Bay Stencil: custom stencils from an online stencil generator
original image of Freddie Mercury
stencil layer of Freddie Mercury
stencil layer of Freddie Mercury
stencil layer of Freddie Mercury
stencil layer of Freddie Mercury
simulated stencil painting of Freddie Mercury

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Bay Stencil?
Bay Stencil is a site where you create your own custom stencil using our online stencil generator. Try it--it's easy!
How do I upload a picture to stencilize?
On the main page, click on the 'Browse' button to select a file on your computer, and then once the file is selected, enter your email address and click the 'Stencilize' button. You'll get an email shortly that contains a link to your stencilized images.
I didn't get my email!
Did you check your spam folder? We do the best we can to maintain a sterling email reputation, but because our emails contain images we are still caught in some spam filters. If you don't want to look in your spam filter every time, just add our email address to your address book.
I ordered a digital download, and I didn't receive my download link. Help!
When PayPal notifies us that you paid, if your stencil layers are already made, then we send you the download link right away. Sometimes there is a delay of up to ten minutes if the stencil layers need to be created. Beyond that, you should definitely let us know right away. ALL CAPS brings your request right to the top of the queue!
How long will it take to cut my stencil?
We'll get right on it! It'll take up to a week to cut, and up to a week to get to you in the mail.
How do you ship?
We ship your 14 x 11 stencils flat as a first-class letter, in a 12 x 15 envelope. If your mailbox will not accommodate an envelope of this size, consider having the stencil sent to a friend whose mailbox is big enough. Other stencils are shipped rolled up in a box, and will typically need to be hand-delivered.
How much does shipping cost?
It depends on the size of the stencil and the number of layers and where you live. If you click one of the Buy buttons, the final shipping will be calculated by PayPal when you check out. (You find out the shipping costs before you pay.)
How do I pay?
You can pay with credit card or PayPal: if you want to pay with Visa or MasterCard, just click through the PayPal hurdles to get there. You don't have to open a PayPal account to buy.
Do you take custom orders?
Currently, we can handle the following kinds of special orders:
  • Smaller Sizes: no problem down to about 5 inches on a side.
  • Larger Sizes: if you need something super big, let us know what you're trying to do and we'll make a recommendation.
  • Custom Materials (like metal or acrylic): this will get a little trickier (and a lot more expensive!), but if you let us know what you need, we can try to work with you.
Contact us
If I send you the vector file, will you just cut it for me and send it to me?
Afraid not. It's pretty likely that you would leave something out of the instructions for how you want it cut, or that the thing you want cut would fall apart in the laser cutter. If you can't get an image to stencilize the way you like, contact us for help.
What happens to the pictures I upload?
The pictures you upload are converted to stencils and then stored for you to look at for between one week and one month.
The link you sent me to a stencil is broken. What's up?
(See above.) Your images are stored for a period of time before they are deleted, along with your stencils. If you want your stenciled image to be always available, you should save it somewhere else.
Why are there little lines on the 'bridged' version?
A stencil has to be connected or it falls apart. The extra lines are the bridges that hold the stencil together and keep it stable. When you paint the stencil, the bridges mask the surface just like the rest of the stencil does. So you may see lines in the painted stencil that were not in the original image. Those unpainted lines can be filled in with the same color as the color you used to paint the stencil, but be careful not to fill in too much. If you want a stencil created that will mask the bridges for you automatically, you can just order the same stencil twice and indicate in your order that you want the bridges cut.
My image is on a big, empty background, and I only want the foreground. How do I make the background go away?
The best way to handle this is to crop your image so that as little background as possible is included. If you can't do this, or don't want to, then you can include a special request that your image be cut without the background layer. When it is cut without the background layer, it will be cut at the maximum size possible without the background (thus making the foreground object larger than it would be otherwise, which is usually a good thing).
What's a stencil?
