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DIY Tile Stenciling - What I learned.

Hi there! Back at it with another budget friendly blog post about how to transform a boring, builder-grade ceramic tile into something unique. I have to be honest, I had really high hopes for this stenciling process when it came to giving my neutral fireplace a makeover. I was picturing super clean and perfect lines, but that is just not the reality. If you are thinking about stenciling, just know that it is very time consuming and it also is imperfect no matter the technique. I read pretty much every article under the sun about how tackle this project without creating a smudgy mess and I have to say this was exactly what happened in some areas. Luckily, it all can be fixed with a small artists brush and some patience. From far away it looks great but the perfectionist in me is pointing out every flaw.

In order to stencil your ceramic tile you first must apply a base coat of primer. I used the Zinsser 123 Primer for all surfaces. We used about 4 coats to achieve this look. Now, you can paint over this primer or you can leave it as is, but it is very stark white. We ended up painting the entire fireplace in this primer, at some point I will go back and paint over the non-stenciled areas with a creamier white.

After this step, you have to let the primer sit for a week before you can do any sort of stenciling, painting etc. I love the farmhouse vibe so I ordered the Jewel Tile Stencil from Cutting Edge Stencils and I have to say they have some amazing stencils to offer!

As for paint choices, I read articles about people using anything from chalk paint, to water based paint, to latex home paint..which is what I opted to use. The folks over at Cutting Edge Stencils include a helpful document along with your stencil to help you choose the proper paint for your project.

To stencil you will need:


Painters tape

Small foam roller

Roll of paper towels

Drop cloth

Styrofoam plate/paint tray

Baby wipes

Rust-Oleum Flat Black Paint (qt.) OR chalk paint. etc

Small stencil brush for cracks and corners

Very small art paint brush like this set (#3 round tip)

123 Zinsser Primer (qt.)


1. Using painters tape, protect your carpet, wood etc. Prime and paint tile, remove painters tape when paint is wet. Let stand 7 days in between primer and paint, or just leave primer as is if you are stenciling over most of the white.

2. Wipe down area with a clorox wipe or wet rag and let dry to make sure there is no dust or small hairs/fibers on the area you wish to stencil.

3. Start at the center of the project (fireplace, floor etc), line up the stencil with the corner markers on the stencil. My tile is 12x12 and so was the stencil which made it simple. Tape down the corners and make sure it is level, and completely flat to the ground.

4. Pour paint onto plate and cover foam roller completely, then roll foam roller across a folded stack of paper towels to remove most of the paint. You want your roller to almost look dry. This is supposed to avoid bleeding. Check out this video for more information.

5. With light to medium pressure, carefully roll the paint across the stencil. If you smudge outside of the stencil by accident, quickly wipe it up using a baby wipe. To check the outcome of the stencil, peel only one corner up, try not to roll layers and layers of paint to achieve darker results as this leads to bleeding. Wipe up any excess with a baby wipe or touch up with your small art brush at the end.

6. Repeat the process on the other tiles after a few minutes of drying time in between, don't leave your stencil on too long after you've applied the paint because it dries quickly. Be sure to use a fast drying paint so you can stencil the next tile. When lining up your next stencil, use the corner indicators on the ends to make sure they are straight. I did all of the 12x12 tiles in the front row before I touched the back row, which are cut in half. I wiped the stencils backing with a baby wipe in between tiles to remove excess paint.

7. When you get to tile that is cut in half because of a wall/trim etc. you will have to bend the stencil and fill in the parts that butt up to the wall or trim with a stencil brush. You will probably have to touch this up with a small art brush or keep the baby wipes close as this is very tricky!

8. Repeat the process and when compete - seal the paint. Use a clear, matte sealer like Rust-Oleum. If you are using chalk paint, I read sealing it is imperative to protecting it. Annie Sloan makes a great chalk paint and sealer.

What I learned:

1. Don't apply too many coats of paint to achieve a darker stencil, this only creates bleeding with you stencil. Expect to fill in your stencil with an artists brush for a darker look.

2. Use a thicker paint to stencil, test it out on a piece of cardboard to be sure.

3. Make sure to wash your stencil about half way through. Latex paint comes right off with hot water so after setting it down multiple times and picking up fibers in between stencils, washing it was a must.

4. Make sure to wipe the imperfect stencil up right away, you can run a baby wipe along the edge of the imperfect area or wipe it away and repaint it with an artists brush by hand.

5. No matter how many videos you watch, they make it look simple. IT'S NOT. I would practice as much as you can on cardboard before you officially apply it to your tile.

6. You will have to go back with a brush and touch up your stencil so just come to terms with that. If you are looking for a perfect stencil line its is pretty much not going to happen with this method, I would suggest creating a pattern with painters tape if that is more of what you are hoping to achieve. This is a more rustic look but I am pretty happy with the way it turned out.

Now, to decide whether I will stencil the top of my fireplace...I need a little intermission in between, I think. Once that is decided, I will seal it.

Questions? Leave me a comment below!

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About Ashley

Ashley Mancione is a wife, mom, freelance graphic designer/developer and home decor enthusiast. Stay tuned to read more about styling House 3, favorite recipes and her DIY adventures.

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