Subway Art Tutorial With Silhouette Cameo

I’ve been having so much fun making subway art I thought I’d give you a quick tutorial and maybe save you some of the headaches I’ve experienced trying to figure it out.

1. Gesso your canvas.

Just a light coat is fine but make sure it’s completely dry before adding the vinyl.

Gesso the canvas

2. Measure your canvas, make sure the design fits, if not you can adjust to fit. Cut out your design. You can use vinyl or even contact paper. I use the dollar store brand, just be sure it’s a dark color so you can see it through the transfer paper. Be sure to test the cutting depth, you want it to cut through the vinyl or contact paper but not the backing paper.  I use a depth of 3 with a Cricut brand mat. That’s what JoAnn sells and I can buy them with a coupon. 🙂


3. Weed your design. Weeding is just removing the stuff you don’t want. I keep this on the cutting mat to do this.  Start in the upper left corner and work diagonally, work slowly and make sure all the letters are staying on the backing paper.

4. Use a safety pin to remove the centers of the letters.

 5. Apply the transfer paper. I use the Cricut brand, again that’s what I can buy with a coupon at JoAnn. I like the grid on it too, it makes it easier to keep things lined up. Burnish the transfer paper to the vinyl or contact paper with the popsicle stick.

6. Now carefully peel everything off the cutting mat. With the letters face down, carefully peel away the backing paper.

7. Now place the transfer paper with letters face down onto your canvas, being careful to get everything straight and evenly aligned. I use a ruler just to double check the edges are even. Now for the hardest part. Getting the vinyl to stick to the canvas. I’ve had a little trouble with this part. It helps to put a book or piece of wood under the canvas, just something to firm up the canvas so you can burnish the letters to it, burnish with a popsicle stick very aggressively. When all the letters are stuck down, carefully peel away the transfer paper. Be sure to save it, it can be used several times, just put it back on it’s backing paper and roll it up. As long as it’s still sticky it will work.

8. Again, burnish the letters to the canvas. Brush a coat of mod podge over the letters, brushing in both directions. This keeps the spray paint from bleeding under the letters.

Don’t skip this step, trust me. 😉  Let it dry completely.

9. Now you want to take it outside to spray paint it. First just do a really light spray over the letters. Let it dry completely.

10. Next, spray another light coat, then another, covering all edges,  allowing each coat to dry completely.

11. Now for the fun part, with a safety pin, carefully peel off the letters.

12. If you like it, coat it with one coat of mod podge to seal it. If not, any imperfections can be fixed by painting with a small brush.

I personally like them not perfect, I sand and distress most of mine,

it’s really a personal preference.

This is the best spray paint ever invented.  Trust me.

And my favorite one, I love this verse for graduates.

Please check my shoppe for the cutting files, I plan to add more soon.



Supply List:

Canvas – Most of the ones I use are standard sizes I find at JoAnn, they are 40% every day. I think the 12×24 is around $12.00.

Gesso – available at any craft store in the paint area.

Mod Podge – This is also available at any craft store. I like the the matte finish.

Paint brushes – just cheap craft brushes for the gesso and mod podge.

Vinyl or contact paper – I use Cricut vinyl or Dollar Tree contact paper, try the cheap stuff first, if you can’t get it to stick, use the vinyl. JoAnn will let you use a coupon so it’s not too terribly expensive.

Transfer paper – I use the Cricut brand, it’s what JoAnn carries so I haven’t used any other. I’ve heard you can use clear contact paper for this too, I would only use it if it has the grid, I like my letters straight. 😉

Giant safety pin – I have a dog so I don’t like to use straight pins that might get set down and roll off the table. Safety first!

Spray paint – I always use black but any color you choose, I buy Rust-oleum Painter’s Touch Ultra Cover 2x Coverage. This is amazing paint, I paint furniture, metal, wicker, glass, anything you can imagine without drips. It’s $4.50 a can at my local Ace Hardware,  shop around for the best price, I’ve seen it twice that price at a craft store. 🙁 Trust me on this, it’s worth the price, it covers so much better with no drips. LOVE this paint.

Popsicle stick – or anything for burnishing.

Sandpaper – if you want to distress it.

Picture hanger – I just use sawtooth hangers that push in. These are very light so those work just fine.

I think that’s it. Pretty easy and inexpensive.

If you try it, I’d love to hear how it went for you. 🙂


I recently stopped in at a sign shop to see if they had any vinyl scraps. They gave me a piece of dark green glossy vinyl. It was slightly thicker and very shiny. It worked SO much better, the adhesive on it stuck right to the canvas the first attempt. I think it was outdoor vinyl, it was still the same brand “Oracal” that is on the back of the Cricut brand but it was thick and glossy.

