Hoppo Bumpo (n): A children's game. Played by folding one's arms and hopping on one leg. Aim is to bump opponents, so that they lose their balance. Last person standing wins.

October 03, 2008

Stencil-along: making a stencil from a photo (without Photoshop)

Earlier today, at Chez Hoppo Bumpo ...

Me: What do you think this is, boys?
Bargy: Hammer
Argy: Tractor
Mr HB: Freaky

Although a bit offended, I do admit Mr HB had a point (though I won't even try and work out what Bargy was thinking). I couldn't find a suitable digger image to try out this week, so settled for a funny little toy tractor. For reasons that will become apparent, the tractor stencil ended up being rather abstracted. Something that looked better from far away - far, far away. Still, I don't mind sharing my warts-and-all stencil with you - its all part of the fun.

Creating a stencil from a photo
So to give a bit of background ...

This last week, my goal has been to create a stencil from a photo. There are lots of great tutorials about that advise how to do this, should you be the proud owner of Adobe Photoshop. As I don't have Photoshop, I decided to see if there was something else I could make do with.

When creating a stencil from a photo, the aim is to flatten the image back to just two colours - black and white. During the week I read that Microsoft Word might be suitable.

Here's what I did ...

First, I selected a photo image of a vintage tin toy tractor from the Microsoft Clipart gallery (which was disappointingly light-on for good diggers, exacators and backhoe loaders). You could, however, insert any photo into a Word document.

I am using Microsft Word 2007

Next I used a quick-and-dirty method for converting the image to two colours. After selecting the picture and selecting Format picture > Recolor > Black and white, the image was reduced to black and white. Nifty, huh?

Well, actually the image was a little flat, having lost some its highlights. You'll notice this around the tyres in particular. Depending upon your image this may or may not matter. In this case, I think it would have been nicer to have a bit more definition around the wheels. (I suspect if I'd experimented with brightness and contrast - found under Format picture - it might have made a difference too). Never mind - onward ho!

EDIT: More on brightness and contrast at this subsequent post (10/10/08).

Tracing and cutting
Next I traced the image onto a piece of freezer paper.

At this point I manually smoothed out the image and dispensed with teeny dots all over the place. I could have taken the opportunity to redraw some of the stencil in parts to give more definition to the wheels ... but didn't! I also took care to try eliminate islands wherever possible. An island is a blocked part of the stencil that isn't connected to the main stencil in any way. It "floats".

In fact islands aren't too hard to manage when you are using freezer paper, as they are effectively stuck in place during the stencilling process. But they are easily lost during cutting out and annoying to position. So best to get rid of them by creating "bridges" to them in the main stencil. I was able to do this in all but two places. The steering wheel has a number of tiny little bridges just a couple of millimetres wide.

Cutting out the stencil was the lengthiest step in the whole process. Its so hard to watch Law and Order and cut out at the same time. You're sunk if you don't pay attention at the start; you'll have no idea what is going on. This applies to both Law and Order and the stencil.

Fusing and painting
I was very pleased to find that with the iron temperature nice and hot and all water emptied from the iron, that the freezer paper stuck down nicely this week. I did however need to take care to really press down on the fine little bridges and not accidentally move them sideways with the iron. After this the painting was a cinch.

Another stencil completed; another cushion for Argy (who after all, was the only member of the family who correctly identified this as being a tractor. But then, going by recent history, maybe that's not saying much).

Goals for next week
I am still aiming to find a decent digger to stencil. I wouldn't mind carrying out some experiments to see if it is possible to get a better result using just Microsoft Word to edit a photo. Any suggestions welcome. It might be nice to try multiple colours in one stencil. Can you believe how amazing this one is?

So, this is what I am hoping to do for the last week of the stencil-along:

  1. Research the function of brightness and contrast in creating a successful photo-derived stencil
  2. Create a digger stencil
  3. Create a multiple colour stencil

Have you been stencilling too? How are you going? I'll pop round to take a look! To see more stencils, head over to the sidebar and check out the links.


  1. Oh my goodness, It is a lot of work. I am sure you will soon find a stencil that you love.

  2. Yes, much easier to see that it is a tractor when seen with the original! It's tricky trying to find just the right image to use, isn't it.

    Gold star for the great tutorial, though :)

  3. Very impressive. You've explained everything so well! Such a teacher!

  4. Liesl,u have done such a great job, I think I will keep to my diamond quilt and 2" squares before I get involved in this one

  5. It's so fabulous that you found a way to do this without Photoshop. I'll be linking to this!

  6. Wowee, you're going great guns so far. I must say I'm extremely impressed!

  7. You know why it looks freaky?? (He said it, I didn't! :p ) You did it in negative. If you try it again in black ink, I bet it looks better. Like your original picture.

  8. It's fantastic - I love it. Not sure how the hammer came out of that, but hey - I'm open to interpretation.

    I love it - I think it's great. For shizzle.

  9. Excellent tractor! I have just discivered that one of my friends does a wonderful tractor impersonation- the things you don't know until you have a child!

    I was going to try a Darth Vader stencil but did a transfer instead- I'll have a go with your instructions to see if I can make a go of it. Happy Blogtoberfest! -I'm participating as a groupie, so I'm visiting all the Blogtoberfesters before the end of the month. Ich habe einen Hund (irrelevant but my only German phrase)!

  10. I think the stencil looks like the original image - I totally saw a tractor! But then again I'm really good at seeing pictures in those ink blot pictures too.... weeeeheeeehaaa ha ha (crazy maniacal laugh)

  11. Im with Argy I can see a tractor... And yes Im worried about the whole hammer thing too!! But at least Bargy has a great imagination....Ithink it actually looks very vintage, I like it!!

  12. great tractor....the digger stencil still eludes me too.

    Thanks for the great info on creating from a photo.

    I'm thinking 2 colours would be a good challenge as well.

  13. It has been such a long time since I have done printing (12 years) I am keen to give it a go. Have been itchy to print for about the last year but have been procrastinating due to getting everything together. With the freezer paper idea it seems much more home friendly when there is little space to store screens and set up. Great instructions. Will be on the look out for some good pics for some summer T's.

  14. I can't get onto that celticmommy stencil, so will try again later.

    When I did mine - I made sure it was of a simplistic design - that tractor looks intricate !!

    I found Wubbsy more than enough work .. i've got another in the works ATM, but trying to find the time is another thing.

    Here's my Wow!Wow!Wubbsy!:

    ( with links to the site I used )

  15. I love the all the variation you can do with photoshop. There are websides which distort things how ever I found I side that presented a great houses and when visit the place I convenced me that was real. In fact I decided to approach the costa rica investment opportunities and buy a beautiful house there.


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