How to Attach a Stencil to Your Halloween Pumpkin

Tips for Success

Pumpkin carving
Christopher Kimmel / Getty Images

After you've selected your Halloween pumpkin and pumpkin design, it's time to attach the stencil to the pumpkin temporarily so that the pumpkin is easy to paint or carve. 

There are a couple different methods you can use to transfer your stencil image to your pumpkin. You can cut out the design from the page ahead of time and turn it into a stencil in order to draw the design onto the pumpkin's surface, or you can use the method of poking holes into the stencil design and pumpkin to transfer the image. There's no one right way to do it, but these suggestions will make the job a bit easier. 

Suggested Tools and Materials

You'll need these items:

  • Fresh, clean pumpkin (interior as well as exterior if carving)
  • Masking, duct, or packing tape 
  • Pumpkin poking tool or pushpin
  • Pumpkin carving tools
  • Stencil design
  • Scissors
  • X-Acto blade (optional)
  • Black Sharpie marker
  • Rubbing alcohol and a rag
  • Flour, baking soda, or cornstarch

Attaching the Stencil to the Pumpkin

Follow these steps to prepare the pumpkin and attach the design or stencil:

1. Wash the pumpkin or wipe it with a damp cloth to remove any dust and dirt. Let it air dry, or use a paper towel to dry it completely. If you are carving the pumpkin, thoroughly clean out the inside.

2. Your Halloween stencil or design should be made from something flexible that will bend around the curve of the pumpkin. If you print out your design from your printer you should be fine, as any paper or thin card stock that will go through a computer printer should be able to curve around the surface. 

If you are planning to cut out your design to create a stencil and draw it onto your pumpkin, you will want to use a little heavier card stock; even so, you still want it to have some flexibility. Don't make it too thick. An empty cereal box will do the job. Purchased stencils are generally made from thin plastic that bends. Leave enough space around the design so you can make slits in the edges.

3. After printing out or drawing out the design, cut slits about 1-2 inches long along the edges of the paper at intervals of about 2 inches. This will help the design curve around the form of the pumpkin. If you are making a stencil, cut out the interior of the design before making the slits along the sides.

4. When your design or stencil is prepared, cut a few short lengths of masking tape to have ready. You want the tape to hold the stencil in place long enough to transfer your stencil but not damage the pumpkin when you pull it off.

5. Position your stencil and then hold it with one hand (or get someone else to hold it). At the minimum, put some tape on each corner. You may find you want to put tape on all sides as well. The key is to put enough tape on so the stencil does not move. 

Check the positioning of the design now, because after you start to poke holes or draw marker lines, making corrections is tough to do—and they are even tougher to follow after the stencil is removed.

Transferring the Design to the Pumpkin

Follow these steps to transfer your design to the surface:

1. Because of the uneven and curved nature of a pumpkin, the stencil isn't going to sit flush against every bit. Use your one free hand to flatten a small piece of a stencil at a time, and work your way around the design.

If you plan to carve, poke holes every 1/4 inch or so with your poking tool or pushpin. You can also use an X-Acto blade to trace and cut through the design, scoring the pumpkin in the process.

If you are painting rather than carving, consider marking the outline of the stencil on the pumpkin with a waterproof marker such as a black Sharpie rather than painting the entire design through the stencil. A stencil that isn't flush with the surface runs the risk of allowing paint to bleed into areas where you don't want it.

Don't stress about painting or cutting "outside the lines" a little; if you don't tell people, they'll never know!

2. After you have finished poking holes or drawing outlines, remove the template. If you made holes, rub the design area with flour, baking soda, or cornstarch. This will help make the dots and lines more visible and easier to carve.


Follow these tips for success:

  • Don't be tempted to reach for strong, permanent glues such as superglue. You don't want the stencil or design permanently stuck to the pumpkin.
  • Watch your lines when you're carving so that you cut out only the negative areas. You don't want to accidentally cut off a piece that you need to be included in your shape.
  • You can fix any broken areas during carving with a toothpick connecting the broken piece to the rest of the pumpkin.
  • Clean off any unwanted pen marks with rubbing alcohol.
  • If carving the pumpkin, work from the center of the design out, starting with the smallest sections first. If an area is too big, you can also work on it in smaller sections.
  • If painting, paint the edges of an area first and work inward.