I can't keep touching it up.
March 29, 2009 2:20 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for an adhesive-backed ink-jet printable plastic suitable for use as masking/stencils for airbrushing. I've tried a couple of options, but have failed in some subtle ways. (Now with related bonus question!)

At first, I simply tried stencils. But, they really don't work very well unless the underlying object is flat--which most of mine aren't. I printed out transparency, cut it with a hobby knife, and taped it down. Overspray galore, even if I worked carefully.

What I'm trying now is an Avery adhesive-backed "label" designed for making signs. It's basically an ink-jet printable sheet of transparent sticky plastic. Apparently perfect. It even comes off well and cleanly. But, if I've done previous coats of paint, but haven't finished the piece yet, the adhesive tears off my earlier coats of paint. This makes it impossible to overlap elements.

So, in an attempt to ameliorate the stickiness, I've been swiping the stencils with soap and water on the sticky side to cut their adhering strength. This is a little messy but primarily inconsistent. I'll get a good medium of adherence for 95% of it, but I'll miss a spot, and that will tear up paint; or I'll get too much soap somewhere, and it won't stick and bubbles.

The ideal material would be a little bit lighter weight than an overhead transparency, adhesive backed, ink-jet printable (at least kinda, temporarily), clean releasing, and of minimally strong adhesion. I thought about static-cling stuff, but I don't think it would hold up to being sprayed with the airbrush without bubbling and puffing.

Bonus question: I have my stencils in vector format. They print beautifully. Is there some way to automate the cutting of them?
posted by Netzapper to Media & Arts (10 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Have you tried any of the canned aerosol adhesives, which could be used with any masking material you like? Applied to one surface only and allowed to dry before assembly, it usually releases pretty easily.
posted by jon1270 at 2:56 AM on March 29, 2009

Back in the day, when I made airbrush pictures, I used a special kind of masking film, that neatly clang to the surface of the underground through static electricity.

This was a good solution, but still demanded that I sprayed carefully, and I often used small weights, like coins, to be sure the mask wouldn't allow overspray.

You don't say on which surfaces you paint, nor how big your pictures have to be. Both are important factors though.

Also, having areas with overspray may point to the simple fact you're forcing something. Either by working too fast, or by using the wrong air pressure for your work.
posted by ijsbrand at 3:21 AM on March 29, 2009

I would research some of the cheap vinyl cutters out there to see if they can handle the material you want to put through it, or if your technique is adaptable to a more-amenable material.

Also, is the material you're using significantly different than transparency film? Cuz that stuff's everywhere.
posted by rhizome at 4:21 AM on March 29, 2009

Oh, self-adhesive.
posted by rhizome at 4:22 AM on March 29, 2009

Is this for fabric possibly? Something that works really well is freezer paper (not to be confused with waxed paper). Freezer paper has a slick side and a matte side. Print whatever you want on the matte side, cut it out (which can be tedious), and then you can iron the slick side down on just about any fabric surface. If you're careful with it, it can sometimes be used two or three times before all the ironable stuff is spent.
posted by phunniemee at 4:44 AM on March 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

I just use spray adhesive for stenciling.
posted by glider at 7:47 AM on March 29, 2009

Response by poster: Hey. Great ideas so far.

I'm doing stuff on many different surfaces. Mainly plastic and metal. The objects are of all different sizes, but I haven't done a mask larger than about 3"x3". But, I'm really trying to develop a technique that will work with larger-sized patterns.

I'm not doing fabric. I'm working on bumpy, irregular solid objects. I don't think I'm forcing anything... I am a total airbrush n00b, but I think I'm doing it right.

I first thought of something like transfer paper. But, can I inkjet print on it?
posted by Netzapper at 7:49 AM on March 29, 2009

I use a Craft Robo, one of the cheap vinyl cutters that rhizome mentioned, to cut stencils from vector art. It can cut some surprisingly intricate and precise designs. If you research these devices, look at the software side too -- the Craft Robo has an Adobe Illustrator plugin, but I understand that some of the other cutters require you to use their own proprietary software.

I usually cut non-sticky stencils from fairly heavy plastic (slightly heavier than transparency sheets), but sometimes I use ordinary printer paper, and I apply removable glue to the paper (before cutting) to stick it to the surface to be painted. Paper stencils only work for three or four uses (I'm applying acrylic paint with a foam brush or squeegee) but that's not so bad when you can have the robot make more.
posted by moonmilk at 7:58 AM on March 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Those vinyl cutters look awesome. I've found some small format models on eBay for around $100+shipping. I talked to my industrial designer buddy yesterday, and he told me that I should maybe talk to a local sign maker about buying time on his vinyl cutter; I couldn't have one myself, of course, because they cost tens of thousands of dollars. I was seriously considering retrofitting a plotter with an exacto knife. I'm pleased to see that I could have one of these by saving up for a couple of months.

I found (and then lost!) a google result for an RC vehicles forum that suggested masks could be printed for cutting by printing on the paper backing of frisking paper instead of the masking layer. This requires mirroring the work for print, but that's usually a software option.

I may try this approach. But, I really like the ability to print on the mask itself, so that I can include guides and alignment points. It's been very helpful with my current material, and I'd hate to lose it.

I'll stop thread-sitting now.
posted by Netzapper at 9:00 AM on March 29, 2009

A nice feature of the Craft Robo (that I haven't used much myself) is that it can automatically align itself to registration marks on the material. So you run the material through an inkjet or laser printer first, to put on whatever markings you want, plus the Craft Robo marks. Then you put the material in the cutter and it uses those registration marks to align its blade.
posted by moonmilk at 9:19 AM on March 29, 2009

« Older Simple, but less ugly way to present items in an...   |   Can't find a diving case ANYWHERE Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.