How To Paint Fireplace Tile With A Stencil: Mistakes To Avoid On Your DIY Fireplace Makeover

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We've made it to the final post in the “DIY Painted Brick Fireplace Makeover On A Budget” series! Make sure to check out how we painted the brick fireplace and how we stripped and stained the mantel! Like I've said all along, since we DIY'ed our entire fireplace in this makeover on a budget, we worked from top to bottom. So the top part of the brick, then the mantel, then the bottom part of the brick, which brings us here today to how I painted the fireplace tile with a stencil! I know, painting tile?! Are we crazy?! Let alone in front of a fireplace?! Let me tell you, this fireplace hearth makeover was not for the faint of heart. I made a lot of mistakes that you should definitely learn from and avoid if you are thinking about painting your own tile.

How To Paint Fireplace Tile With A Stencil: Mistakes To Avoid On Your DIY Fireplace Makeover

This post contains affiliate links and thanks to Sherwin Williams for providing the product!

Quick recap on our fireplace hearth tiles if you're just tuning in:

They are 4×4 white ceramic tiles. A previous owner had filled in/covered the grout lines with this hideous black goo. The black goo grout lines were uneven (both in width and texture – they actually sat atop the tile, versus even or below). 

How we decided to paint the fireplace tile:

Since we decided to keep this budget friendly, I didn't want to have to pull up the old tiles, match their width, and get spacers, and all of that. We have a baby, we are new homeowners, we both have our own companies, and we just don't have time to get our feet THAT wet with the fireplace makeover DIY. Since we've only been in the house a few months, we didn't want to invest in professionals doing it either because we don't believe in massive renovation projects like this (unless they are a must do, like our pool), for the first year in a new place. We believe it's better to live in a space for a while and then prioritize from there. 

Finding a tutorial on how to paint tile:

I remembered I had seen a tutorial on Pinterest forever ago about a woman who had painted her bathroom floor tiles. Another person in my life said they knew someone who had done the same thing. Stencil Revolution reached out to me at around this same time I was discovering this world of tile painting and offered me a tile stencil! If that didn't feel like the Universe saying this was our budget friendly solution, I don't know what is!

I looked through Stencil Revolution's tile stencils options and found a few I LOVED. We ultimately went with the Lydia. 

Another point about our tile when it comes to tile stencil selection:

Ours are 4×4 tiles, but have this wonky massive grout. The tiles are fairly uneven because of the grout and lack a bit of uniformity. For this reason, I chose a stencil that fit in the 4×4 square, versus the ones with the continuing pattern between tiles. Our grout was simply too thick and uneven to get a good connective pattern going.

Now let me be the first to say, I had my fair share of panic attacks and anxiety while planning this project!

Is it safe to paint fireplace tile?

The short answer is yes if you have the right materials. I connected with Sherwin Williams corporate to ensure that we were using the right supplies and found a ton of others who had success with painting their fireplace tile.

Now with that said, this caused a lot of anxiety. Paint in front of an open flame?!? Isn't that like exactly what we are taught not to do? I provided pictures and gave an indepth overview of the project and was assured it was safe. If you are practicing fire safety (fireplace net and always have a fire extinguisher at the ready) you should be good, but do whatever you feel comfortable with. I mean, I live in South Florida where I will probably only use this maybe once or twice a year for like a half an hour each time? So it's not like I'm running a fireplace daily for hours on end here or leaving it unsupervised. Thus, I ultimately felt comfortable, but make your own decision based on your situation and supplies. 

Tutorial for painting tile:

The tutorial below on painting the tile on the hearth, is the a tutorial that can be used for painting ANY tile – not just fireplace hearth tile. If you are painting tile in an area not near fire, you'd just use a different type of paint, but the same primer, tools, and technique apply!

What supplies you'll need to paint fireplace tile on your hearth:

How to paint ceramic tile on fireplace hearth (or anywhere):

How to prepare tile surface for painting:

You'll want to start by cleaning your tile surface really well. You can use some TSP or some other solution that will get rid of gook and grime. Next you'll want to scuff up the tiles pretty well using a medium grit sandpaper and a power sander. After you've sanded, wipe down your surface with a microfiber cloth.

