Howto: Make a Decent Door Decoration in About Six Steps

I always wondered how elementary teachers manage to make their classrooms so warm and inviting. This year, I finally learned how: through soul-crushing hours spent with glue-smeared hands covered by stray bits of construction paper. But that’s how they manage to make door decorations like this one by our Grade 4/5 teacher Jeff Fessler:

Seriously? Wow.
Seriously? Wow.

So what’s his secret, I asked, besides being stunningly creative with impeccable attention to detail and demandingly high standards?


Yes, it turns out that you use your projector for the images, then trace it and cut it out. With my curiosity piqued, I set out on my own journey to create a door decoration for Literacy Week. Here are the steps I took:

  1. Found a quote
  2. Found a stencil to go along with it, after an abortive attempt to make my own using Pixelmator
  3. Papered over my door with the background color (black) and the foreground (white)
  4. Projected the image, traced it, and then painstakingly cut out the design
  5. Cut out the letters from another tracing and pasted them on rather than cutting them out of the foreground
  6. Glue the loosed bits on

The end result looks like this (source file  above, product below):

My source file. Getting a pre-made stencil saved me a lot of time since I’m not great at graphics editing, but it’s possible to make your own from a photograph.
My adaptation.

 On closer inspection, you can see how it’s literally rough around the edges. Trying to cut holes out of the foreground and then gluing the edges while it’s draped over a background is a messy business, and the letters were glued on not quite straight.

Glue shows through the foreground paper - glue sticks don't, though.
Glue shows through the foreground paper – glue sticks don’t, though.
Oops, letters curling off.
Oops, letters curling off.
It's tough to get a large foreground over small background details.
It’s tough to get a large foreground over small background details.

So here’s the right way to do it:

Required materials: an xacto knife, pair of scissors, and glue stick for each person. Once you get to the part where you’re cutting out letters, up to 8 people can work productively, but only four can really be tracing or glueing elements on at a time.

  1. Find a stencil online (google “printable stencils” or check here, here or here) – or make your own by googling a tutorial that uses your favorite graphics editing program (I prefer Pixelmator). Pumpkin cutouts are the same thing as stencils. Make sure the details aren’t too fine – they will be difficult to cut out.
  2. Add whatever text you desire and project the stencil onto your door. Crop is so that it matches the actual physical dimensions. I tried measuring the door and then using those dimensions to crop my digital stencil, but it didn’t work for whatever reason.
  3. Flip your stencil 180 degrees horizontally. You’re going to be tracing it, and by reversing it you ensure that the pencil lines will be on the back side of the cutouts and won’t show when you’re done.
  4. Tape your background color paper to the door securely. Then, loosely tape your foreground color to the door and trace the outline of the stencil. I DON’T recommend tracing the letters at this point – you’ll get better results if you project and trace them separately, with plenty of space between each letter, and then paste them on after you’re done with the rest of the image.
  5. Take down the foreground paper, cut out the parts and glue them to the background paper. Keeping your projection up will help with the placement.
  6. Draw guidelines so that the letters go on straight (an obvious failing of my effort), glue on the letters, and then erase the lines.

Happy decorating!