Monday, August 13, 2012

DIY Wall "Decal" Tutorial

I love wall decals. Words, graphics, you name it. But we have one problem. I'm too cheap to buy them, and here's why: I know I can make them myself. I do not have a Cricut, which would allow me to make them faster and easier, but there is a way to do it with good old fashioned paint and brushes.

After several hours (maybe several days... I didn't really keep track of the time) on Pinterest, I had an image of how I wanted our baby room to look, which was with two colors of grey walls, white birch trees, yellow birds, and then the words to a Mark Harris song that makes my hubby and I cry, called Find Your Wings (kinda ties in the birds).

So. How to achieve this without paying an arm and a leg for decals? Not to mention, the walls are heavily textured in there, and I'm pretty sure decals would be a pain in the rear to put up. Especially with words- I'm afraid the letters would end up distorted.

Here's how we did it. We started with paint. I don't know if you were counting, but there were 4 different colors of paint required for the look I had dreamed up. Paint is expensive. I did not know how much we would need, but after lots of looking online at various paint calculators, I figured we'd need at least a gallon of one of the greys- and more than a quart of the other grey. Since we needed more than a quart, it was worth our money to just buy a whole gallon. (I've never been sure why they don't sell paint in half-gallons. Really. Someone needs to think this through.)

Just needed a tiny bit of yellow, and a little white. Again, not sure how much white, because we also planned to re-finish our writing desk and paint it white for the changing table. I thought to save money we'd probably have enough with just a quart. I hated spending almost as much as a whole gallon just for a quart, but thought a few dollars saved would be a good thing. I lucked out, though, for when we got to the store, I thought to check the "Oops Shelf" and found some delightful Cotton White in the better quality brand. A gallon of that Oops Cotton White cost the same as a quart of the cheap white. So we bought that- there's always a need for white paint around the house- especially since all our trim is painted white.

Yellow. I was not looking forward to paying for a full quart when I knew we just needed a tiny tiny bit. I thought about buying some acrylic craft paint for $1.50 or so, but really wanted the satin finish you can get with wall paint. I lucked out again, however, when I discovered that the nice brand offers paint color testers for just a couple dollars ($3.47 I think?) in the satin or eggshell finish that we wanted. Score! We chose Canary Song. For artwork, don't use the brush included, however, because it's pretty much terrible.

Ready to start painting. Because I was pregnant when we were doing this project, there was a certain look involved. Face mask- the husband insisted. I complied, even though it was sweaty and hard to breathe through. 2X T-Shirt that I didn't care about. I always paint in clothes I don't care about, just in case. Problem, though, with shorts. All the maternity shorts I owned up to this point were borrowed. All my athletic shorts I cared about too much to get paint on them. It took me a few minutes to figure out the solution. PJ Shorts. I found a pair of those with an elastic waist that I didn't care whether they got paint on them or not. These have snowmen on them. Doesn't my painting ensemble make everyone jealous? Ha ha.

We painted the grey walls first. I did the trim and my husband used the roller. These walls were heavily textured, as I said, so we ended up using a lot more paint than anticipated. We had just barely enough, but only got one coat done. We decided not to try to remove the wallpaper or teddy decals at the top of the room. I had a nightmarish experience removing wallpaper in the house I grew up in, so didn't want to mess with it. It turned out just fine to paint over it.

TIP: Paint textured walls with a nice, fluffy roller. A thin roller will only be frustrating and use a lot more muscle to get it into all the crevices.

Time for the decals. Or, non-decals. Here's how we did it. I freehanded some trees on some old-school transparencies, and then decided I maybe ought to use an image of some professional ones. We ended up using both, but here's how we copied the decals you can purchase. I found a picture of a decal design that I liked, and then blew the image up as big as I could on the computer (no need to print it, I could trace it just fine this way.) and traced it. I was a bit nervous that I'd accidentally mark on the screen, so I drew a "stop" line on either end, as you can see in the photo.

Tracing the image on the computer screen
Tree transparencies

For the words, I used a transparency that I'd purchased a while ago that you can use a regular ink-jet printer to print on, and printed what I wanted using a regular word-processing program. I went ahead and put the words for both walls on one sheet- I didn't see the sense in using up two sheets. I found them at They were cheaper than what I could buy at the office supply store. I could have freehanded the birds, too, but decided that a stencil would make my life easier. I had my eye on one at Hobby Lobby from when I first dreamed up this project, and when I went to go buy it, armed with my 40% off coupon (never go to Hobby Lobby without it. You can print it free online.), I found that it was on clearance! Score again!

Bird stencil, Words transparency, Tree Transparencies. Ready to go!

Now the fun part- watching it all come together. We borrowed a projector from my father in law, and projected the images up on the wall and simply traced. I knew these trees were pretty forgiving, so in places I'd skip a branch, or add a knick in the wood here or there, just for variety. Again, I'd trace and do the trim, and my husband went behind me and filled it in. For these, I used a 3/8" deerfoot brush for the trim. It filled in the crevices of the textured walls nicely, and left a nice clean edge. This was a matter of trial and error to figure out what brush would work best. A flat brush was a bad plan. Go with a deerfoot brush. 
You will also probably want to move the projector or the transparencies several times. I ended up moving the transparencies for each tree, just to flip it over or move it closer the the other tree, etc. I only moved the projector per each corner.

 Next came the words. Same thing, project the image on the wall, and trace. For these, the font I used was pretty fine, so I needed a fine brush. For precision, though, I chose one that had very short bristles. I used this mini multimedia paintbrush from Hobby Lobby and it was perfect.

EDIT 12/2012: Some of you were asking what font I used. I used "Daniel" which you can download here

Tracing the words

Next came the birds. These I had intended to use a sponge brush (just the cheapy disposable brushes) with the stencil. However this did not work so well because of the textured walls. If you have plain walls, one of those would probably be fine. I ended up using the deerfoot brush again and then sharpening the edges after taking away the stencil. One thing to remember is to clean the stencil after each bird, so you don't leave smears when you move it to the next spot. Same goes for flipping it over to make the birds face a different way. Just use common sense and be careful. 

Here are some pictures of the finished project. We will post pics of the completed nursery when everything is moved in and finished. (ahem... that desk. That's still needing finished.)


To summarize:
1) Calculate and buy paint
2) Secure projector and good brushes
3) Put design on transparencies
4) Paint base on wall, if not already painted
5) Project design on wall
6) Trace design edges
7) Fill in (Don't necessarily need the projector turned on for this part. It does get hot standing in the light)
8) Repeat for second color or use stencil for finishing touches

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