What Plastic to Use With a Stencil Burning Tool

Written by f.r.r. mallory
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What Plastic to Use With a Stencil Burning Tool
A stencil is created by making holes in a sheet of plastic. (PhotoObjects.net/PhotoObjects.net/Getty Images)

Many companies sell plastic sheets that list stencils among their applications. The plastics issue centres on how the stencil is cut. Almost any plastic, including zip-type storage bags in your kitchen, can be used to cut a stencil. If you use the burn method, however, most plastics blob, distort or create a stringy edge. Some manufacturers do create specific burn-ready plastic sheets, and these are frequently worth the cost because they remain stable and produce a reasonable edge.

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Stencil Burning Tool

A stencil burning tool is a modified soldering iron that has an extended tip. Some have a bulb shape on the end of the tip. Similar to the soldering iron, you can purchase stencil tools that allow you to adjust the amount of heat that goes to the tip. It is important to remember that the iron works like an electrical short, and the hot spot is the thinnest part of the tip. You can find a wide variety of tips that work with the stencil tool to create the clean cut you want.

What Plastic to Use With a Stencil Burning Tool
A stencil burning tool has a hot tip that melts plastic. (Hemera Technologies/PhotoObjects.net/Getty Images)

Tempered Glass

Tempered glass is a safety glass that is stronger than regular glass. It is a good idea to cut plastic stencils over a 3/8-inch tempered glass surface. This surface doesn't react to the hot tip or the melting plastic, and it allows you to cut a cleaner line with the tip of the tool. Most home stores carry precut tempered glass pieces, or you can find one at a local glass shop. The size should be larger than 8 1/2-by-11 inches.

What Plastic to Use With a Stencil Burning Tool
Working over a tempered glass surface allows drawings to be illuminated from below. (David De Lossy/Photodisc/Getty Images)

Melting Free Plastic

Most types of plastic sheeting can be melted and cut by a stencil tool. Many artists experiment with plastics found around the house to reduce their stencilling costs. Plastic container lids, thick plastic file folders and other thicker plastic flat pieces can be experimented on to determine how well they handle the heat. It is a good idea to perform these experiments outside since melting plastic is stinky. If your tool has variable heat, you can work with thinner sheets as well. When your tool tip globs up, wipe it with an emery cloth to remove the plastic.

What Plastic to Use With a Stencil Burning Tool
Flat plastic container lids may work as free stencil plastic. (Hemera Technologies/PhotoObjects.net/Getty Images)

Stencil Plastics

Several types of stencil plastic sheeting are sold. The better of these products is thicker with a semirough surface on the back side. The stencil materials vary in thickness and performance. Mylar is the common material type, but performance is based on your tool, subsurface and the plastic all working together. Most artists burn a portion of the design and cut a portion with an artist knife for the best overall stencils. The downside of official stencil plastic is the often high price per sheet. You may pay more but not receive a substantially better stencil.

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