How To Make Oversize Stencils on your Craft or Laser Cutter

You downloaded the nifty SVG stencils for Halloween or your favorite band. And you can cut them at up to 12″ x 24″ on your Cricut if you have the extra-long mat (and extra-long stencil material). Take this giraffe for example. It’s a good looking-stencil, but with the giraffe’s head smaller than my hand, it’s not going to stop traffic.

So what if you want to stencil something that people will look at outside, at greater distance? What if you want to make an oversize stencil on your craft cutter?

Let’s look at how you can make and use oversize stencils on your Cricut or other craft cutter.

For our example, we’re going to stencil a giraffe head and neck to appear to ‘peek up’ above a fence or other visual boundary.

Supplies for Multi-panel stencils

We’ll need a few supplies to do this project: a craft cutter, large format card stock, and spray paint.

Step 1: Choose your image

We’ll start by choosing an image from Unsplash, one of our favorite sources for royalty-free, open-source images.

Thanks, Sian Cooper, for the cool giraffe pic!

Finding a giraffe image in Unsplash

Step 2: Upload to Bay Stencil

From there, we’ll upload and crop the image at Bay Stencil. Since we’re going to remove the background of the photo anyhow, we crop it tight to the giraffe. And because we want to emphasize the giraffe’s long neck, we keep as much of the neck as we can.

Uploading and cropping giraffe image at Bay Stencil

Step 3: Customize and download your multi-panel, multi-layer stencil SVGs

In a minute or so, we have nine variations waiting in our inbox. Looks like the background elimination worked well, and there are no artifacts and no missing limbs! We pick the variation that has the best details, and is easiest to paint. I like the second one best, because it has just three colors (if you haven’t noticed, I’m a big fan of the three-tone portrait stencil).

So, when we click on that option, we get to wait for another email which tells us that our stencil is separated and bridged. And that would be great, if we wanted to cut and paint a stencil from a single panel. But here’s where we’re going to get fancy. Find the ‘Customize the download’ link in the blue panel, and click it to see the options.

There are three rows of options:

  • Final image size
  • Stencil media size (whatever you cut your stencils out of)
  • Bridging options
Setting custom download parameters for giraffe stencil

For starters, we’re going to say that we want our final image to be on the order of three feet high. That should get their attention! (And it’s larger than we can cut with a single sheet in our Cricut, too.)

Setting media width and height for custom giraffe stencil download

Notice how, when we chose our 30 inch high image, the image on the left changed to show it divided into six panels? That’s showing us, that–with our default media size of 11×14 inch panels, it will take six panels to complete the image. But we’ll be cutting this stencil from large card stock panels, and we can fit up to 12 inches wide on the Cricut. When we set 12 x 20 as our media width and height, we’ll find that we will only need three panels to complete the image. That’s a lot less work!

The margin of 0.5 inches sounds right to me. I don’t want to make my margin too large, because that may mean more panels to cut. At the same time, I don’t want to make the margin so small that I lose the edge of the stencil. (Without edges, the stencils will just fall apart.)

Setting bridging options for custom giraffe stencil download

Next we’ll check out the bridging options. We’ll choose ‘stable bridges’. (‘No bridges’ is an expert-only option for people who like to bridge and place their stencil pieces by hand or with fixative. More on that in another post.) The default bridge width of 0.05 inches (about one-sixteenth of an inch) is good for card stock stencils on the Cricut–for most stencils. You could nudge this down a bit if your pattern is simple or if you’re working with a stronger material. It won’t let you choose values much below 0.03 inches, because at that point you might as well not cut the bridges at all.

Buying the custom multi-panel stencil download of giraffe

Ready. Set. Go. Checking through the settings, it looks like we have everything the way we want. Note that it says we will have 9 panels total. For our giraffe, we’ll be stenciling onto a light-colored background so we won’t need the white layer. That’s three fewer panels we’ll have to cut and paint. Now that we have all the parameters set, we’re ready to purchase and download.

