Why Does Paint Bleed When Using a Vinyl Stencil?

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If you want to sell wooden signs, they need to look nearly perfect because the market is competitive. I often see wooden sign makers struggling to get crisp paint lines when using a vinyl stencil cut on a Silhouette Cameo or Cricut. When they ask for help from fellow crafters, someone always tells them to use Mod Podge. I love Mod Podge, but it is expensive – and unnecessary when making wooden signs.

Why does paint bleed when using a vinyl stencil?

There’s actually a couple of reasons:

  1. The paint seeps underneath the vinyl stencil because the wood was not sanded well enough. This is probably the biggest problem I see. You should sand your wood with multiple grits of sandpaper, starting with 120 or 150 grit sandpaper and finishing with 220. When the wood is not sanded well enough, the vinyl cannot get a good seal because the surface is uneven (even if you can’t see the uneven spots). Read more about sanding wood in this post.
  2. The vinyl was not burnished (rubbed) well enough onto the wood. Again, the paint seeps underneath the stencil. Use a squeegee to be sure that the vinyl adheres well to the wood.
  3. You are using too much paint. I recommend using a foam sponge brush or a makeup sponge and dabbing the paint on in an up and down motion. It is best to only dip the corner of your brush/sponge into the paint and use a tiny amount of paint. Here’s a photo of what my brush looks like when I stencil – I use a tiny amount of paint at once: Why do vinyl stencils bleed - and how to fix it - no Mod Podge needed! A great article for Silhouette Cameo and Cricut crafters who make wooden signs. By cuttingforbusiness.com

Tip: If you try the 3 things above and are still having paint bleed, try this: After placing your vinyl stencil on the wood, paint over it using the same color as you used on the background. This seals the edges the same way that Mod Podge does – for much cheaper.

When I do recommend using Mod Podge

There is one time when I would use Mod Podge: if you are not painting the background of the sign (leaving it natural wood) AND purposely leaving the wooden surface rough. Mod Podge will help keep your paint from bleeding due to the rough surface. See the tutorial for using a stencil on rough wood at this link.

Looking for more tips about buying wood for your Silhouette Cameo or Cricut business? Head to this post. Have a ton of Mod Podge you need to use now? Check out Mod Podge Rocks for lots of craft projects.

Be sure to pin the image below on Pinterest so you can try these tips later:

Why do vinyl stencils bleed - and how to fix it - no Mod Podge needed! A great article for Silhouette Cameo and Cricut crafters who make wooden signs. By cuttingforbusiness.com

103 thoughts on “Why Does Paint Bleed When Using a Vinyl Stencil?”

  1. What about applying to a canvas? When I put the vinyl on canvas it’s hard to pull transfer tape with out pulling up the vinyl. Do I use modge podge first then the vinyl so it’s easier to pull transfer tape?

    1. I often will use vinyl art on canvas and to make it stick, I just “bond” it by using a heat gun on low, or a hairdryer. I then run my hand over the letters as they get warm and it bonds beautifully. In order to keep th transfer tape from taking the vinyl off with it, flip your canvas over and squeegee it all good and proper. This I use only the regular wall words vinyl. (Oracal 631)

  2. Does your stencil ever pull the background paint off of the sign when you’re lifting the stencil? Whenever I’m pulling off of white background, it always takes the paint with it. Suggestions?

    1. Hi Tammy! It sounds like your paint isn’t dry enough for the background. It could also be the type of paint. I sometimes have trouble with the vinyl pulling up my background if I use acrylic paint. To help prevent this, I let it dry for several days before stenciling. Hope that helps!

      1. Hi my name is Linda
        Can I chime in on this topic? I need help with this. I’ve been having a problem with the vinyl stencil pulling up the stain I applied. I let the wood dry for 3-4 days and it still pulls up the stain. I don’t have any bleeding just the stain is uneven cause it pulls up color. I’ve tried putting a clear top coat on and still not working. Thanks for any advice you can offer.

  3. When you mention using the Mod Podge, is there a certain type that works best (i.e. glossy/matte) and do you apply it to the entire sign, or just where you will be painting?

  4. Have you ever used vinyl on raw pallet wood as the finished product and not as a stencil? Does it last and does it matter if you use indoor or outdoor vinyl?