SRSLY? Okay, a stencil is a template made by cutting a design into stiff paper, plastic, cardboard, or metal. You use a stencil to apply a design to a surface by spraying or brushing paint through the cut out areas of a template so that the pattern will be reproduced on the surface below. Easy peasy.
How do you turn a photo into a set of stencils?
Great question! Fundamentally, it's a three step process. First the large variety of colors in the image are reduced to a small number of colors. Second, the smaller shapes are combined into larger shapes that form (typically) smooth curves. Finally, the curves of each color are separated out so that they can be cut and painted as individual layers.
How do you make the stencils?
Vector image files are used as inputs to Corel Draw on a PC that is connected to a laser cutter instead of a printer. Laser cutters are cool. Imagine, your stencil cut out by an Imperial Stormtrooper!
What kind of photo makes a good stencil?
Professional quality photographs make good stencils. Dramatically lit photos of cars and trucks make good stencils. If you want to take a picture of someone's face to make a stencil from, make sure the person's face is lit from the side so that shadows fall across the face and accentuate the best details of the face.
Are five layers better than four?
If you can make a stencil in just two colors that's really tight, that's awesome. Many logos, high-quality (iconic) photographs and some simple artwork stencilizes well with two layers. Decent studio portraits often look very good with three layers: artistically speaking, three layers gives you bright, dark and mid-tone. You often see good three-tone stencils where one of the colors is omitted so that it's replaced by the color of the background. Four-color and five-color stencils are good for more detailed logos and ordinary photographs that need more colors to be recognizable. Multi-layer stencils can be harder to make crisp because there are more lines that have to match up perfectly. Even if the stencil is cut very precisely, variations in the surface can keep the layers from registering exactly right. Fewer layers means fewer opportunities to screw up.
How do I get the highest resolution for the stencil?
Part of the beauty of stencils is that they can reduce the amount of detail until the image is more stylized than realistic. If you want maximum detail, however, you will notice that some of the stencil presets have more detail than others. For example, for a two-layer stencil, the highest detail available is preset 9 (in the lower right hand corner).
Some detail is missing from my stencil. What's going on?
Some details are very small and won't be picked up by the automatic stenciling tool. For example, the tiny dot of reflected light in the eye is sometimes discarded as too small a detail. If you want to control these details, you can crop the image more closely so that those details will be considered relatively more important. You can also use a program like Adobe Illustrator to manually trace the 'important' details of the stencil.
What are the stencils made of?
They are made of 7 mil mylar. A mil is one thousandth of an inch. This material is thicker than architectural tracing paper, and thicker than a one-time use frisket; and it's durable enough that it won't tear with normal use. It's stiff enough to keep flat when pressed against a flat surface, but it is not rigid. The bridges that hold the stencil together also serve to keep pieces from bending or flopping out while you're painting.
How do I clean the stencil?
It depends on what you put on it. If you intend to use the stencil 5 or 10 times, it's probably best not to clean it at all. If you want to use it 100 times, then you need to clean it periodically, and before any buildup occurs. Water-based paints clean up with hot soapy water. Soak the stencils in a flat bath, and use a brush to clean off any buildup on the edges. (It's the edges primarily, not the flat surfaces, that need to be kept free of paint buildup.) For most spray painting applications, there is very little buildup because the surface catches the paint rather than the edges. If you intend to use the stencil for spray painting, you can probably use it 30 times without cleaning it at all. But if you want to be able to use it more often than that, you'll probably need to start cleaning it with a solvent bath after the first use. (It's possible to clean the stencil even after it's had extensive buildup, but it may take alternating soaks and brushings to clean it at that point.)
My stencil is not laying flat on the surface, and it's making the sprayed image look messy. What should I do?
Several options:
  • If you can orient the surface horizontally or almost horizontally, then the stencil should lay flatter from gravity alone (I say almost horizontally because with spray paint, your spray loses pressure if you spray straight downward)
  • In addition to laying the stencil almost horizontal, use coins as weights to hold the stencil down in places where it rises up.