In the mail we get our zip file. We click on it to open (there’s a chance you may not be able to do this on your mobile device, so I recommend you be sitting down for this one). In the ‘custom’ directory of the zip file contents, you’ll see the SVGs for each layer of this ‘1×3’ stencil.

What do all those numbers signify? Sorry, let me translate: the first file name is

2-1-1x3-1.svg

That ‘2’ means we chose the second preset from our 9 variations initially of the giraffe photo. Then the ‘1’ means we’re on layer 1 (the white layer). Then the ‘1×3’ means that this layer is composed of 1 column and 3 rows (it’s 1 x 3). And the final ‘1’ means it’s the first stencil in this layer.

Next, don’t feel like you need to try this at home, but if you use Inkscape or Adobe Illustrator and are comfortable opening and manipulated vector (SVG) files on your own, then you can open these files and look at them. If not, that’s fine, all you’ll need to do in the next step is upload them to Cricut Design Space (or the cutting software of your choice).

Step 4: Import into cutter software (Cricut Design Space or other) and cut

Now we’ll cut the files from Design Space. Because there are six files to import, we want to make sure they are all sized in the same way. (If you resize, then make sure you are resizing all of them the same amount at the same time.)

organizing the cut files inside Cricut design space

If you’re cutting on a different craft cutter than a Cricut, you may want to explore one of the links below.

See cutting instructions for any of these methods:

Cutting the stencil on a Cricut is quick and relatively easy, as long as your Bluetooth is working. Check out the video for a cool backup plan when Bluetooth fails.

starting to cut multi-panel stencil on the cricut

Since we’re painting our giraffe on a white canvas, we only need to cut the mid-tone and dark layers. Each layer has three panels, so that’s a total of 2 x 3 = 6 panels. It takes a while to cut, but each layer goes fast because there isn’t as much detail when you blow the image up to a larger size.

Step 5: Use registration marks to line up panels of each layer

lining up stencil panels for mid-tone layer of giraffe stencil

Once all six pieces are cut, we layer them up so that we can see how large the final image will be, and where it will be situated on the canvas. I’ll lay these out so that there is a little space above the top of the head of the giraffe, and a little space below the bottom of the neck. Then I mark the locations of the stencils with a pencil through the small triangular holes in the stencil–called registration marks.

making registration marks on surface for lining up stencil panels

These small marks help me to place each panel of both layers of the stencil with confidence, knowing that everything is going to line up. Now let’s paint! I’m using light brown and black (actually dark green) for one rendition of the giraffe. Then I do it again in pink and red colors.

Paint!

spray paint for painting multi-panel stencil

Placing the first panel, I line up the registration holes with the marks on the canvas. Quilt basting spray is really good to use here, to hold the stencil to the canvas once it’s properly lined up. But I’ll use my gloved hand to keep the stencil tacked to the surface while painting.

Once the first panel is painted, you line up the second panel using the same registration marks, but this time it’s the holes on the *top* of the second panel that are lined up to the marks.

With all three panels painted, you see that for this layer the panels have all connected well. And because we kept the sizes of all the panels locked together in the cutting program (Cricut Design Space for this example), we know that all the layers will line up well.

And after painting all six panels, we have a three-tone giraffe (white, mid-tone and dark).

full tan and dark green giraffe painting

We paint it a second time (in pink and red) to illustrate some of the difficulties that arise when you don’t use registration (alignment) marks to paint multi-panel stencils. These difficulties are multiplied when you go to 2×2, 2×3, 3×3 or more complex arrangements. So get this technique working for you before you try something really hard.

multi-panel giraffe stencil painted in pink and red

Multi-panel, multi-layer stencils are a great way to extend the use of your craft or laser cutter, and to reproduce high-impact graphics on a variety of surfaces in all locations.

You can download the single-panel giraffe stencil from Bay Stencil.