  5. Hello! I’ve been wanting to try making wooden signs with raw pallet wood for a rustic look. Therefore, I wouldn’t want to sand down the wood prior to using the vinyl stencil. How exactly do I use the mod podge to prevent bleeding? Paint the whole are with mod podge prior to putting the stencil down and painting? Do I let the mod podge dry? I’m a little confused… Lol please help!

    1. Hello! You can put your vinyl stencil on top of the raw wood and use a brush to apply Mod Podge inside the edges of the letters to seal the edges and prevent bleeding. Working with vinyl and raw wood is tricky! Hope that helps!

  6. It also works well to paint the background. Put on the stencil and then paint the base coat again. This seals the stencil edges. Of course sanding well and adhering the vinyl stencil is best. When doing this method, I have heard it called the PVPP method, you should use light thin coats of paint. Many use this method to paint the wood/canvas the color you want your letters. Then put down the vinyl letters (not the stencil) paint the color lightly and then paint the background color you want. Then pull up letters. Just an FYI.

  7. Hello! Thanks for shrink your tips and tricks. My issues are fairly similar to those above. I donorojects on wooden surfaces and canvas. As of late I cannot get my atenciling not to bleed. I prep all canvas with a layer or two of mog pig maiming so the vinyl will stick to the canvas or not tear up some of the wood I’m working with (it’s soft wood and peels easily). I haven’t been able to master a color background and using a vinyl stencil over top without it peeling the background off.

    Is this strictly a paint issue? I use acrylic paint, matte pog, and indoor/outdoor oracal 651 permanent vinyl otherwise it will not stick. The bleeding on projects has also gotten worse. I’m at a loss and it’s out a lot of my projects on hold 🙁 any help is greatly appreciated!! I have photos of it helps to see what I’m talking about. Because I also sponge on color and it bleeds worse when sponging and supposed to going from side to side. THANKS!!!

    1. First of all, make sure your substrate (board) is dust-free, clean and dry before you paint it.
      Second, Are you making sure your coats of paint are drying well in between? If paint is not completely dry and you add another coat, you will not get proper cure. I also lightly sand my last coat before I put my stencil down.
      Third, you are using to high tack of vinyl. Use Oracal Promotional Cal 341 or Oracal has a newer product that is fantastic Oramask Stencil Film 813 blue color film. It’s transparent, blue and fantastic for stenciling. A little stiffness to it like a stencil. One time use.
      I use a regular flat paint brush. I want the look of painted lettering. I brush away from edges. I use paint the color of my base. A thin coat. I let it dry. If in a hurry, I use a fan or hair dryer.
      Finally, I paint my stencil the desired color. Again a thin coat. Dry with air. Paint again another thin coat. Remove stencil asap. If you leave stencil on too long you will get paint pull. If you are riffing up your board it may not matter. Too thick of paint and not enough dry time will cause lettering to peel and lift off.
      **I would recommend basecoating boards and letting them dry overnight for perfect dry boards.
      There is a gas that forms between paint and glue under the vinyl so leaving it on too long will cause a reaction and when you pull, it will lift if the paint is not properly cured.

        1. Ok wait…. some are saying let the pai t dry for days/weeks and you are saying to remove vinyl while paint is still wet. ?? Sorry… am having same peeling paint issue.

          1. No, I definitely wouldn’t leave my stencil on for days or weeks. The longer it sits, the more cured the adhesive becomes. Take it off while the paint is wet.

  8. I am using raw wood and I stain it before applying the vinyl with the paint. So I should sand as stated above, then stain then apply my vinyl stencil and finally paint? Thanks. Melissa.

  9. Ive been modge podging before stenciling on painted wood backgrounds. Is this good just as an extra precautionary or do you not recommend that?

    1. sometimes it bleeds a little sometimes it doesn’t. I cant get any consistency! Do you recommend a certain type of paint for the stencil? I use matte wall paint for the backgrounds but vary with the stencil

      1. Really, the paint isn’t the issue. I’ve used wall paint, spray paint, acrylic paint, and chalk paint – all with good results. Same with the stencil material, Oramask is more forgiving because the material is thicker, but any vinyl will work. It really comes down to sanding well – really well, burnishing the vinyl so it sticks well, and using tiny amounts of paint.

  10. I recently made a large sign on stained wood and the chalk paint lifted from the wood when removing the vinyl. What can I do to prevent this?

