Pumpkin Carving and Stencil Tips and Tricks

Halloween is almost here, which means it’s time to start planning your pumpkins. Pumpkin carving can be a fun way to celebrate the holiday and add a little decor to your home.

Whether you’re a pumpkin carving expert or novice, there are a few basics that will help you master pumpkin carving and carving with a stencil.

The Tool Kit

Pumpkin carvers young and old have long argued about the best way to carve a pumpkin. Because there are so many techniques and tactics, it’s really up to you.

But we recommend starting with a pumpkin carving tool kit that will set you up for success.

You can certainly purchase a pumpkin carving tool kit, and our advice, if you’re going to purchase a kit, is this: the cheaper, the better.

It is advice that sounds a little bit weird, but we find that the pumpkin carving kits that come from a dollar store or Walmart work better than the fancy ones you can purchase from more expensive stores.

We too have been tempted by boutique-style pumpkin carving kits with beautiful wood handles and gold knives, but you don’t need all of that. Literally.

elaborately carved pumpkin with flower pattern

If you’re not going to buy a premade pumpkin carving kit, here’s what we recommend having on hand.

A long sharp knife, a strong serrated knife, an old credit card for scraping the inside of your pumpkin out, and if you’re really fancy, a drill.

A small screwdriver or dowel to poke holes is nice too.

If you plan on drawing on your pumpkin to aid you in your carving, we recommend a Sharpie and rubbing alcohol, too.

A Sharpie to draw on the pumpkin and rubbing alcohol to take off the Sharpie when you draw the wrong thing. And because you want to draw on a dry surface, throw a towel into your needed tools as well.

pumpkin carving tools with jack o' lantern

Pumpkin Carving Stencils

If, like us, you would like a little help in bringing your artistic vision to life this year, consider using a pumpkin stencil.

We have been using pumpkin stencils for a long time to help us get the perfect pumpkin every single year. Because pumpkins are 3D, it’s not like drawing on paper.

When you go to draw on a pumpkin to sketch out your design, it can be hard to match the vision in your head to the drawing on the pumpkin.

And while you can redo the tutorial or watch a video on how to bring a specific look to life, pumpkin carving stencils are a great way to quickly draw what you want.

Where Can I Buy Pumpkin Carving Stencils?

Most major retailers sell pumpkin carving stencils during the months of September and October in preparation for the fall holiday.

There are a few different kinds of pumpkin carving stencils available, but most are made of a pliable material that easily bends around the pumpkin while still holding its shape.

If you’re looking for a custom pumpkin carving stencil, Etsy is a great place to find what you’re looking for and support a small business.

You may also have luck finding stencils at thrift stores in the holiday section, or on Facebook Marketplace, which is where we happened to find ours last year.

Can You Print Pumpkin Stencils?

The short answer is yes, you can print your own pumpkin carving stencils at home. The most basic way to do this is by simply printing on computer paper when your home printer.

If you have a cutting machine, you can also print and cut out your stencil that way too, and it’s definitely a fast and easy way to bring a stencil to life.

But if you’re just working with a printer and basic printer paper, you can still print out a stencil.

Once you’ve selected your stencil online, you’re going to want to print it on the sturdiest paper you have around your house.

We recommend cardstock, but if you only have printer paper, you can make that work. Once your design has been printed, you’re going to need to start cutting.

Color design can be tricky, especially if the stencil that you have selected has lots of little pieces to cut out. Before you start cutting, determine which areas of the paper need to be cut and which areas need to be left behind.

Cutting out stencils can be really tricky because you have to think about how it will be traced on the pumpkin, and when you’re carving, which parts need to be left behind and which parts need to be taken out.

Take your time cutting, but don’t concern yourself with being overly accurate. This is essentially a rough sketch to help you get your design onto a pumpkin.

Once your design is all cut out, use strong tape to secure the paper to the pumpkin. Bend the design around the pumpkin and secure it in place with tape.

Then, transfer your design to the pumpkin with a marker you can easily see, and that won’t rub off as you begin carving.

two women carving a pumpkin using a paper stencil

Do You Cut Out the Black or White on a Pumpkin Stencil

Do you remember how we said it’s important to know which part of the stencil you cut out?

If you’re downloading an online stencil, or if you’re cutting out one from a kit, you need to determine if you’re cutting out the black parts, the gray parts, or the white parts of your stencil.

As a general rule, you cut out the black areas And leave the white and gray areas alone. That being said, you are specific stencil may have different rules.

That’s why it’s really important to read the stencil instructions if you are cutting out a stencil from a DIY pumpkin stencil kit. On your stencil, you may be cutting out something different.

Can You Use Tracing Paper on a Pumpkin?

If you have a really strong tracing paper that leaves very dark marks, and you prepare your pumpkin correctly, you can use tracing paper on a pumpkin.