How to prime tile surface for paint:

We used Sherwin Williams Extreme Bonding Primer. I rolled it on using a high density foam roller. Once it dried, I went over it with a super fine 220 sanding block. Next, I wiped it down a few times with a microfiber cloth to get any sanding residue off. 

Keep in mind when painting tile, it's a good idea to sand after priming since the smoother the surface, the smoother the overall finish. Wipe down the tiles really well with a microfiber cloth if you sand. 

How to paint tile with a base color:

We used Emerald® Urethane Trim Enamel in Charcoal Navy for our base color. It's water based and should be good with the temperatures. I'll keep you posted if/when we use the fireplace (again, South Florida!) and let you know if there is any bubbling. 

Similar to the primer, I painted it on with a high density foam roller.

CAUTION with Sherwin Williams Emerald Urethane Trim Enamel:

I didn't find this out until after the project – and meltdowns – but this paint actually has a 30 day cure period! It's a great paint with a beautiful finish, but if you are applying a tile stencil on top you must wait 30 days and do NOT put anything on top of the surface. I put a few pumpkins on it for a couple of days after only 2 weeks and the paint had smeared. Moreover, when I was trying to paint the tile stencil pattern on, it kept peeling up which leads me too…

I did need to apply the paint pretty thick in order to fully coat the tiles. I found that if the paint got too thin, the foam roller would act more as a sticker and pull up anything I just rolled on. It took about two coats to get a nice rich color and fill in any “sticky” spots. With that said, if you notice any stickiness when applying your paint, it probably means it will have a lengthier cure period. Check with the paint brand to make sure you don't have any headaches through the process! And when in doubt… wait it out! 

How to paint fireplace tile using a stencil: (or any tile!)

THIS WAS A DOOZY! Again, I just found out about the 30 day cure period… 2 weeks after I thought I had finished the project. So while some of my mistakes when painting the fireplace tile were common, others were situation specific due to the paint.

I ended up even covering up the first round of stencil with all my mistakes and experimentations. This is where the spray paint option comes in, so read this, learn from it, and make your own choice accordingly!

MISTAKE #1 when painting a tile stencil: Priming

Since I was going from dark to light, I thought it'd be a good idea to prime the stencil and then apply the white paint over it. While this isn't necessarily a bad idea, with the 30 day cure period I didn't know about, turned into a thick flakey mess. When I redid the surface, I needed to sand this mistake down pretty well to get the area smooth again. I think regardless of the base paint's cure period, using any sort of primer will be too thick.

FIX: Skip priming altogether or use the proper paint to bond to the primer. When I did a test one without the primer, it came out looking pretty good and didn't need as many coats as I thought it would.

MISTAKE #2 when painting a tile stencil: Bleeding

Given the experience I had just had with painting the base color where more paint seemed to get it to stick better, versus the sticky/stamp like effect that was happening with thinner paint. I decided to use a little stamper foam brush and apply a healthy (not generous, but not super thin either) amount of paint to the stencil. This resulted in A LOT of bleeding.

Quick note on bleeding with tile stencils:

Some bleeding is bound to happen. Even in hand poured tiles, bleeding naturally occurs (see picture below for the tiles in our kitchen that are traditionally poured and not painted). This was an excessive amount of bleeding though which leads me to this trick…

How to fix excessive bleeding when using a tile stencil:

You'll want to use a high density foam roller. Roll it out in the paint tray to get most of the excess off. Then have a few paper towels folded/stacked and do a couple of quick rolls on the paper towel to get it even and remove any more excess before rolling onto the stencil.

Using this method, without primer, I found gave me the best results for painting on the tile stencil pattern. It did need a couple of coats and a lot of patience (which I didnt have as this fireplace makeover was already taking 2 months!!).

