Darkly Labs Community

Stencils - Best Material and Best Practices

We use our Emblaser 1 for cutting Airbrush Stencils - which can be done for any painting project or art work.  Here are a few tips.

For general work - we use Stencil Board (Oil Board found at Industrial Suppliers or Art Stores) which has a coating to resist soaking - we can use the board for many days before we need to change it out - disadvantages are that it is stiff and small details often “pop” up and cause out of focus images when curved around a surface like a person’s arm.  Advantages are that it is stiff to allow for easy weading of the unused material and that it lasts for days - Settings 4 mm/sec 80% 2 Passes in my area.

For detail work - we use construction paper and coat both sides AFTER you cut the stencil with a heavy hair spray - soak the paper and allow it to dry. DON’T spray in the same room as the laser - hairspray is flammable. - this will give you a tear resistant wear resistant stencil with exceptional detail.  Disadvantages include difficulty in laying the stencil flat because it is flexible and single day use.  Advantages include finer detail and limited “pop up” when placed on a curved surface - settings 20mm/sec 80% 1 Pass

Stencils require “bridges” to maintain the structure of the stencil and support areas which would otherwise be cut out.  Add rectangles with a width of 0.04 inches minimum, lay those on top of the areas that need support - use the scissor function to remove all of the unwanted line segments and create the bridge.  Use 3 bridges to support your area if possible for structural integrity.

Test cutting - it is faster and easier to cut a test stencil from construction paper first.  Test it out and correct for errors.  Areas should be at least 0.04" away from each other (otherwise they will fall out) - so expand your design and move those areas away from each other.  Bend and twist the stencil as if you were going to use it and add bridges if needed.  When happy, move on to heavier material.

Stencil size - don’t be afraid to make your stencil larger than you anticipated - a larger stencil allows for more detail and expanding the image as little as 1" can make the difference between a good design and a great design.  Another tip, make your vector image as small as possible - once you know what the minimum size is for the stencil, it is an easy task to expand to make larger stencils and gives you the knowledge about your design’s capabilities - for example my Maori Turtle cannot be any smaller than 2.5" because the interior design cuts fall out, so I know what my limitations are for this stencil image.

Interesting reading - I have been contemplating having a play with airbrushes for a while (Got the kit sitting unloved in a cupboard for a year or two now). Thank you!

There are thousands of stencil images on-line - just google __________ stencils (fill in the blank) and this leads to a large number of prepared images (you often don’t have to add bridges for these) when you select the image view on your web browser. I just copy and paste directly into Cut2D and click on the bird to convert to vector - throw away the image and you are left with the vectorized art for your project - it’s easy. Check for clearance between vectorized spaces - some of these are too small and need to be expanded (usually the case with robot, superhero, and Maori stencils). I have used airbrushes for over 35 years - private message me and I can help you get your kit started with tips and tricks there as well (halloween@jps.net).

Great information Tyler.

Would be great to see some pics of your stencils and artwork when you have time to share.

We too use the scissor tool in Cut2D-L a great deal. It’s such a quick and easy way to make edits that would otherwise be very time consuming.

A little while ago we visited a local artist called Joe Blanck who does a lot of stencil work. We showed him how to use the Emblaser and he was able to create some fantastic multi-layer stencils very quickly. His logo was a 12 layer stencil with very intricate detail all having to line up between each layer. Great to watch someone painting something like that.

Great article Tyler!

I have used Artool’s “Ultra Mask” with success.  Its a self adhesive polyester, so ok for lasering.  It has some flexibility so good for compound surfaces.  By using transfer tape after weeding out unwanted bits you can place your stencil without having to use “bridges”. I have used this technique successfully for squadron codes on RC aircraft.  Only thing is, the surface needs to be quite smooth to stick to (and it is repositionable as well).  

Has anyone else found anything similar that is self adhesive that is safe for laser cutting?

Sandy — based on a previous post where you mentioned Artool’s Ultra Mask, I ordered it. It’s perfect for stencil use and exactly what I would want, except it smelled like PVC when I lasered it. So I emailed customer support at iwata-media.com (Artool’s manufacturer) to ask if it contained PVC and sadly, the return email said it does contain PVC and is not safe to laser :((

I also would love to find a similar product that’s safe for laser cutting.