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3 Stencil and Ink Techniques to Try Out

3 Stencil and Ink Techniques to Try Out main article image
Posted on November 6, 2021 by Zeldi Smulders

When you start using stencils and inks to take your projects to a new level, you will be surprised by the beautiful designs you can make using these basic craft items. The three techniques described below are very simple and do not require much time or effort, but you will get great results from incorporating them into your projects. The best part is that you can use what you have or create your own stencils and get creative! Read on to find out more about using stencils and distress inks to create unique designs.


Stencils used in craft projects are usually thin plastic sheets, but they can also be made out of paper cards or metal. These sheets have certain shapes or patterns cut out of them. The area with the cutouts is used to transfer a design to a surface by applying ink to it and therefore reproducing the cut-out design. Stencils can be sold as individual pieces, each with its own design. Other stencils come as a set and can include related shapes or a collection of numbers or the alphabet.

Stencils are usually reasonably priced and can be found in most craft stores. If you can’t find a design you like, why not make your own? All you’ll need is a die-cut machine and the craft designs of your choice. You can make your own stencil by picking a digital design and cutting it out of your chosen material using an electronic cutting machine. The cut-out spaces will be the areas where the ink will be applied, just like a store-bought stencil. You can also create a stencil by using a metal die and a manual cutting machine.

Distress inks

Ink pads are small containers with pads soaked in ink inside them. They can come in different sizes and there is a range of colours available. If you don’t have any ink pads and you would like to invest in some, you can start by purchasing some in basic colours like black, brown, green and blue, or you can choose your favourite colours you usually like to work with. You can always expand your collection later on.

If you want to avoid damaging your ink pads from excessive use, invest in an ink blending tool with washable foam attachments. The attachments will be dabbed onto the ink pad instead of using the ink pad directly and you can have an attachment for each colour to keep everything organised. There are small thin variants of this tool on the market and they allow you to ink smaller intricate designs with ease. If you can’t get your hands on these tools, you can alternatively use other household items like cotton swabs or sponges.

You don’t need a lot to have fun with stencils and distress inks!

Tape, inkpads and a blending tool together with a plastic stencil of a heart design

When to use stencils and inks

Stencilling with ink is something great to try in combination with other crafting techniques like die-cutting. Use it on papercraft projects like card making and scrapbooking to make a decorative background or to add some more colour to your project. Be sure to test out the design you want to create on a scrap piece of paper before applying it to the real area. This will give you a chance to get an idea of what the final product will look like and it allows you to make changes if necessary. Once the ink is on the final design it is hard to do something about mistakes.

Take the tips and ideas you will get in this post and go crazy with it! You can use stencilling and inking techniques at any level. Simple techniques like the ones to be discussed are a stepping stone to creating beautiful projects with limitless possibilities.

How to use stencils and inks

You will start by picking the stencil you would like to use along with the ink pads in your chosen colour. Next, you can decide where you would like to create your design. Check to see if there is enough space available and make sure that the surrounding elements on the project will not interfere with the stencil creation.

Place your chosen stencil over the paper or cardstock surface. Make sure you didn’t place the stencil skew! Use tape to hold the stencil in place and to keep it from slipping. You can also stick the tape to the back of the paper or fix it to the craft mat you are using.

Adding tape or a masking object can prevent you from going over the stencil area and ensure you get a nice clean design. If a stencil has a very detailed design consisting of various elements, it is important to cover the areas you will not be using. Keeping your ink application in a certain area without letting it smear over unwanted areas is very hard and it is best to do what you can to eliminate the possibility.

Softly dab the tool up and down or use light circular movements, depending on the look you are going for. For example, if you have a lot of ink-soaked up on your blending tool it might be better to use the dabbing technique to prevent the ink from bleeding into the sides. If you would like to create a cloudy effect, you can use less ink and use circular motions to create the effect. Only reapply ink to your blending tool as necessary. Apply ink to the paper or cardstock using light touches. It is easier to add more colour than it is to try and remove a colour that has already been applied.

Once you’ve applied the ink (using the various techniques below), you can lift the stencil carefully to reveal the design on your card. Let the ink dry properly and avoid touching the area before it does.

Here are 3 stencil and ink techniques to try:

  1. Apply the ink in layers

This technique is done by creating layers of two different designs or patterns on top of each other. The distinction between the two layers is made by using different colours. This can help bring some character and detail to your overall design.

Applying the ink in different layers can be done in more than one way. You can choose to use one stencil design as a basis and another stencil design as an interesting addition to the first design. Alternatively, you can apply a second layer to the first design using the same stencil while using a different colour the second time. This will result in a unique look and is a great way to get a blended watercolour type of effect.

You should be mindful of the colours you use as a lighter colour won’t work as a layer on top of a dark ink colour that has been applied generously. Aside from the practical or feasible aspect of it, the colours should also look good together. In the design below, a heart stencil was used as a basis. Polka dots were added as a layer together will swirly patterns. The swirly patterns were applied using two different colours.

Heart shape with patterns over if created using layers of stencils and different coloured inks

Check out other ideas for layered inking on Pinterest.

  1. Use offset inking

For this technique, you will start by inking a design in one colour and then moving the stencil a bit to ink a section of the design in another colour. You will be placing the same stencil over the first design but placing it out of line in a purposeful way to add some depth to your design. This technique is also great for designs where you want to emphasize a certain area.

Try using different tones of colours that shade into each other, going from light to dark. The colours will merge as they range from one to the other, creating an ombre effect. Another great way to use this technique is to create something with different dimensions, like waves or a sunset.

In the design below offset inking was applied to add depth to a simple heart stencil, giving it a 3D effect. The same idea can be applied by offsetting the heart stencil at the bottom of the original heart or on either of the sides.

Candy heart design created by offsetting a stencil and applying different coloured inks

Check out other examples of offset inking on Pinterest.

  1. Mix colours in the same design

A stencil does not have to be used with only one colour at a time. This technique allows you to explore the possibilities of mixing colours. Even if you use the same stencil over and over again, you can get interesting, unique results by playing around with different colours.

There are different ways to apply this technique. You can choose to divide the stencil design up into sections and choose a different colour for each section, or you can use a different approach that is less restricting. Give thought to the look you want to go for to decide.

If you want clean, separate colour applications, then you need to use a masking object to cover the areas that are reserved for a different colour. If you would like to make it look as if the different colours are blending in with each other then you can skip the masks and allow your blending tool to cross the border between the different sections. The design below used different colours for each element the stencil design is made up of.

Detailed multi-coloured heart design created with a stencil and different coloured inks

Check out other ideas for multi-coloured inking on Pinterest.

Care tips for stencils and ink pads

These tools can be used over and over again if they are taken care of. Wash your stencil (and hands) to avoid stains after use. You also don’t want any ink to transfer to a surface it shouldn’t be on.

Remember to close your ink pad so that it doesn’t dry out and avoid mixing colours. Keep the ink pads in a dry, cool place.

Have a look at some of the projects you can take on that will allow you to use the stencil and ink techniques you have learned: 10 Creative Paper Craft Hobbies to Try

Don’t you love it when you can use the same tools in different ways to create different results? That’s what crafting is all about! What are some of your favourite ways to use stencils and inks? Drop a comment below.

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