      1. I put a few coats on. So it dried a bit each time and then the last coat I tried to remove when still a little wet but the top was somewhat dry by the time I had put the last coat on the bottom. Thanks!!

  11. Ok question I want to paint the wood then just apply vinyl and keep the vinyl on the wood!!! Like for lettering not as a stencil! I cannot get my vinyl to stick or transfer to the paint or stain! It just sticks to the transfer tape and won’t come off!!! Help!! What paint or stain should I use so I can keep the vinyl on!!!

        1. Hey so I almost always use a clear Matte sealer after I paint and before applying the vinyl and it works so amazing and the paint never comes up when you peel back!!!! Good luck! I also use acrylic paint and sometimes I use wall paint which is latex!!

          1. Hi Kristyna,
            What kind of matte sealer do you use. Im having the problem with background paint peeiling off when removing the vinyl stencil. Im letting it dry for days. Sometimes over a week. I been wondering if you can do this but cant decide what to use.
            Thank you,

          2. The longer you let the vinyl sit on the paint (you said for days) – the more it sets and the more paint it will take off. I’d suggest removing the vinyl immediately after painting.

  12. I love the advice found here so far. I up cycle furniture as a hobby and often am comissioned to do pieces. I often use stencils with variant types of wood and paints. I’m interested in how to best clean the stencils after use and how to clean up my lines on the furniture. I don’t mind getting a small brush and doing touch ups by hand.

  13. I just got a Cricut for Christmas. Tried making my first sign today. Got the wood, cut it, stained it, made the vinyl stencil, but when I would peek peel off the transfer tape, the vinyl would not stick to the wood. I used the squeegee and pressed hard, but did not work well. Do I need to do something to the wood for it to stick better?

  14. Hi I love all the tips, tricks and advice here!! My kids got me a cricut explore air for christmas and I’m working on a few projects (with several attempts in the trash:(..) but I’m wondering with all the waste of vinyl where can I find the cheapest (yet good quality) vinyl and transfer tape for my money?

  15. Hi Christine,
    Hopefully you can help me. I’ve been doing wooden American flags. I bought a laser cut stencil made out of plastic. I bought stencil paint from a local craft store called Hobby Lobby. Sometimes the stencil paint bleeds underneather the stencil. I don’t believe that I’ve been using to much paint. I’ve even tried to just paint the inside corners first let it dry and come back with 2 or 3 light coats. Any suggestions? I’ve never used modpodge so don’t know if that would work? Sometimes the back ground paint is a couple coats of spray paint some times I burn the wood and coat it with schelac so char doesn’t come off. Any help u can offer would be greatly appreciated.

    1. Hello! Since you are using a reusable stencil – have you tried a temporary spray adhesive? That should help seal the edges but be removable. (Just as an FYI – spray adhesives are kind of messy!)

  16. How would you all recommend stenciling on a canvas? I don’t want to use vinyl as what is on the canvas (bas luck in the past). I am thinking paint canvas, use 631 to create the stencil, MP edges and let dry, paint, let dry, then peel the 631 off? Do you think paint will peel too? Should I seal the canvas with MP prior to putting the 631?


  17. Hi Christine!

    I love your blog, I reference it regularly, thank you for all the tips.
    I have recently ran into an issue that I have never had before…. I don’t have a bleed issue but the opposite. I use stencils on bare wood and pvpp on painted wood. I use acrylic and latex and mod podge etc depending on the look I’m trying to achieve. My wood is also always sanded smooth.
    The issue is that when I peel the stencil off it is taking the image with it instead of leaving a crisp line. I’ve read lots of threads and some people say to peel dry and others peel wet.
    In your opinion, how can I fix this? Do different types of paint prefer different timing to peel?

    Thank you!!!

  18. Hi Christine.
    i keep having trouble, when I go to pull the contact paper off my wood sign, after I’ve put two thing coats of paint on my sign I am making, the paint pulls right up with the contact paper/stencil. My wood is sanded very well, stained, and dried for several days before I attempt to make my sign. I’ve tried pulling off wet and dry. I am wondering if it’s the type of paint I am using g? Flat latex wall paint is what I’ve been trying. Any suggestions? Thank you!

  19. I fell victim to the vinyl stencil bleed in my first sign today. It is Valentine’s Day gift I’m making for my wife. Is there any way to sharpen the lettering after it has been painted on?

