I was looking for pallet inspired projects and I came along this picture of a small box. It has a nice clean inlay of a scorpion.

Scorpion Box

Image from LumberJocks

Many users on the forum, where this picture was posted, were very interested in how this was made. The OP eventually responded:

I masked, cut, and spray painted the scorpion on the second box. I use Krylon brand spray paint.

Wondering if I could get a couple of points cleared up in how this was done.

  1. The lines look very defined. How might the mask / template been made? I would have expected the paint to bleed or something.

  2. The colour of the inlay looks non uniform. Is that just some creative sanding or is something more sinister at work?

Mostly I am curious as what I can do to get clean lines like that. Forgive me if this is very simple. It just seems more robust than a cardboard cutout.

  • The title could be expanded to "How can I make a faux inlay"... not sure if that would be considered broad or not
    – Matt
    Jun 12, 2015 at 2:43
  • Pay attention to the description, "I masked, cut, and spray painted" - the mask is adhesive, and after it has been applied it is cut and the appropriate sections removed. And a simple cardboard cutout won't allow the hollow leg sections next to the body: the free pieces would be sure to move, especially when the spray paint hit it. Feb 8, 2019 at 5:43

1 Answer 1


The lines look very defined. How might the mask / template been made?

The mask could have been cut from a purpose-made masking material as used by airbrush artists, called frisket. But any self-adhesive plastic film can be used similarly. Adhesive vinyl is often used for this sort of thing today.

The advantage of frisket is that it is extremely thin and as a result it is very easy to cut directly on the surface to be sprayed, with almost no pressure. Any very sharp knife can be used, e.g. craft knife, scalpel or even a boxcutter.

Homemade versions
If any manufactured self-adhesive plastic cannot be found locally, or the cost is prohibitive, an equivalent is simply made. Start with acetate sheets (as used in overhead projectors) and coat one side with spray adhesive. Spray, wait a short while until the glue has become tacky, then press down well; the back of a spoon or a hard rubber roller (brayer) will help here.

Something similar can also be done using common hairspray and thin tracing paper or baking parchment, but here you spray and immediately press the paper onto the surface. Obviously this will not cut as cleanly as plastic but with a very sharp knife good results are still possible.

Some adhesive residue may remain with either of the above techniques. The ideal solvent for commercial spray glue is usually mineral spirits/white spirit, and for hairspray it is alcohol. In these cases it may be best to use stains that don't react with the relevant solvent, so oil-based stain if using alcohol and waterbase or alcohol-based stains if using spirits.

Many commercial vinyl printing operations will be able to cut a mask for you! They can use various electronic file types, e.g. Illustrator files, to guide their plotters.

I would have expected the paint to bleed or something.

Obviously the mask being adhered to the surface will largely prevent this.

But when adhesive film is not used careful spraying can nearly eliminate the problem. The main techniques are:

  • spray lightly
  • spray at 90° to the surface

If you spray very lightly the paint/stain particles don't form a wet film on the surface, which makes bleeding under an edge much less likely.

As much as possible you should spray perpendicular to the surface, any spray at an angle will tend to lift the edges will obviously lead to underspray.

Where a coloured finish is being used and not a conventional stain/dye another trick is to pre-seal the mask by spraying a thin coat of clear finish first. After this no bleeding is possible (in theory at least) and it does have one other issue, it tends to create a slight lip around the edges of the coloured areas once the mask is removed.

The colour of the inlay looks non uniform. Is that just some creative sanding or is something more sinister at work?

Hard to tell. It could have been a whim of the creator or just accidental.

  • It never occurred to me to temporarily adhere the mask onto the project. This is just the kind of answer I was fishing for as it provides several options while making me understand the basic concept. Thanks again.
    – Matt
    Jun 12, 2015 at 12:08
  • Would the acetate sheets technique be reusable? I would guess not since there would be adhesive residue on them. I am going to look up how frisket works.
    – Matt
    Jun 12, 2015 at 13:49
  • I have a silhouette vinyl cutter just for this purpose (creating stencil masks). Transferrable vinyl with backing paper means I can put the mask anywhere I like and no bleed (generally).
    – TX Turner
    Jun 12, 2015 at 14:20
  • @Matt, if you make your own masks they can be reusable with a bit of luck because the plastic is thick enough to be fairly robust The main thing to watch out for I think is cracks forming from inside corners. But even one or two of these don't have to mean the end of the mask, they can be spliced with clear tape :-) The glue residue can be easily cleaned off with the appropriate solvent so that the mask doesn't get filthy during storage.
    – Graphus
    Jun 12, 2015 at 16:11
  • Opens up a whole new world for me.
    – Matt
    Jun 12, 2015 at 16:13

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