I was recently working on a logo and wanted to employ a dot-matrix pattern, which made me wonder if there was a way to get clean, small holes in a piece of acetate such that it could be used as a spray paint stencil. I looked around and came up with this wacky project, which includes the making of the stencil, as well as a wood block print that is made using the backing board used in the creation of the stencil. These are just two types of hand printing, so I don't think it's too much of a stretch.
I get inspiration from really unexpected places sometimes, and I hope that this inspires somebody to get their create on in some way or another. Full step-by-step instructions and lots of images after the jump.
Step 1: Make a grid of dots
You can get a free dot-matrix font from any of the free font sites, but it's more fun to make your own letters. You also have complete control over spacing. Go to view>show grid in Illustrator and constrain to grid. Draw a circle in one of the grid squares and copy to complete the grid. I also include a bounding box for each letter so that I can keep track of the math a little easier. Experiment with different letter shapes - rectangles, wide rectangles, squares.
Step 2: fill in the dots
Make your letters by selecting dots and filling them with a color. I use black here.
Step 3: Hide the grid and print
Put your grid in a separate layer and hide it. Print onto a transparency sheet. Make sure to get transparencies that are made to go through a printer or copier. They are way thinner than write-on transparencies, which will definitely jam your printer. Trust me on this. Unwrapping melted plastic from your printer fuser sucks bigtime.
Step 4: Secure the transparency
Tape the transparency to a piece of soft wood using masking tape, which won't leave a residue but will stick to the wood. Pine is ideal. It's soft enough to accept the punch cleanly and is dirt cheap.
Home Depot carries a set of 3 pin punches for around $7 or a huge set with center punches and more pin punches for $13. The small set is fine - just make sure you get PIN punches, not center punches. You want the ones with the ROUND tips, not the pointy tips. You will also need a hammer. Home Depot carries a set of 3 pin punches for around $7 or a huge set with center punches and more pin punches for $13. The small set is fine - just make sure you get PIN punches, not center punches. You want the ones with the ROUND tips, not the pointy tips.
A small to medium ball peen hammer is much easier to control than a 24 oz. framing hammer, but as long as you don't swing for the fences, you could use just about any hammer with a metal face.
Step 5: Punch the holes
Center the pin punch on each hole and tap with a hammer. A small to medium ball peen hammer is much easier to control than a 24 oz. framing hammer. The key to getting a sweet dot-matrix effect is keeping the holes aligned. Choose a punch just smaller than your dots so that you can tell when it is properly centered.
Tap straight down onto the punch. It will remove a circle of material from the transparency and will sink into the pine about a quarter of an inch. Practice on a piece of paper so that you can get a feel for the force required before going to the transparency. At about $1 per sheet, you will be glad you tried it on paper first. Hold the punch near the bottom and you will be able to line up the dots pretty quickly after a few letters. It goes really slow at first, but once you get into a groove it actually moves pretty fast. Just remember to triple check before you swing the hammer to make sure the punch is in the middle of the dot.
Step 6: Check your work
Here is the first letter after being punched. Note the round shape of the tip of the pin punch.
Here is the finished stencil:
Step 7: Frame the stencil
There are many mays of getting a stencil to lay flat on a vertical surface. I find framing the stencil works best for me. I built a little frame out of 2x2, but stiff cardboard works just as well. Tape the transparency to the bottom of the frame and you're ready to go.
Step 8: Paint
Putting a handle of some sort on your frame will keep you from getting overspray all over your hand.
The final product:
You can go with one color or, as I did here, shift the stencil slightly and throw on a second color for some drop-shadow action. I recommend blue dots. They push enough paint without clogging the stencil with drips.
Here is another example in 2 colors. The dots are tighter on this one, but surprisingly, there were only a couple of small tears between sets of dots, the result of not centering properly. I was much more careful on the other stencil.
Here is the same stencil with some single color examples. If you're on the run, the single color pieces still look hot, but the second color kills if you have the time.
Now to the block print:
If you punched the holes with the image reversed on the wood, you can make some nice raw woodblock prints using the pine.
All you need is a brayer (get the soft rubber version) and some water soluble block printing ink. Both are made by a company called Speedball and are available at your local art supply store. You can score both items for less than $15.
Put about a nickel sized spot of ink on your pallet. Use something as flat as possible. Glass is best, but for this demo, I just used the other part of the block. Roll the brayer back and forth through the ink until it is smooth on the roller, and then roll it across the printing block over your design until you have even coverage.
Place your paper straight down onto your design. Press down with your hands to make sure it is sticking to the block evenly. Now rub over the design with your hands or the back of a spoon. On pine, I find that rubbing with my hands works better than the spoon, but some people swear by it. Try both. Sometimes the roughest looking prints are the dopest. Experiment and you will find what you like.
Peel the paper off the block and admire your print. The ink takes about 30-60 minutes to dry depending on the weather.