What is a stencil?

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Many printing methods or devices require using a stencil.


Read the instructions that come with stencils to make sure you have the correct ones for the printing method you are using.


A stencil is a thin sheet of material such as wax-coated paper, cardboard, or vinyl, which does not allow moisture to pass through it. Text or designs are created by cutting through the stencil so that a substance such as ink or paint can be forced through the openings onto a surface to be printed.


Different brands of stencils may differ somewhat from each other, but there are four main kinds of stencils:

  • Mimeograph stencil
    • Material used is strong paper saturated or coated with wax.
    • Text is written, typed, or printed directly onto the stencil.
    • Illustrations are drawn directly on the stencil with a stylus.

    Preparing mimeograph stencils

  • Thermal stencil
    • Material used is wax-based and strengthened with fibers.
    • Stencil is processed in an infrared or thermal copy machine.
    • Text and images are burned directly onto a page exactly as they appear on the original.
  • Electronic stencil
    • Material used is vinyl.
    • Stencil is put on a scanner side by side with an original copy.
    • The stylus of the scanner copies the original by burning thousands of tiny holes into the stencil
  • Handmade or store-bought stencils for graphics
    • Material used is usually heavy plastic or lightweight cardboard.
    • Images are cut into the stencil with a sharp instrument such as a razor blade or pointed knife blade, or stamped out by machine.

    Preparing a large hand-cut stencil

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