• synonyms


[sten-suh l]
  1. 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.
  2. the letters, designs, etc., produced on a surface by this method.
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verb (used with object), sten·ciled, sten·cil·ing or (especially British) sten·cilled, sten·cil·ling.
  1. to mark or paint (a surface) by means of a stencil.
  2. to produce (letters, figures, designs, etc.) by means of a stencil.
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Origin of stencil

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 formssten·cil·er; especially British, sten·cil·ler, noun
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Examples from the Web for stenciling

Historical Examples

  • It is a white wood and shows printing and stenciling clearly.

    American Forest Trees

    Henry H. Gibson

  • The only light in the room came from the street-lamp, stenciling the vines on the drawn shades.

    Caleb West, Master Diver

    F. Hopkinson Smith

  • I promise you solemnly I'll never touch a cake of soap to any stenciling I do.

  • Muelle uses quantities of solid embroidery and appliqu work, where other costumers are content with stenciling and gilding.

  • Problem—Circular cutting, grooving, stenciling, and coloring.

British Dictionary definitions for stenciling


  1. 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
  2. a decoration, design, or characters produced in this way
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verb -cils, -cilling or -cilled or US -cils, -ciling or -ciled (tr)
  1. to mark (a surface) with a stencil
  2. to produce (characters or a design) with a stencil
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Derived Formsstenciller, 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

Word Origin and History for stenciling



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."

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

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Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper