What I Learned: Painting Ceramic Tile Using a Stencil.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Soooo last time, you remember, I went on this inane goose chase trying to figure out how to redo the hall bathroom floor after having wrapped up the tub surround tile redo.

Today we begin a new segment entitled What I Learned.  How I have not done this segment prior, Iiiiii dunno.

The purpose of this segment is to provide real talk, no sugar coating, about a project, thing, or whatever.  No over-glamorization, no whoo-dee-doo, just straight up-ness here.  Look, I never ever wanna discourage you from a project or trying something new, I just want you to know what you're dipping your toes into to make informed decisions.

And what I learned, wow, whooooie.

A couple a' major major points first:
  • If you want to find out how old you are, stencil paint a floor.  
  • If you have a pet that sheds, this project will make you utterly insane.  Bat sh*t crazy insane.
  • You don't have to buy ridiculous specialty (stupidly expensive) paints and tools to get this done.
  • Stencil painting is not difficult in general, overall.  It is mind-numbingly never-ending tedious.
  • It looks great though.

So I bought a stencil over on Etsy and then later had to buy a different stencil over on Etsy* (update:  the seller, Olive Leaf Stencils, is not currently selling on Etsy; the stencil I had purchased was called "Tunisian") upon discovery of how thoroughly terrible the "tile installer" was.  I mean, I cannot even begin to express to you how horribly it was done.  Finn has more skills.  And he is thumbless.

I knew it was bad but this discovery kicked off significant second thoughts on stenciling vs. ripping it out.
everything that is wrong with the existing tile floor
You may have to double click the photo if the text is still too small.  Can't see in the photo:  grout lines are different thicknesses, empty corners, and some tiles sit higher, some are lower, the floor is uneven.
I can't even look at that.  Let's move on.

First off, a chat about paint, as paint is uh, yeah, our main focus with this project.
  • Make a mental note:  paint will not be as smooth as real tile.  No matter what you do, paint is paint and paint does as paint does.  Don't be fooled by dreamy online photos; keep a check on your final smoothness and crisp line expectations.
Bondz adhesion primer can for ceramic tile
Only about than $14 for the quart.
  • Next, buy whatever stinkin' paint you want for the stenciling.  I used latex paint and acrylic craft paint.  Yes, that's right, I did.
I only spent, between primer, sealer, and paint, $43, far less than buying "specialty" paints that get used once, sit, and dry up.

All right, kindly be sitting forthwith, I'm gonna go on a bit of a paint rant so try not to get offended.  3, 2, 1...

I dunno what it is but gimmicky paints throw me into an absolute designer-person DIY'er road rage.  No joke, I feel my chest tighten up, my jaw clenches....Which is crazy 'cuz I am a supremely chill chick.

See, here's the thing about painting a floor, or kinda painting something in general.  Think of it as an Oreo.  You need a good bottom, a good top, and whatever is in between is fluff.  I know, now we all want Oreos.*

Gimmicky paints are manufactured to separate you from your money and make you think you need them when you don't.  I betcha if I were to paint something with oh say milk paint (casein paint, a paint that's been around for eons merely rebranded with a quaint name) and paint something with flat latex, you could hardly tell the difference when dry.  Guaranteed your friends will never know.

I could tell you right now I used chalk paint on my stenciled floor and you would believe me -- not that you're gullible or unintelligent, you're not.  You. Can't. Tell. The. Difference.

Or say Farrow & Ball paints and uh, Dutch Boy or Behr.  Surely can't tell a zip of difference when dry.  Fifty bucks, wanna go?  No?

There are uses for these silly paints I suppose.  There is a difference between milk paint and chalk paint.  And yeah, they're premise-ly packaged up for convenience and ease of use, which hey, if you're not interested in or don't have the time to learn faux painting techniques or don't want to ask questions at the paint desk, I totally get'cha, buy the paint, get the results, don't let me stop you.

But don't buy them because you think they'll make you cool or an expert or skillful or they're "required" or they're miracles in a can or that you can't accomplish the task otherwise.  Remember:  Oreo.  Painting is a sandwich -- a good base, a solid finish and everything between is whatever.

Personally, and this is just me folks, this is not a belittling jab at anyone, I'd rather learn something and save money.  Does that make me better or smarter, a smug a**hole?  No.  It's the fabric of who I am.

Ok, I'm ranting too long and could really go off the rails any second here.  In summary, buy what you want but know you can do the same exact thing for less.

And FYI too, many folks push those products a tad disingenuously in an effort to make money off them when you buy.  Like the affiliate links I have yes, but I'm not overzealously cramming products down your throat solely to make mon.....I should stop.

Ok ok ok.

Here are a few things I learned stencil painting a ceramic tile floor...
  • Again, if you have a pet that sheds, this project will make you crazy.  Scratch your eyes out, wild-eyed crazy.
  • Save your back, buy an inexpensive paint pole.*  For instance, this one is perfect.  Apply the base primer coats and finish coats using it attached to a paint roller; you will thank me later.
  • Well, so much for your back, or knees, or other parts:  be comfortable with being on the floor.  A lot.
  • The more detail in the stencil, the more colors you choose, the longer this will take.  The prettier it'll be for sure, but plan accordingly.
  • Have the patience of a saint.  And try not to panic.
  • Less is more.  If you have perfectionist tendencies, use less paint and dab, build up thin layers which prevents leaks but yeah, heh, it also takes more time.
  • If you have a pet....
  • Cosmetic wedges* are cheap, easy, trim-able, flexible, mushable and work excellently for building up paint evenly.  They are The Ideal Tool for the job, near fool-proof, especially for beginners.
  • Remove the shoe molding, quarter round, whatever you wanna call it.  You can get as close to the baseboard as possible this way, eliminating giving away your painted floor secret.  Not that it'll be a secret as you'll be telling everyone.
missing 1/4 round molding at baseboard
We already had a chunk missing thanks to the previous ugly, rickety glass monstrosity.  Not smartly, I didn't remove all the quarter round, just the rest of this strip.  Lesson learned.
cheap metal threshold at the door
And definitely remove the threshold, especially if it's a piece of tin foil barely tacked down.
  • Close the door every time you leave the project for the day and drop down a towel or draft stopper to keep errant fur or fuzzies from sneaking in under the door.
  • Dog fur.......
  • Wear soft clothes, or ensure your clothing doesn't have metal or sharp things or buttons that can scratch the floor as you sit and/or crawl around.
  • This is gonna take an eternity to complete.
  • Make sure you've got quality lighting to avoid eye strain as you work.  Bring in an extra work light if need be.
  • Tiling, actual tiling, while not a difficult task per se, is apparently too much for some.  Do not hire those people.
  • Study the tile you're painting -- many stencils overlap their patterns onto neighboring tiles.  Meaning, if your tiles are offset like ours, get a stencil that is a single tile pattern, not one that overlaps.  
  • Measure the tiles exactly and buy the appropriately sized stencil.  Many sellers will resize it for no additional charge, all you gotta do is ask for the change.
  • Did I mention the bit about having a shedding pet?  Ok, I'll stop.
  • Cleaning the stencil is a royal pain in the a**.  You will end up damaging it.  You should clean it often though to avoid paint build-up that alters the design or causes leaks.
  • And you'll likely have to trim it at some point.  Don't panic.  Save the trimming for very last.
  • If budget allows, purchase two of the same stencil, especially if your floor area is large.  This way, if one becomes damaged or one is drying from being washed or what-have-you, you can keep going.
  • To clean the stencil, and I tried nearly every tip I could find, soak it in warm to hot water (but not boiling or it will warp the plastic) with a cleaner like Simple Green,* then lightly scrub with a brush, trying your best not to break, bend, nor rip it.  (If that green sh*t is non-toxic by the way, why does it make me cough and wheeze?  That sh*t smells terrible too, yick.)  Lay the stencil flat on a towel to dry.
  • Take regular breaks to get your circulation back.
  • Be calm, be patient, and just remember, it's gonna look fabulous.
Finn the giant shedding German Shepherd
I feel like I should share a photo of Captain Shedder, his fur the bane of my existence, er I mean little pink tongue Finn enjoying his new couch and shedding everywhere.
Ooook, so next time I'll share how I stencil painted a ceramic tile floor and show you the final results.  I know, I know!  It'll be worth the wait.  Fingers crossed a brief wait....

Hop to the how to here!

*The Etsy stencils are Etsy affiliate links.  The adhesion primers, water-based polyurethanes, Oreos, paint poles, cosmetic wedges, and Simple Green are all Amazon affiliate links.  Mwah, thanks!  Please see the "boring stuff" tab for more info.


  1. I have a cat. She sheds. I brush her EVERY STINKIN' DAY in the 'shed months '- to excess. She loves it and she doesn't leave her hair everywhere. Anyway, I am super impressed with your floor. I need to do that to at least 2 of my bathrooms for updating purposes. Thanks so much for your tut!

    1. Thanks for the tip on brushing! I'd do the same but Finn is definitely not a fan. Glad your cat is though! And thank you! I'm thrilled you're impressed! Hope your two bathrooms go super smoothly with minimal cat fur getting in your way! Thanks!

  2. I thought it is easy enough to paint ceramic tile using a stencil but you showed that it only looks so. I think your tips will be helpful for those who are currently making an overhaul.

  3. It is really amazing to learn something new! I am certain I will get the chance to learn this technique.

  4. Your tile floor looks fabulous! Thank you for the honest feedback and expectations. I totally understand the fur issue as I have cats. Hair gets everywhere, and litter! Painting my ugly black, disgusting powder room tile is on my "to do" list and your experience and information is well, very informative! Today I am finishing up my tile backsplash, my first attempt at painting tile. This project seems pretty straightforward, that is, I'm using the primer, latex paint, then poly. Thank you!

    1. Thank you so much! I'm absolutely thrilled you found the this helpful and informative and was useful in setting expectations! Fantastic, exactly what I was hoping! Good luck with the cat fur and hope your backsplash and powder room floor turn out fabulously! Thank you!

  5. thanks for talking about the downs of such a project, it's very helpful and love your humor

    1. I hope it wasn’t a downer but I think it’s important to be honest. Glad you found this helpful and funny! Thank you!


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