How To Make Multi-Layer Stencils In Photoshop

Several of you have asked about how to create a multi colored stencil. There are many ways to do it, it all depends on what tools you are comfortable with. I work faster on the computer than I do freehand, so this tutorial will focus on using graphic programs, particularly Adobe Photoshop, Streamline, and Illustrator to get your initial image. Here’s the image I will be working with. I started out by scanning it in hi-res, 300 dpi, so I have a good size file to work with.

Raw image scanned from a book

We’ll start in Photoshop. I don’t really care for the sky or the figures in the background. All i’m really interested in is the figure in the foreground. To separate him from the rest of the image the best thing is to do is to make a working path around him.

Create a working path around stencil subject

Here’s where you’ll probably need to play a little bit. After creating the path I cut out the figure and created a new layer with just him on it. Then I created a background layer that was a color that would stand out against the figure (this will be useful later as well, seen in red here). Now I usually work the image by using levels to get a good, high contrast, image, and then use either the cut-out filter or use posterize. They both render similar effects, you just have more control with the cut out filter. Here’s what I came up with. This is going to REALLY fun to cut out. Now I take the image into streamline. All I need is for Streamline to turn my high contrast image into vector art.

Image ready to go to Streamline

Finally, I get to the Illustrator part. First thing to do is simplify the outlines down so it wont be such a pain in the ass to cut out using the Object -> Path -> Simplify tool. I try to get a good balance between smooth lines and overall image integrity. Next I use the Pathfinder -> Divide tool, to split up the colors into individual shapes. Then just select each color and separate them into different layers, one for shadows, mid tones, and highlights. This way you can hide the other two tones and add bridges as needed. This image needed a lot of them, and since I’m going to be using my paint sprayer for this, I have to make sure there isn’t any long peninsula areas that will flap about when I use the sprayer. Finally I make crop marks and circles in each corner for registration. I’m pretty happy with the image as is, so it’s time to print it and get the image ready to cut.

Finished art

Print out one copy and take it to a place that does copying and laminating. I’ll take mine to Kinkos just for ease and i’ll probably get the copies for free if I work it right. Now that I have the sheets laminated it’s time to start cutting. I designate one copy for each of the colors/tones in my design. I cut out all the black on one, the light gray areas on on, and then the last one, the mid tones, I cut out the entire figure. This is to ensure that all the areas appear to line up, even if the registration is off by only a little. I have an island between the two arms which I have to float with islands to make it stay. The bridges I made to hold that island in place are covered up by the light and dark colors.

Laminated stencils ready to be cut

All that is left now is to spray it…

Mid tones / base color

Highlights/ second color

Finished! Now I have crop marks so I can cut it down to size. Have Fun!

Shadows / third color