How Much Detail Should I Include in my Stencils?

You’ve got the portrait about right, but you can’t really see that dimple in the shadow of his face. How much detail does a stencil need to include? In the end it comes down to taste. But there are some aesthetic and some practical considerations.

I like the graphic look of a stencil. I like it when it looks like extranneous details have been removed; what’s left is clean and simple, and it still communicates. In other words, it hasn’t become totally abstract, but you can’t see every wrinkle on the turtle. You can’t see every dimple in the shadows.

Practically speaking, stencils with a lot of detail are prone to have a lot of noise and a lot of extra bridges too. So, in order to make it so that you can read the printing on a t-shirt (who cares that that guy went to Tallahassee State?), for example, you end up with a lot of other details too (like wrinkles, and wispy hair, and irregularities) that make the reproduced image look more like a print than a stencil.

So, it’s a balance.

To illustrate, we’ll look at two examples: a portrait stencil of Sean Combs, and a graphic of the USMC motto ‘Semper Fi’.

sean combs a or b which is better

So you found your image of Sean Combs. The question is, what do you want people to see?

  • that is a person
  • that is a dark-skinned man on a purple background
  • that is Sean Combs
  • that is Sean Combs in a good mood
  • that is Sean Combs at the 2017 Apparel Awards Ceremony

In this example, I was going for ‘that is Sean Combs’. And I wanted to get rid of any extra detail that I didn’t need to get that across.

semper fi motto of USMC stenciled in higher detail and lower detail

Check the video for more commentary and the samples I sprayed in the virtual environment.

Get the Sean Combs stencil.

Get the ‘Semper Fi’ stencil.