Firstly, you’re going to want to bring your pumpkin as close to room temperature as possible. It may sound silly, but a lot of pumpkins are really cold, and that doesn’t help the tracing paper transfer process.

Secondly, you’re going to want to make sure that your pumpkin is very dry.

Thirdly, you’re going to want to try this tactic on a pumpkin that’s pretty flat on one side.

Because tracing paper can sometimes leave a mark where your hand is holding the paper, it’s a good idea to work with a surface that’s loud enough that you don’t have to manhandle the tracing paper.

Because a pumpkin is a slippery surface, you can try wrapping it up a little bit in order to make the ink from tracing paper stick better. You can do this with light sandpaper or a chemical exfoliant.

If you can’t see the marks from your tracing paper, use something like a marker with a stick tip instead of a pencil, which has a relatively thin tip that can be hard to see and transfer.

Where Can I Find DIY Pumpkin Stencils Online

You can find pumpkin stencils free on several websites, or you can purchase them from places like Etsy.

There are also dozens of popular home decor craft creators on Instagram that may offer up their stencils for free. Pinterest is another great resource for finding free stencils.

If you can’t find a stencil you like online, try drawing one out yourself.

How To Draw Your Own Pumpkin Stencil

hands drawing stencil on pumpkin

Sometimes the hardest part of drying out a pumpkin is the shape of the pumpkin. If you like drawing, consider drying out your own stencil on paper and then transferring it to your pumpkin.

The round shape and slippery nature of a pumpkin are not conducive to detailed drawing, and it may help to get a basic shape and idea of your pumpkin carving on paper first.

Remember that you have to think about pumpkin carving in positive and negative spaces. It’s not like drawing a picture where you can add lots of shading and color and texture.

With a pumpkin carving, all you have is the pumpkin that remains and the pumpkin that you cut out to create a picture. This requires you to think a little bit differently when you’re drawing.

For example, if you’re going to draw a face for your pumpkin, we recommend drying the eyes and nose, and mouth on your paper and blacking them out, so you know that those are spaces you need to cut out.

In fact, it might be a good idea, if possible, to draw your stencil containing only places where you need to cut something out of the pumpkin. This will help you get a good idea for the carving.

Once your drawing is complete, cut out the spaces that need to be cut out, and tape your stencil to your pumpkin. Then use a Sharpie to transfer the drawing to the pumpkin.

Now it’s time to start cutting.

Pumpkin Carving Tips

hand with knife carving pumpkin

Before you add a design to your pumpkin, you’re going to need to do a little bit of pumpkin maintenance first.

First, clean off your pumpkin. When possible, work with a warmer pumpkin that’s been in the house for a few days. This will help the pumpkin clean up a little better.

We use Dawn Powerwash to scrub down our pumpkin to create a really clean surface to draw on. You can also run a little bit of rubbing alcohol over the pumpkin after it’s been cleaned.

After your pumpkin is nice and clean, it’s really important that you dry it very thoroughly. Any excess moisture will make transferring a drawing to Pumpkin nearly impossible.

Then it’s time to start carving, and we recommend starting with the lid. If you’re going to be placing a candle in your pumpkin outside, we have a tip for cutting the lid.

Don’t just cut around in a circle. Cut a few notches or zig zags so that your pumpkin lid stays snug on top of the pumpkin outside in the wind and the weather.

We always add one go with it on hi there end of the pumpkin lid to really hold the pumpkin lead in place – and the one year we forgot to do it we really regretted it.

Next, it’s time to clean out the inside of the pumpkin. And if this gives you the ick, we recommend finding a friend to help you out.

We save the seeds for roasting, and we quickly clean the inside walls using a credit card to scrape down the Walls. It works better than almost any tool you will find in a pumpkin carving kit.

Once the inside is thoroughly cleaned out, you’re ready to start carving a design on the front of your pumpkin.

Painted Pumpkins

Maybe you’ve reached this point in the article, and you decided that carving pumpkins is not for you. You are not alone, and you don’t have to miss out on all the pumpkin fun.

Painting pumpkins became popular a few years ago, and it’s a trend that you can still enjoy today.

Using basic acrylic paints, you can paint different designs on the pumpkins so that you have something fun and festive in your space while avoiding the mess of pumpkin carving.

You can paint a traditional pumpkin face, or you can get creative. Our favorite painted pumpkins are the ones with lots of pastel ghosts painted all around the pumpkin.

To make sure that your paint adheres as well to the pumpkin, make sure that the pumpkin has been cleaned thoroughly and dried very well.

After you wash up your pumpkin, we recommend waiting about half an hour before you start painting. And similarly to carving, painting pumpkins is a little more pleasant if you work with a room-temperature pumpkin.

And if even painting pumpkins sounds like too much work, we recommend kicking back and enjoying your favorite pumpkin dessert instead. It’s the best of both worlds.