What to do when your Stencil is Grainy, Speckled, or has too much Detail

Color separation is the process of reducing a full-color image to just a few colors. Having just a few colors is part of what makes a stencil look unique. Your original image usually has millions of colors in it, and when you reduce a rainbow of colors in a detailed image down to just four or five, you will begin to see specks, or grains where the different colors meet.

What to do for Grainy, Speckled Stencils

If your stencils are coming out looking grainy or speckled, it’s probably because of the textures or the lighting in the original image. The Stencilizer is getting smarter all the time, but there is a limit to what it can do with images that don’t have clear outlines

Take photos in bright light

Low-light photos often have dark areas that are full of speckles. This is because your camera’s computer is trying to create detail in the darkest parts of your image. The speckles don’t stand out to you, because your eye is also trying to make sense of what is in the shadow, and random dark-colored speckles don’t stand out to you. But they can show up very prominently when you reduce the number of colors in the image. Photographs taken in bright light don’t have as many speckles.

The solution for this is to use brighter light for the area of focus.

We don’t always have a choice about the photo we have to use, but if you can choose, here’s a guide to choosing a great photo for a stencil.

Remove or reduce gradients

Gradients are smooth transitions from one color to another. You often find gradients in the backgrounds of professionally retouched images. Stencils are great, but by default a traditional color separation will just show large blocks instead of a smooth transition. At the transition points, since the individual pixels are so strange.

In the example above, there is too much gradient background, which doesn’t stencilize well. So you crop the image closer, and tell the Stencilizer to remove the background. The result is more usable in most cases, and reserves the max color depth for the foreground figure while eliminating the jagged background.

Sometimes the gradient is the best part! If you can’t live without the gradient, you might want to try a CMYK Halftone stencil.

Reduce detail to get smooth curves and features

Sometimes, there is just too much going on in your picture to make a good stencil.

Crop tighter

In this example, the street scene has mostly atmosphere, and we lose the couple in the street scene. Because of the wide focus, we even lose correct shading on the woman’s face. But when we crop the photo so that the details of the couple are bigger than the details of the surroundings, then those details come into better focus, and the background becomes less important.

Use a less detailed setting

Some of the Stencilizer’s settings show less detail than others. For example, here is a photo of a woman with lovely laugh lines and a beautiful expression. With the most detailed preset, our attention is called to the exact tracing of the shadows from the folds of skin. But with a less detailed preset, we focus on the expression and not the precise way the skin is folding.

I’m not saying that the last image is more attractive or better, it’s more a question of what details we want to bring out and what details are less important.