20 Midjourney Prompts to Generate Stencils

When MidJourney first launched, we immediately wanted to come up with a stencil-friendlier version of Frida Kahlo. Interesting, and we eventually got what we came for. Now we’re back with more practice, and more experience getting a desirable stencil result.

Why not go directly for what you want?

Why beat around the bush if MidJourney has exactly what you need?

"black and white stencil of <subject>"

Let’s see whether the thing that MidJourney generates is bridgeable as a stencil. So we take what we get with MidJourney and run it through the Stencilizer to see where it has to be bridged.

This looks pretty good to me. I would paint this! Maybe I would prefer to paint the black layer onto a white background, and remove the lateral bridges on either side so that they don’t distract from the image.

So, just asking MidJourney to generate a stencil works reasonable well. And making black-and-white stencils by hand (that are recognizable) is really hard. So: WIN.

Basic image features: number of colors, clean lines and shapes

An image that’s going to stencilize well might start as a photorealistic image (especially if it’s professional), but you can put the AI into the right ballpark by calling on it to produce images that are limited in color.

"three-tone"
"three-color"
"green, purple, red"
"vector art"
"clean shapes"

You won’t always score with the color prompt, but you will typically get at least in the ballpark. (That’s a common theme of prompt engineering: with a couple of tries you can get ‘in the ballpark’–but recoloring and cropping out unwanted details is often required to get the rest of the way there.)

Isolating a feature on a background

"isolated on a <color> background"

If we want a figure to appear to float on the background of the surface (which is what I want about half the time, these days), then we want the AI to isolate the figure on a flat background. If you don’t tell it to isolate on a specifically flat background, the AI often introduces a gradient background, because that is what might look best on a website or in print. But since we’re making a stencil, we don’t want to stencilize that gradient. After all, if we want to create a gradient in the background we’re going to do that with spray or another technique; we’re not going to paint fifteen stencils of changing colors to get a simple gradient.

The “isolated” part makes sure that the subject does not get cut off by the border of the image.

Using camera angle to fit your subject in frame

"extreme high-angle from above"

You want Charlie Chaplin, and you want to show his cane and shoes and all, but you don’t have a tall space in which to do it. You want to somehow compress Charlie Chaplin into a smaller space. This is called foreshortening. But MidJourney doesn’t understand foreshortening, so you have to give it a camera angle cue instead.

High-angle and low-angle shots help you get tall subjects into less tall spaces. Try these other variations to ‘orient’ your subject in space so that your stencil looks right on location.

"low-angle"
"low-angle from below"
"side-angle"
"closeup"
"low-angle extreme closeup"

Aesthetic features that make interesting stencils

"negative space"

“Negative space” is a cue to the AI to give each block of color a double meaning: the inside of the block is a shape that means one thing, and the outside of the block is a shape that represents another thing.

Notice how, even though it didn’t produce a two-tone pattern, it did produce elements of negative space. (Sometimes the darkest elements are petals of flowers, and sometimes they are the space between the flowers.) With some more work we could produce a two-tone pattern.

"pop art"

Read more about the Pop Art movement. For stenciling, it’s going to result in bright, high-contrast images and bold graphics.

The first prompt had a good result; adding ‘pop art’ dialed up the energy level and created something worthy of execution, I’d say.

"chiaroscuro"

This is a subtle term for what we’re often looking for in a stencil but don’t know it. We want patterns of dark and light, because those patterns get turned into solid color blocks. The masters developed this technique and the shapes of those color blocks in a great painting are beautiful on their own.

It’s notoriously difficult to get a brown dog with brown eyes on a brown background to stencilize correctly. But with the directive to add patterns of dark/light, you get both the contrast and the appealing variety of shapes typical of the Dutch masters.

Simulate the result you want

Stencil art is usually clean and minimalist, and it shares things in common with other art forms like block prints, woodcuts, ink paintings, lithographs, linocuts. Try using names of the processes that produce stencil-like outputs to tune into those looks.

"block print"
"ink painting"
"lithograph"
"stencil art"
"linocut"
"risograph"
"photogravure"
"bromoil"
"platinotype"

Note that it didn’t exactly nail the color commands (it’s really white and black on a red background), but the “block print” really gets you in close.

Channel the masters

"in the style of Banksy"
"by Shepard Fairey"

I’m not a huge fan of explicitly calling on an AI to impersonate an artist. I hope that we collectively figure out a way to compensate the creative types on whose bounty we are all currently dining.

MidJourney Style Tuners

I’ve built so many stencil images using MidJourney that fall into specific template bins that I use tuners for those special cases. A tuner in MidJourney is just a way to hit a sweet spot in the prompt parameter space without having to go through endless iterations of stuff you really don’t want to see again.

Each of the style tuners below works with a specific kind of prompt; these are prompts I use over and over again to get pretty good results, pretty fast.

Superhero / Character poses

I use this when I want to do a superhero or video game character or any kind of body-centric illustration. It helps you to get non-stationary poses that ‘fill up’ the space of the stencil.

<superhero or character name>, action pose, full-body, isolated on a white background --style raw-dv0erUcluF8WiDFd
wonder woman action pose

Portraits of Famous People

I like a certain style for portraits of famous people, something that looks good in a 3-tone stencil going for lots of dark-light contrast for a dramatic, lasting look. Not photorealistic but more painterly; not caricature but a little bit expressionistic.

<celebrity name>, portrait, isolated on white background --style raw-l4jA5W14l265ZaXu
dwayne johnson portrait

Inanimate objects

Making a stencil with an inanimate object is great fun. With the correct angle(s), they are easily recognizable and can be combined with text for great contrast and effect. This tuner gives ordinary objects just a little more personality, and sometimes an extra accessory or two.

<name of object>, dramatic perspective, isolated on white background --style raw-bZ1sO01yOkrlO40r
red bicycle dramatic perspective

Want to Blow Your Mind with Tuners?

If you like the results you get with the tuners, are you ready to have your mind blown? You can create your own tweaks to the tuners and get your own code for the combinations you really like. Just go and change the tuning for your own aesthetic, and use the resulting code that is displayed to you:

Other prompts to try

"clean shapes"
"by Adobe Illustrator"
"minimalist"
"half-tone"
"portrait"
"character art"
"graphic art"
"--s 1000"
"--q 0.5"
"--no gradient"

In addition, many of the same prompts that work in DALL-E also work (even better) in MidJourney. We’re having fun using MidJourney to generate stencil ready art. We tried it already to generate repeating wall stencils. Check it out!