Painting tile using a tile stencil is a slow and tedious process that requires patience since once you are working on the actual stencil, you are working with such a fine layer of paint that you are just constantly rolling which leads me too…

MISTAKE #3: Not protecting the surround area enough

I had taped off all my edges, used a drop cloth, and thought I was good. NOPE! While I did tape down my stencil well, I didn't tape down every edge. Like I said, I'm impatient and this process is tedious! So what ended up happening is some of the roller would go over the edge of the stencil or onto the “continue pattern” part of the stencil.

The problem with the “continue pattern” part of the stencil for me was that our tiles/grout are not uniform so the trim was never in quite the right place compared to a standard 4×4 job.

FIX: Tape all four edges of the stencil down fully and then add an extra rim of painters tape just to be safe, as well as tape off any of the unused pattern. It's a pretty small area and even though I was being careful while rolling, sometimes my roller would go just a millimeter off the area and I'd have paint where I didn't want it. If this happens you can just wipe it up with some water, but it's better to tape more off than you think you need to. Which also leads me to…

MISTAKE #4: Not letting the base color cure long enough

I thought 16 hours would be long enough for the navy color to cure, it was hard and dry to the touch, but it wasn't long enough. When I peeled up the first round of stencils, little bits of navy were stuck to the back. When I used the wet paper towel to wipe off the stencil overage, blue came up with it. So I waited a week and the same issue happened again. Finally I decided to just spray paint (more on that in a minute…). 

Once I finished the entire project, I put a couple of pumpkins on the painted tile fireplace hearth and then moved them a few days later only to find this massive smear. Turns out that the paint needs 30 days to cure and no paint should be applied on top of it… so now I'm in a waiting game, crossing my fingers, hoping and praying that it will cure in the next couple of months so I can decorate for Christmas and not have to redo this project!! UGH! 

My thoughts on painting with a tile stencil…

I did the proper rolling technique, skipped my primer, and had minimal bleeding, but I just didn't love the look. It looks a little too cold and harsh and it was going to take forever. This project was going on TWO months at this point and I wanted it done. Since I already had made so many mistakes and knew I'd just be repainting the entire thing the base color, I decided to grab a can of white spray paint and see what would happen if I spray painted the stencil…

Spray painting the tile stencil

I loosely covered the surrounding area with some spare paper towels (not perfectly, since I knew I'd be repainting everything anyway at this point, but good enough I'd get an idea). Shook the can, and sprayed.

And what do you know? I kind of loved it. 

It felt full and soft at the same time. Yes, there was still a little bleeding, but it looked more like the hand poured tile bleeding. 

I showed my husband the properly painted one and the spray painted one and he agreed: spray paint FTW. 

We headed to the store to pick up high heat spray paint (withstands temperatures of 1200 degrees!)

Resetting and finishing the stencil tile paint project:

I sanded down my mess ups. Wiped it all with some TSP, then some water, then resanded since the water pulled up some of the base paint. Then I wiped it again with a microfiber cloth a few times. This time I let the base paint cure for a full week (still didn't know about the 30 days!)

How to spray paint tile stencil around your fireplace:

I started by laying down my tile stencils and taping them off really well. I then taped off a sheet of newspaper surrounding the tile. Next, I either used more paper or a drop cloth or towel to cover the remaining larger portions of the surrounding area (see video).

Spray painting obviously requires fair more coverage to protect your surrounding area, but the final look is well worth it in my opinion. Plus spray paint dries way faster than paint so I was able to actually move much faster than painting the stencil. It took me two days working for a total of about two hours each day (lots of on/off during the process as you wait for it to dry to the touch).

Overall, I love how it came out! I would definitely just make sure you use fire safe materials and know the cure period!! I do need to still go in and touch up some of the bleeding with a little paint brush (shown in video) but for now, I'm taking a break! It's been a longggg 2 months! 

Make sure to check out the rest of the posts in my DIY Painted Brick Fireplace Makeover On A Budget series!

How to paint a red brick fireplace white

How to strip and stain fireplace mantel

How To Paint Fireplace Tile With A Stencil: Mistakes To Avoid On Your DIY Fireplace Makeover


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