This Is the Chic, Totally Trendy Way to Do Painted Wall Stencils

published Nov 14, 2023
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When it comes to home trends that are high impact, relatively affordable, and pretty easy to update, it’s pretty hard to beat wall finishes. Walls are the endlessly fresh canvases that can transform the entire look and feel of any space, and most times you can complete any wall project in about a weekend or less

Like all decor trends, trends in wall finishes are ever-changing. In the 1980s, there was floral wallpaper; in the 1990s, there was sponge painting. In the early 2000s, brown walls were everywhere; in the 2010s, that changed to gray (and, of course, shiplap). The 2020s is bringing more variety than ever in wall finish trends, from simple white paint to fluted wood paneling to cozy textured limewash.

One trend that’s also reemerging? Patterned walls to suit not just maximalists, but also anyone who’s a little pattern-shy, too. Yes, you read that right! One DIY technique can help you create a subtle pattern on your walls that also happens to be easy and extremely forgiving: tone-on-tone stenciling.

As TikToker @roominbloomnyc, who amassed 1.5 million views on her iteration of the style, says, “It’s the perfect thing to add depth but not be super overwhelming.” The secret is to keep everything the same color but use different finishes, making the contrast super quiet (and very sophisticated). Here are some tips for creating the one-color stencil look in your own space.

Use matte paint and gloss paint in the exact same color.

The same color in two sheens is the key to creating this subtle look. Purchase a matte color in either a flat, eggshell, or even satin finish, and then buy semi-gloss or high gloss for the stencil detail. Keep in mind that the bigger the difference between sheens, the more your stencil will stand out. (Also remember that flat paint isn’t a good idea in rooms with high humidity, like bathrooms. In these cases, opt for at least an eggshell.)

Use the more matte paint as the base.

Use the flatter paint on the walls and then do your stenciling in the glossier paint. Flatter paint is more porous and using it on the bottom reduces the likelihood for paint to bleed from the stencil detail onto the background. 

The glossier paint should go on top.

To create the pattern, use the stencil paired with your glossy paint. As an alternative to using a high-gloss version of your base coat to fill in the stencil, you can also use a coat of a clear gloss. This is especially useful if you think you might apply the same technique in another space of your home, since you won’t need to buy multiple colors of glossy paint and can just use the clear coat in every room.

Use a roller and minimal paint to reduce paint bleed.

Paint bleed is one of the main issues with stenciling. The two best ways to address the problem are to use a foam roller for stencil painting, and to make sure to use only a thin coat of paint. (A great way to do this, as demonstrated by DIYer Seng Nickerson, is to run your roller on a paper towel before using it to remove any excess paint.) The really good news is that with the one-color stencil technique, small paint bleeds are less obvious than if you were using two different colors.

Roll in one direction, then in the other.

Rolling in one direction at a time can also reduce paint bleed issues. Rather than running your roller up and down or in random zigzags as is common when painting a wall, roll your roller in one single direction. Then stop, turn it, and run it in a perpendicular direction. Thinner coats and multiple passes over one spot produce better results than lots of paint and fewer passes. 

Wait for a bit before repositioning your stencil.

Removing the stencil and then repositioning it is one of the trickiest parts of any stenciling project. To avoid wet paint smudging when repositioning the stencil, @roominbloomnyc shares that she waited about 15 minutes before removing the stencil and repositioning it.

Good lighting is key.

The subtlety of the one-color stencil technique is a huge part of its appeal, but it also makes it hard to see while you’re working! In order to ensure you’re lining up your stencil properly, you need to have good lighting in the room and possibly a secondary light source so you can easily see the glossy portion of your pattern. Choosing a forgiving stencil with a more scattered pattern will make any issues with lining up your stencil far less visible, as well.