  20. Question!

    I’m wanting to stain the entire background surface (plywood) and just leave the stencil (vinyl cut out) Unstained.

    I’ve tried staining very little amount, dabbing the stain on. When I pull off the stencil there’s still a lot of bleeding inside the stencil. Any suggestions on how to do this with just staining the background?

  21. I have enjoyed reading through this post! Here’s my dilemma. I can get the vinyl stencil to transfer easily to the painted wood. And it will peel away from the transfer tape…but I can’t get the newly transferred vinyl (Oracal 631) to stick to the paint wood… Even wood that was painted over a week ago!! It just won’t stick. We live in Texas and there is some humidity here. But I can’t stencil over something that won’t stick. Any ideas? Should I be using the 651 vinyl instead? Or will that post problems when I try to peel it off? Thanks.

  22. I want to stain my wood before applying the vinyl for my stencil. I have had it pull up the stain when I take the vinyl off. Should I be applying a clear coat of something or do I just need to let the stain dry longer?


  23. Tried my first wooden sign tonight and overall it went well. I did not have any bleeding issues, but some of the letters came up when I was taking the stencil off. Do you have any tips? I used a black acrylic paint from hobby lobby and took it off right after finishing my second light coat. From the videos I watched previously this was what I was suppose to do. It was a smaller sign with little lettering. Any help would be great!

  24. Hey Christine, I appreciate all your tips! I Have a question about drying times. I’m using chalk paint over a stencil and by the time I get to the end of the sign, its pretty much dry.. most people recommend to peel wet, but like i said, its dry to the touch within minutes..

    How long should I wait between coats of chalk paint? Also, is it recommended to use a sealant over the stain before I put my stencil down and paint?

    I’ve already got some great tips here and really do appreciate your time, thanks!

    1. Hi Sean! I don’t use chalk paint much, but here’s my experience. I don’t put a sealant on chalk paint because I think it takes away from the “look”. Since it is fast drying, I usually use a thicker coat of paint (and only put one coat) and peel the vinyl as I go to prevent it from drying. Hope that helps!

  25. Hi, lots of great info. Thank You. My question is making wood signs with vinyl stencil which vinyl do I use oracle 631 or 651. Im a newbie. Thanks Kathy

  26. Hi Christine,
    I know this is a bit unusual, but you clearly have a lot of knowledge about using stencils., and I have searched many web-sites without success.

    I am in the UK. I want to stencil “Long lorry only” , in letters 4″ high, onto twenty-four pieces of PVC fascia board. They will be used outdoors, on the ground at horse shows, hopefully for many years.

    Therefore I think I need to use outdoor quality oil-based gloss paint.

    I have made three stencils, in 190 micron mylar, so each will be used eight times.

    I have used spray- adhesive (Crafter’s Companion Stick & Spray),to stick the mylar to the PVC boards.

    The paint is bleeding badly under the stencil. What steps should I take to overcome this? Would mod podge solve the problem, or would it compromise the life of the paint in the weather? Is it truely transparent on a white background, over many years?

    1. Hello! My suggestion would be stencil adhesive. Since you’ve already tried this, perhaps switch over to adhesive vinyl for the stencil instead of mylar. While they are single use only, you are likely to get better results. Good luck!

      1. Hi Christine. Many thanks for your suggestion. I shall explore the cost of using single-use adhesive backed vinyl, although I suspect that will be too expensive.

        I shall also try a thicker coat of stencil adhesive on mylar, try to find a small roller to roll the edges of the letters with a high pressure, and try spraying with exterior-grade white gloss paint before the exterior-grade black gloss paint. ( Spraying is so much quicker, and therefore cheaper, than brush-painting each letter individually.)

  27. Hi,

    Do you have any thoughts about using a vinyl stencil on a metal tray? Would you recommend the same type of paint and process (minus the sanding)? Will regular vinyl work? Also, I’m wondering if I should ModPodge first or not. I happen to already have some!

    Thank you!

  28. Hi Christine- I’ve been having pallet sign painting parties with friends. I build the signs and sand well with my palm sander. I then apply one coat of oil based stain and allow it to dry completely. I put on the stencil and then my friends each apply a thin coat of modge podge followed by their acrylic paint. We allow the paint to dry completely between coats and then peel. I have never had an issue, but some friends have had their images peel right off of the wood. I’m considering no longer using the modge podge, but then I am sure there will be bleeds. It is harder to monitor when I’m not painting each sign. Any advice would be greatly appreciated!

