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[sten-suh l] /ˈstɛn səl/
a device for applying a pattern, design, words, etc., to a surface, consisting of a thin sheet of cardboard, metal, or other material from which figures or letters have been cut out, a coloring substance, ink, etc., being rubbed, brushed, or pressed over the sheet, passing through the perforations and onto the surface.
the letters, designs, etc., produced on a surface by this method.
verb (used with object), stenciled, stenciling or (especially British) stencilled, stencilling.
to mark or paint (a surface) by means of a stencil.
to produce (letters, figures, designs, etc.) by means of a stencil.
Origin of stencil
late Middle English
1375-1425; earlier stanesile, late Middle English stansele to ornament with diverse colors or spangles < Middle French estanceler, derivative of estencele a spark, ornamental spangle < Vulgar Latin *stincilla, metathetic variant of Latin scintilla scintilla
Related forms
stenciler; especially British, stenciller, noun Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the web for stencil
  • If you live near an ocean, you might want to stencil a storm drain.
  • If you didn't want to use the electric pen, you could try cutting a stencil with one of those newfangled typewriters.
  • Partially blocking the light with a negative or a stencil will give you photos and patterns.
  • stencil a basic measuring system onto the board cover, and you'll never need to hunt down a measuring stick.
  • When paint is dry, peel off sheet's backing and position the stencil on the pot where you want it.
  • Even if it were possible to create an exact genetic stencil of a lost pooch or kitty, that doesn't mean it's a good idea.
  • Then a department secretary would have to retype the stencil.
  • The cheapest way of reproducing anything: you need a stencil, a tray, and gelatin.
  • Place stencil on surface and weigh down corners to ensure the stencil does not move during painting.
  • Protecting local streams, creeks and lakes can be as simple as volunteering to stencil storm drains in your neighborhood.
British Dictionary definitions for stencil


a device for applying a design, characters, etc, to a surface, consisting of a thin sheet of plastic, metal, cardboard, etc in which the design or characters have been cut so that ink or paint can be applied through the incisions onto the surface
a decoration, design, or characters produced in this way
verb (transitive) -cils, -cilling, -cilled (US) -cils, -ciling, -ciled
to mark (a surface) with a stencil
to produce (characters or a design) with a stencil
Derived Forms
stenciller, noun
Word Origin
C14 stanselen to decorate with bright colours, from Old French estenceler, from estencele a spark, from Latin scintilla
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for stencil

1707, not recorded again until 1848, probably from Middle English stencellen "decorate with bright colors," from Middle French estenceler "cover with sparkles or stars, powder with color," from estencele "spark, spangle," from Vulgar Latin *stincilla, metathesis of Latin scintilla "spark."


"to produce a design with a stencil," 1861, from stencil (n.). Related: Stenciled; stenciling.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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