Render an Internet Meme with a Stencil

Memes, with a little text or context, get your point across very quickly. Did you know that they work as well as stencils as they do on the Internet?

If you want to stencil with a meme, you’ve got something going for you: it’s a meme, so people recognize it. Apart from the context, you don’t have to think too hard about how people are going to interpret it.

Memes are low-quality images

At the same time, the images you’re working with are pretty low quality. They’re often drawn from film or low-quality TV footage.

Since these are not studio photographs, they can be tricky to stencil so that they are recognizable.

stenciling the Gatsby Reaction meme
doing the Gatsby meme up right (in VR)

Shoot for three-tone stencil

Three-color separation on Bay Stencil
choose one of the three-toned options

I always shoot for a three-color or three-gray separation for these meme images. Because facial expressions are often important, you want to have enough layers to convey those expressions. But you also want the meme stencil to be simple, and not too painful to execute. So I’m typically targeting a three-color or three-grey preset in Bay Stencil.

Background and crop

If I render the background of the meme base image, I’m going to end up with a postcard. (That is, a stencil that renders as a rectangle.) So I’ll either remove the background in Bay Stencil, or I’ll color the background as I’m manipulating the image. (See more below.)

If the subject of the image is cropped too much in the screencap, then sometimes I need to add bits of the image back so that it doesn’t look “cropped” when it’s rendered in the wild.

prepping the Gatsy image for stenciling

Boost and mute until perfect

And if an image doesn’t stencilize well the first (or second) time, I’ll try to boost or mute some parts of the image by drawing on it on an iPad in a program like Procreate. Submitting to Bay Stencil and then making a few strokes in the image can make a huge difference in how well it renders.

Step by step

Here’s a step-by-step outline of my approach:

  • Pick a clean screencap for your image
  • Crop it all the way down to the essential parts
  • Bonus: draw back anything that’s out of frame
  • Send it to Bay Stencil, look at the three-color results
  • Selectively darken or lighten different parts of the stencil
  • Resubmit to Bay Stencil, and repeat until all the essential details look right

You can render the image part of the meme with a stencil, and you can write in the message with a marker. Or you can stencil the text as well, and it can look really great.

preparing the meme image for stenciling

I like to stencil a meme in removable spray chalk on a street or sidewalk. To do this, I use the surface (street or sidewalk) as a midtone, and then use black chalk for the dark layer and white chalk for the lightest layer.

So when I make a meme for this purpose, I’ll reduce my image to greyscale, and then replace the background of my images with midtone so that I can leave out that layer and not get a postcard effect.

Adding text

Most memes have text for context. You can handle the text in the same way as you handle the image. If you choose to use Impact font, for example, you can go into Inkscape and type the text you want, change to Impact, and export the text on a neutral background.

Creating your text to export for stenciling

Get the Great Gatsby Reaction meme.

Get the Condescending Wonka meme.

Get the Distracted Boyfriend meme.

elaborating on the ‘Distracted Boyfriend’ meme in VR

Get the Roll Safe meme.

Get the crazy halftone Doge meme. Note: scroll down and download the halftone stencils instead of the specific preset stencil.

Look at memes on Bay Stencil.