainbow to a full, intricate design.

About Stencils - Unicorn stenciled over Rainbow hairFor this very simple unicorn face painting I first held the stencil above the skin to get an idea of placement, then painted rainbow hair about where the stencilled hair would be. After allowing it to dry, I placed the stencil over top and stencilled with black. After I took the photo, I added silver glitter gel to the horn. 

Triceratops stencilled over simple background by Mara Zegers

Another example of stencilling in black over a coloured background.

Another way to use stencils to add a wow factor to you face painting is by using a rainbow or split-cake. This gives a wonderful effect that can’t be done without using stencils.

using a glitter tatto stencil with face paintThis shimmery Easter Egg was painted in seconds using a Glitter Tattoo Stencil and a large split-cake (Face Paint World custom split-cake Pearl Magic)

With care, and the right products you can also do stencils in multi-colours by applying one colour at a time to select parts – Eg. make a flower red with green leaves.

You can create 3-D effects by applying two shades of a colour either together or one on top of the other, OR by applying one colour, then when it’s dry, applying second colour with the stencil slightly offset.

About Stencils - using multi colours in a stencilHere’s a very simple example of using multiple colours on a stencil. I used a finger dauber to apply colours separately. First red for the flowers, then I daubed a little yellow face paint in the centre of each flower, which blended with the red for a 3D effect. The two shades of green could be applied together after picking up two colours from a split-cake, or one on top of another.

After adding the image using a stencil, you don’t have to stop there. You can add outlines, highlights, starbursts and other details – and of course, glitter. A few small, simple details can add so much to a simple, stencilled image and really make it your own.

About Stencils - Adding detail to simple stencilFor this little unicorn face painting I stencilled the flowers, ears and horn using TAG Berry One-stroke, then black for the eyes. After making sure it was dry I added the yellow centres with a Detailz Dotter and painted in the white stars and highlights. Something like this is really easy to do but the result is so much more that a plain stencilled silhouette.

About Stencils - adding outline and details to stencilled frog imageI used TAG Rainforest One-stroke on TAG’s Frog Glitter Tattoo Stencil which gave me the shape of the frog in light and dark green. It was easy then to outline (just like tracing) and add the little details – eyes, tongue, fly, stripes and spots.

About Stencils - adding outline and details to stencil imageThe stencil quickly and easily gave me the leaf shapes and berries. It was easy then to add outlines, highlights, swirls and snowflakes to create a nice little design from a simple stencil.

About Stencils - expanding on stencil design

Add swirls, highlight, accents and bling to expand on the basic stencil design and create your own unique face painting.

Glitter Tattoo Stencils vs Mylar Face Painting Stencils

Mylar stencils are made of a kind of flexible plastic so they can be used and washed and re-used indefinitely. They are ideal for face painting.

Glitter Tattoo Stencils are designed for glitter tattoos (obviously) but can be used for face painting. They are a very thin, self-adhesive stencil on a backing sheet and with a top protective layer like clear contact. As with using them for glitter tattoos, you should be able to reuse them a few times in the one session, but they are essentially disposable.

Using Glitter Tattoo Stencils for face painting work great on bare skin. I haven’t tested them on painted skin. If you put down a background colour of paint and want to stencil on top, they may not stick so well, or they might remove the some of the base colour. If you try it, let us know how it goes!

painting with glitter tattoo stencils

Usage Tips for face painting stencils

Usage Tips:

  • Can be cleaned with baby-wipes, soap & water, or alcohol.
  • Can be used with paint, temporary tattoo ink or dry powders.
  • Use a sponge or spouncer to apply the paint. Spouncers are small, round sponges ideal for small stencils as it’s easier then to keep within the borders of the stencil.
  • For stencils that have a number of designs or parts close together, you can hold a small piece of blank plastic/mylar over the parts you don’t want used. You can buy an A4 blank sheet of mylar and cut it into smaller pieces for this purpose.


To avoid the paint bleeding or smudging:

  • Make sure the base coat of paint is dry before stencilling over the top
  • Hold the stencil firmly against the skin. For a larger stencil, walk your fingers around the stencil to press it flat against the skin close to where you are sponging.
  • Apply a small amount of creamy, not watery paint
  • Use with professional ‘cake’ face paint (eg. TAG Body Art) so that you can ensure it’s not too runny
  • Dab, don’t wipe or brush the paint on
  • Clean & dry the stencil between uses

How to clean mylar stencils

Mylar stencils can be wiped clean with wet wipes or washed with soapy water. Either way, be careful not to catch and pull on the little segments. Pat dry with soft cloth or tissue.

  • You can wipe it clean with a ‘baby wipe’. Be careful not to snag pointy bits. I like to sandwich the stencil between two wet wipes, or even two dry tissues, laying it all on a flat surface. I lay my whole hand on top and gently rub back and forth a little. It doesn’t take much.
  • Alternatively, you can run it under a tap and simply wipe the paint off with your fingers and the water. A little soap can help too. Then blot gently with a dry cloth.
  • When you’re on the job and really pressed for time, you can often get away with simply blotting the paint on the stencil dry between uses, if you’re re-using it with the same colour.
  • If you find a stencil becomes stained with colour that soap or a wet wipe won’t remove, try an antibacterial wipe