Some sign shops will apparently give crafters their scraps, she told me they give theirs to schools but gave me this one piece just to try.

I don’t think I’ll be using no-name contact paper any more.  I am on the hunt for discount (or free) vinyl now. 🙂 I’d love to know of any sources you know of.



A few people have asked about keeping things straight, I have always used the Cricut brand transfer tape with the grid on it.  The last batch I bought didn’t have the grid, it was on the paper instead, I was desperate and used it anyway and paid the price for it with a finished project than was crooked.

I have started using masking tape on the canvas, these are 1/2″ strips, (1 inch masking tape cut in half)  it makes such a difference even WITH the grid.  There are times that I just can’t get the transfer tape straight, once it’s stuck to the vinyl, well, it’s just stuck.

Masking Tape1Masking Tape2

55 Responses to “Subway Art Tutorial With Silhouette Cameo”

  1. Susan says:

    Thank you for such a wonderful tutorial! I finished mine yesterday, and it turned out fantastic! I love it!!

  2. Ashley says:

    If you want the canvas another color other than white, say blue, what would the steps be in that case? Thank you!

    • Janet says:

      Hi Ashley,
      You could paint it blue after the gesso but the one time I tried using acrylic paint instead of gesso, it peeled off the canvas. I would try spray paint and see if that works. If you wanted white letters with blue background, just follow the same steps but paint with blue spray paint instead of black.

      You could always just use vinyl and leave it on the canvas too, it comes in lots of colors.


  3. Anonymous says:

    You wouldn’t believe it but I’ve wasted all day digging for some articles or blog posts about this. You’re a lifesaver, it was an great read and has helped me out to no end. Cheers!

  4. Theresa says:

    I have a question for you. I painted my canvas with acrylic paint and I’m trying to get my vinyl to stick and it is not very well. I’m wondering when I get it all on if I should seal it with something so my letters don’t fall off.

    Thank you

    • Janet says:

      I’m so sorry, I’m just now seeing this. If you haven’t figured it out yet, yes, after you get the vinyl on the canvas, apply a layer of mod podge, it will keep the spray paint from bleeding under the letters. Let me know how it works out for you.

  5. Zachary Bertoli says:

    Very good write-up, I will bookmark this.

  6. I have been browsing on-line more than 3 hours lately, but I by no means discovered any attention-grabbing article like yours. It’s pretty value sufficient for me. In my view, if all web owners and bloggers made excellent content as you probably did, the net shall be a lot more useful than ever before.

  7. William Weslow says:

    How fun! I started back to school last winter… I am currently taking my second studio painting course and loving it! Yesterday I brought my 11 year old daughter to the studio and it was so sweet to watch her sit in my painting chair and in my painting space… it felt so right. I enjoy your work so much, Sania! Thank you for sharing. Your blog is one of my treats ~ Sue

  8. Corine Dalmau says:

    Amazing work. As Michael in the comment above says this is really art that needs to be framed and exhibeted in spacious gallery. Hope to see this work in Germany once.

  9. Jospeh Midthun says:

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  10. Maria says:

    Thank you for the tutorial and thank you lsiting the materials that you used as well.

  11. BJ says:

    hi, i am trying to figure out how to space and enlarge my letters so that they fit a large canvas. i would like to make a subway art with the streets of the homes we’ve lived in (for my husbands christmas gift). do you have any suggestions? i have a silhouette (never been out of the box as i am very nervous about how to use it :\
    thanks for your help

    • Janet says:

      Hi BJ,
      Take that thing out of the box!!! You will use it every day. To space out the letters, just under the text size box, there is a character spacing box, just increase the # until it fills the space. Have fun with it.

  12. Dawn says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this tutorial. This is awesome.

    Can you tell me what you did when you used the sandpaper to distress it? I started on mine but black dust was getting all over the white letters, so I figured I was doing something wrong. Thanks

    • Janet says:

      I don’t think you’re doing anything wrong. It will get on it but you can just wash it off with a damp rag. If you haven’t gessoed your canvas it might not clean off though. I just use sandpaper and sand it lightly by hand.

  13. Pam Vandever says:

    I love this tutorial. You are awesome, my question is..What method do you use to keep your lines straight? i am working on Jeremial 29:11 on a sheet of Glass, it is turning out ok. I have a hard time choosing the fonts i want to use. but it is fun with my Silhouette Cameo. i placed the back of contact paper on the back of the glass and drew the inch lines darker so i could see them better and it worked pretty well.
    Thank you for sharing your tutorial.

    • Janet says:

      Keeping it straight is the reason I always use transfer tape with a grid on it. The Cricut brand is the only one I’ve tried. Hope that helps. 🙂

  14. Audrey says:


    Just wanted to tell you what a revelation your tip on the Modge Podge was for me!!! Made ALL the difference in the world. THANK YOU!

