Back in 2018 we had a Blog post about stencils and since then we have received a lot of requests for a custom made stencil. These items are fantastic for marking with. Generally, spray painting a mark onto a chosen product. However, it is not as easy as it sounds. After fielding many questions like “is this image suitable to make a s a stencil” we thought it might pay to give some more guidance for things to think about if you would like your own custom made stencil.
We are a Custom made stencil maker
There needs to be some thought about how paint is going to get through tiny little gaps in the stencil to mark the surface behind. Also, if the paint wicks behind the stencil and bleeds the paint across areas you do not want marked. This paint bleed can also distort the mark and make it not so exciting anymore. Size is especially important to think about, not too small please. We have made some fantastic designs for people. It can be quite exciting to see what someone has designed.
Our chosen stencil making material.
The first enquiry from one of our stamp buyers was whether our laser cutting, and engraving machine could cut stencils. Also, could that material be food safe. We did a bit of research and found PETG. PETG is Polyethylene terephthalate glycol. This is a modified version of the plastic used to make things like water bottles. It is food safe. What we also like is that this material is recyclable. Generally, we use 1mm thick sheet. The material is clear.
Why use PETG for Custom made stencils?
We find this material is good to cut via laser cutting. At 1mm thick it is nice and flexible and can be wrapped around curved objects to mark them. Being clear it can be quite useful to see where the mark is to go. One of our clients used this to sprinkle flour in a pattern over their bread product before baking to brand their breads.
This material is reasonably strong even with cutting out an image. Much stronger than paper or cardboard and able to be used many times over reducing overall cost to mark items. It does not go soggy with wet paint either. This material has been used extensively during the Covid-19 outbreak for face shields due to its ability to be cleaned and sterilised for re-use in these trying circumstances. Here is an example of how one of our stencils was curved around a road cone to mark ownership.
Fonts for custom made stencils.
Most of the time a stencil has some sort of words to be used. It might be a company name to mark equipment. Often a logo stencil is required for products. Having your business name and importantly your contact details like a website can be made in a stencil. Do take time to think about what your words will look like when in stencil form. A stencil type font is recommended to use and can be found on the internet. We recommend a website called dafont.com to find stencil fonts.
Stencil type of fonts have little links to hold the letter parts together. The centre piece in a letter like o, a, e in the hooped letters has to be held in place. If you like the effect of a blob in your text that is great, much easier to make. However, most of the time we have to keep the centre part attached to the outside somehow. These little link pieces are critical to your stencil staying in one piece and making a great mark.
Minimum font size for a stencil.
When making a stencil with words we find if the font size is too small then the plastic when being cut can have problems. As one cut the process goes really well. However, when two cuts are made close together the plastic has been heated already and has changed on the first cut. If the second cut say the other side of the letter is close to the first cut the plastic tends to melt instead of cutting and can buckle and distort. The closer together a cut on each side of a letter is then there is a problem.
The links are generally even smaller than the letter width and are the greatest concern for us when cutting out a successful stencil. Having larger lettering means a beautiful clean cut line and a great stencil to use. If we take a great font like “Stencil” then we recommend no smaller than 50 point font size. This is around 31 millimetres tall.
Custom made stencil links
These are a critical part to a stencil. These hold together the image within the plastic. When using a font designed to mark as a stencil these are already present. We get asked to make stencils from other fonts. This is possible. However, every single little tiny link must be created and graphically designed to work with the font. This takes time. A lot of time. We have to charge graphic design time for this work. These links need to be thick enough to hold together the parts.
Having a stencil that breaks after one use or worse still breaks during transit to you has no value. We try and make these around 1-1.5mm wide minimum. Thicker is better. When we add these to your design it can completely distort what the image looks like. The smaller the image the greater the distortion. This is an important consideration as to whether your image is actually suitable for a stencil.
If a stencil size needs to change and be smaller and we have already designed the links the process has to be repeated all over again to ensure each and every link is going to be successful.We want to make a stencil that will last and makes you proud of that mark on your items while keeping your overall cost down. Planning ahead can reduce the time in design and cost to you.
Custom made stencil image types.
Stencils can be remarkably simple or quite complex. They might be just text or just an image, or both. The more complex the image then cutting time increases and cost with that. Smoother lines take less time. The file type to make a stencil is critical! To cut a stencil out the image must be a vector outline in R: 255 G: 0 B: 0 hairline width for the laser to cut. It must be a vector image. All images supplied must be converted to this form or it will not be cut it is as simple as that. Vector images are smooth geometric forms scalable to any size without distortion.
Most images you see on the internet or transfer from a screen shot or off an email are bitmap. Little squares. They are usually the lowest resolution of around 72 dpi. Just enough to trick the human eye that it looks like a curve and is a small file size for speed and lower storage requirements. These are all composed of individual pixels. These pixels or little squares try to make a curve and it looks like a staircase. Utterly awful. When this is scaled up it gets worse. To get to the size required for a stencil you can see where this is going.