  • My favorite technique is to put a latex glove on one hand and push the stencil up against the surface while spraying. You can also use your hand at the same time to block the spray from hitting other areas where the stencil is not close to the surface. You can get really good at this technique over time.
  • Want it perfect? Use quilting spray (or artist's adhesive) to tack the stencil to the surface. Then you'll have the paint and the adhesive to clean off of the stencil! :-) Seriously, the spray adhesive works multiple times and doesn't need to be removed if you're also not removing the paint. If you remove the paint each time you'll also be taking off the adhesive in most cases.
Can I use the stencil on a curved surface?
Yes, the stencils will bend around a curved surface like a cylinder, as long as it isn't too tight an arc. So it would work for sure on a curved interior wall or a column in a parking garage; but it wouldn't work on a hot dog.
How many times can I use the stencil?
If you just let the stencil dry but never clean it after using, you can spray it probably 20 or 30 times before lint and dirt build up on the edges of the stencil in a noticeable way. If you clean the stencil every time you use it, with water or thinner (depending on the paint), the stencil should hold up indefinitely. Drying the stencil flat in a clean environment helps in either case.
Why do you cut three stencils if you only expect me to use two of them?
(Or, why do you cut four stencils when you only use three of them?, etc.) The best stencil work draws in the color of the background and makes it part of the finished work. Sure, you could cover the entire surface with your three layers, but none of the colors in the stencil would be the background color, and it wouldn't look as cool. Because you have a stencil for all three (or four or five) tones in the final image, you can choose the color surface you want to work on. Many stencils are reproduced with the color of the surface replacing either the lightest or the darkest layer. A balanced midtone surface like brick or asphalt works well when the stencil is three-color. In that case, you use the lightest and darkest stencils and leave out the midtone layer.
I’m having trouble with a very intricate stencil. How do I make it come out clean?
The closer you can get the stencil to lay flat against the surface as you are spraying, the cleaner the lines will be. If the surface itself is quite bumpy, you may not be able to reproduce the image as cleanly as you would on a flat surface. If the surface is pretty flat, then you may apply a small amount of spray mount (artists adhesive) to the surface before pressing the stencil onto the surface for painting. After each layer is painted, carefully remove the stencil from the surface so that it doesn’t tear at a weak point.
How do I reproduce my image in a large format?
For sizes that are five feet and up, I recommend using a projector to project your design rather than applying a stencil to the wall. You can borrow or rent a projector for cheap, maybe $40. The basic steps:
  1. darken the room
  2. put the projector as far from the wall as you can, centered on the wall where you want to produce the design
  3. use the 'keystone' feature of the projector to ensure that the design is in correct proportion on the wall
  4. project the image that shows all the colors (labeled something like '3.png' rather than '3-1.png'
  5. pencil in the outlines of the various blocks, and pencil a code for the proper color of each block
  6. keep a printed color copy of the stencilized image so that you can check it against your pencil codings if you're not sure
  7. build up the paint in each block as you work
You can scale this technique up to 20 feet or down to 2 feet. For larger surfaces you just need a brighter projector or a darker environment.
What about stencils from 2 to 5 inches?
Really small stencils are problematic for two reasons:
  • The bridges that hold the stencil together are about as small as they can be already. If the stencil is scaled down very much, the bridges may break while the stencil is being cut. (The cut itself has a thickness to it even if it is a freakin laser.)
  • Any roughness of the surface you're stenciling onto can introduce inaccuracy. Small bumps cause the stencil to not lay flat against the surface, and when you spray or brush, paint gets under the stencil and your image becomes messy.
I have specific questions about what's in the Digital Download, or the Stencil Kit, or a T-shirt.
View the Buying Guides for one of those products:


Tip #5:
Yep, that's right. Cars make great stencils. Get a variety of angles in good light, and you'll be pleasantly surprised at the results.
All tips
Stenciling idea #3:
Change of address card
Moving? Take a photo of your new place and make it look super in a handmade custom card
All ideas