  29. I have sanded the wood very well and painted it with a background colour but my paint keeps bleeding under the stencil although I’ve tried all the tricks I could find on the internet. Using mod podge does help prevent bleeding but the painted letters then get a really hard edge after drying and do not feel smooth. What am I doing wrong? I use a sponge to apply and use very little acrylic paint.

  30. I stenciled my first sign tonight and immediately went rushing to the INternet for advice. Reading your article and reading the posts has really taught me a lot. Thanks a ton.

  31. I have a question. I bought a vinyl wall stencil to paint the back of my Sauder bookcase. Since the back is cardboard, I’m worried about getting it on without a lot of bleed through. I painted the back a light gray using satin wall paint. I am painting the stencil using a white satin wall paint (both Clark and Kensington brand). The stencil has an adhesive but I’m not sure how well it will hold. I was thinking of using Mod Podge over the entire surface of stencil before painting. Is this a good idea? Any help is appreciated.

    1. Hmmm, I’m not even sure that I would use ad adhesive vinyl on the back since it is cardboard. Would you consider just using adhesive vinyl and leaving it on there? I think that’s a better solution.

  32. I LOVE all of the great advice that I’ve found on your website! 🙂 I recently have finally motivated myself to get my butt in gear and start making more signs to sell, and after reading multiple different sites with advice, and some trial and error, I’m still having an issue with bleeding. It isn’t consistent, but still just as frustrating!

    I use 1/2 inch sanded plywood, and have been using Rustoleum chalk paint. I used to use acrylic paint, but I like the look of the chalk paint. I just started using the stencil vinyl and transfer tape that you had recommended, but the vinyl isn’t always sticking down to the wood. Sometimes it isn’t close to the letters, and then sometimes it’s just in the spaces in the middle. I’ve tried painting a light coat of the base coat on top to seal the stencil, then the color on top and removing it before it dries. I’ve also tried using modge podge, and then again removing before the top coat color has dried, but with both I am having bleeding and it’s driving me crazy! Do you have any advice? I’ve made sure to let my base coat paint dry for at least 24 hrs before stenciling….should I re-sand the wood more to see if that’s the issue? I’m just out of ideas on how to try and troubleshoot it further, and would love any advice you’d have! 🙂

    1. The root causes of bleeding paint are usually too much paint or not enough sanding. After you’ve sanded it with coarse sandpaper, be sure to go over it with fine sandpaper (80 to 120 works well).

  33. I live in MN and I am trying to figure out how to spray paint my letters in the winter. Personally I have found spray paint to be the BEST for crisp letters. Any thoughts on how to do this in the winter?

  34. The problem I’m having is when I pull the vinyl stencil up, it pulls up the paint from the letters I just stenciled. I’ve pulled it up when the paint is wet and also when its dry. Either way, no luck. Hope you can help.

  35. Hi! I was wondering if you had any tips for me…I’m not having issues with the paint bleeding so much, but I am having issues with the paint peeling up off of the wood when I’m taking the vinyl off. What kind of paint to use?? Any idea what I might be doing wrong?? I’ve tried waiting until it was fully dry, I’ve tried taking it off when it is mostly dry, modge podge and no modge podge and it’s peeled with all of them (some worse than others. One more question, I’ve had a hard time getting my vinyl to stick to the wood, it doesn’t come off my transfer paper very easily. Any thoughts!

  36. Hello.
    We use Oracal 631 promotional cal vinyl. I’ve wondered about trying some different types like 341 and oramask 813? What do you recommend?

  37. I have been in the sign business for over 35 years. There are just some things vinyl cannot do and that is where real lettering –actual sign painting skills come into play. I have yet to find a substrate I couldn’t letter with a brush and 1-Shot lettering enamel. There’s no substitute or shortcut for old-time craftsmanship.

  38. I’m sure someone suggested it already, but I always use a light spray adhesive first on my stencil. Something with low tact that wont pull off the base layer

  39. Hello. I will be painting the fabric cornices on our RV windows. I plan on painting them brown, then blue using a stencil. I am afraid it will bleed as well. Have you ever done this on fabric? Do you have any suggestions to help make this project a success? Your help is greatly appreciated 🙂

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