These images have to be changed into vector form and during that process a distortion happens as the shape of the pixels is traced and averaged. This can make an awful mess of your image. The higher the dpi of that bitmap the less the pixilation problem. With a high resolution image, a great stencil can be made. We must charge for the time to convert an image ready for laser cutting. If you can supply the image in vector form or tell us the exact font you want to use, we can keep your production cost lower.
Custom made stencil file type.
As mentioned, a custom made stencil needs a vector image. We need your image in the best form you can send it. We cut in a programme called Corel DRAW which is a .cdr file. This is our first choice of file type however it is not a commonly used programme. We can import most of the time the industry leader Adobe Illustrator file such as .ai files. Not every time, however.
Also, extremely useful is a vector image saved to a pdf file. However, it must first be a vector image before saving. Pdf files can be bitmaps or pixel images as well and will cost you in conversion time. Another excellent file type is a .svg or scalable vector graphic.
Other file types we can work with and convert. When using these files or screen shots the file size can be a clue as to how much information is in the file and a jpeg of 30kb is extremely basic and will be a problem. A dpi or dots per inch of over 300dpi is better.
A photo can be higher in dpi and sometimes better than a lower resolution scan. You can check what might happen by using the zoom in your computer or device. Have a close look at the edge of each curve under high zoom to see how clean the edge is. Some of them are scary how jagged they are under magnification!
Custom stencil image.
Often a stencil is required for a business logo. These can be made into a stencil. Please go direct to the designer of the image and ask for a copy of the original image in vector form from your designer. This can save a lot of time and cost for you. A copy off your email footer is unsuitable. Your logo off a website is unsuitable. These are generally 72dpi or the lowest possible. Have you ever heard the saying “Garbage in, garbage out”? This is really pertinent here.
Who would use stencils?
We find a diverse range of people and businesses use stencils. Most often a custom made stencil is used to brand products. A stencil can be a lower cost method to achieve a consistent mark on your products. For bespoke craft, a stencil can be more cost effective. Also, low volume items like a sample run of boxes for wine, handmade wooden craft and other art pieces are where a stencil can help differentiate your products. A custom made stencil can be great for signage too. It can be a quick and lower cost way to mark your premises for safety and health compliance as well.
Often stencils are used in the building trade to mark equipment and materials used every day. It might be to advertise the business or to identify their equipment so that it reduces loss of equipment to other trades working on the same site at the same time. A stencil for scaffolding is used regularly. This can create some savings as there is no confusion as to who owns the equipment and tools. Stencils for building can also be used for marking which site the crew is to be working on in multi-site developments.
How big can a custom made stencil be?
At this time, we can make a stencil at maximum size of 700 x 400mm. This allows to have outside of that a 50mm border of solid plastic to catch the overspray giving an overall size of 800 x 500mm.
How to Price a custom made stencil.
There are three components that are included in the price of a stencil.
- The area of the PETG plastic that is required. We generally add 50mm to the outside of the image area to allow for overspray of the paint. Depending on the type of material you are using to mark this area can be changed.
- To cut the plastic a laser cutting machine is used. This fires a laser beam at the plastic vaporising the area it touches. This is highly accurate. It is also extremely thin in its cutting width. The amount of time to cut the stencil is calculated and charged out for. The more intricate the design the more time cutting around each and every little piece takes. Simple design lowers cost. Designs without pixel distortion take less time.
- Design time. This can vary immensely. It can be really quick to have someone ask for a sentence in the font “stencil”. Just copy paste, convert to the font, convert to a vector outline, and then cut it. Fast. Lower cost this way. However, if it is a font that requires all the links to be custom made for the stencil or has a logo design then a considerable amount of time could be spent transforming the image to be suitable as a stencil. And then after all that work you do not like the look of that image anymore. This part is make or break for a stencil.
How long does it take get a stencil made?
This process can take a few days. We can give an estimate of cost usually the next working day if we have dimensions and images sent to us. If that sounds good to you, we can then get the design done. This is usually next working day we send you a copy of the stencil and price to approve before we make anything.
Once we get approval to proceed generally a stencil is in the production queue for the next working day. At that time, we need from you details for invoicing and shipping such as the name to make the invoice out to and where to send via courier your order. After payment has been received it will ship out on the next afternoon courier pick up.
Do you want a custom made stencil?
Contact us at email@example.com. We want to make a stencil for you that helps you. It should be fairly robust to be used many times. Have nice clean lines for clarity of your image when marked. While keeping the cost as low as possible.
Here is what we need from you to give an estimate of cost.
- Both the height and the width of the required mark size.
- What the mark is to look like. Is that text only, an image or both? Send as much information as you can to describe that. The exact fonts to use can be helpful if the image is not a vector image, we can then replace those parts to get the best stencil quality for you.
- The best quality image to work with to achieve a stencil you can be proud of.