How to Design a Multiple-Color Stencil for Silk Screen Printing


A stencil is what the art on a silk screen is called when it’s ready for printing. To print more than one color, you need to think of each color as a separate layer and design accordingly.


  1. Create or obtain a color version of your design.
  2. Identify the darkest color in the design (usually black).
  3. Use tracing paper and a pencil to trace only the black parts of the design. This will be your “key” printer – the guide that all the other colors are keyed to. Black is often used to “trap” other colors – that is, outline them – and since it will be the last color printed, it will overlap anything it traps.
  4. Make a separate tracing for each of the other colors in your design (for example, if yellow and red are your other two colors, you’ll have three tracings: one for black, one for yellow and one for red). Place each of these tracings over the black and make sure they match up (register) reasonably well. Congratulations – you’ve just made a color separation.
  5. Transfer each tracing onto a separate silk screen (or an isolated area on the same silk screen). Do this by laying the tracing on the screen and flipping the screen over so that you can see the tracing through the screen; trace the design onto the silk screen with a soft, dull pencil; then render, using drawing fluid and screen filler (see “How to Make a Hand-Drawn Stencil for Silk Screen Printing,” under Related eHows). Each color will have its own stencil.

Remember that all these colors will be recombined later in the printing process. Keep your design simple for ease of printing and registration.
The highlights of your design will be the white of your paper or fabric. In creating your design, don’t overlook the opportunity to use these highlights to your advantage.
Any area where you put drawing fluid will print as a positive – that is, ink will come through the open mesh during the printing process. Conversely, screen filler (or masking tape) will block the mesh, so that anyplace you put it, ink will not come through.
Remember that your drawing will print in reverse – think of it as a mirror image. This is particularly important if you’re including type.
After you rinse out the drawing fluid and let the screen dry, you can touch up or refine your drawing with screen filler.

These are not toxic products, but good ventilation is a good idea during any printing process.