    Also just wondering, did you ever find a medium that sticks to your canvas better than Contact paper? This is the part I find super frustrating…just seems there should be a better way because the process of transferring from the transfer tape to the canvas is ridiculously tedious 🙂

    Thanks again!

    • Janet says:

      Glad I could help, which tip was that? lol Do you mean painting the mod podge over the vinyl?

      About the stickiness of the contact paper, I’m beginning to think it has to do with the canvas as much as the contact paper. When I first started making these, I had no problems getting it to stick. I was using quality canvases instead of the lower priced ones. Or maybe it was just stickier contact paper, honestly, I wish I knew. It’s VERY frustrating for me too, I will say the bigger the letters, the easier it is.

      My next try will be using a better quality vinyl. I’ve been told that you can go to a sign shop and they will sell it or even give you their scraps. I will update my post if I find any better solutions.

      Please keep me posted if you find anything that seems to help.


  15. Rosie says:

    1000 thank yous for the incredible tutorial. I’ve had the Silhouette Cameo for about a month and short of cutting a design right onto the mat my first time and completely thrashing the blade, its been great. I followed your tutorial to the letter. Clear, concise and to the point. You covered everything. And it came out really nice. I even like it! I’m new to the whole blog thing so my attempt to attach a picture failed. But your instructions were absolutely perfect. Thanks so much.

    ps. Canyon Black 2x is now my color. Quick question. I have areas where my paint peeled a bit (maybe I let it get to dry?). I’ve looked for this color in a non-spray version for touch-ups but haven’t had any luck. Im thinking I’ll spray some right into a plastic bucket. Hopefully I can do that without getting dizzy!

    Thank you again.

    • Janet says:

      I just touch up with a black pitt pen. I usually distress mine so if it’s not perfect, I’m fine with it. 🙂 Thanks for letting me know it worked for you.

  16. Mellissa says:

    Great information. Lucky me I came across your
    website by chance (stumbleupon). I’ve saved it for later!

  17. Halley says:

    Hello! I’ve been following your blog for a while now and finally got the bravery to go ahead and give you a shout out from Kingwood Texas! Just wanted to say keep up the great job!

    • Lynnette says:

      Ha! Another silhouette user in my area! I am in Humble, Tx.

      This is a great tutorial. I’m going to use the verse for graduate gifts. Great graduate gifts for guys,,,,and I can make a card to match!

      Thank you,

  18. sjn says:

    I love this idea! I made a canvas over the weekend and it was a mess! I “gessoed” the canvas, sprayed it a creamy white, placed my vinyl letters, mod podged and then sprayed the black. When I peeled the letters off – all the black paint came with it!! Any ideas? Was it the paint after the gesso? Perhaps I shouldn’t do that? Love your site! Thank you!!

    • Janet says:

      Oh no! Sorry that happened. I don’t spray paint white after the gesso, that’s the only difference I can see. Make sure the gesso is completely dry before adding the letters too. I hope the next one turns out better.

      So is it ruined? I’ve used a permanent marker to fix little oops, then sand it and call it distressed. 🙂

  19. susan says:

    This is a fabulous tutorial and I am excited to try my first project!! Did you know you can get free samples of Oracal vinyl directly from Oracal? You can get up to 5 sheets per month. They are only 8.5 x 11, but FREE!! You don’t have any choice of color, but then you really don’t need to choose if you are removing the letters anyway. Thank you again!!

  20. Carrie says:

    So I created my own version of subway art. The letter task was very tedious, and at times made me want to just throw the canvas out the window. However, for someone that (I, myself consider) is not very crafty, I did well. My letters were much smaller than yours seem to be, but the larger letters were fine.
    I would love to share a pic of my project. However, I do not have a website.

  21. Carrie says:

    I mean’t to add in the above post that the result was beautiful. It actually gave me inspiration for other projects!

  22. jamie says:

    I was just wondering if you have any problems with with your vinyl or contact paper leaving a sticky residue? I’ve been making some signs on wood for our home and love them, I just dont like the sticky residue left over after I remove the vinyl/contact paper (i use whatever i have laying around). Any suggestions?

    • Janet says:

      Hi Jamie,
      I haven’t had problems with that, if you are using old product maybe the adhesive would be more sticky and leave residue. Sorry I can’t be of more help.

      • Cathy says:

        I’m also having issues with sticky residue left over. Mostly on anything that I’ve painted white. I can’t seem to find answers either. Everyone just says they don’t have this problem. Well, I guess you and I do. Please let me know if you’ve found any help on removing the residue. Thank you!

    • Juanita says:

      Hi Jamie, i realise that this originally was posted quite some time ago, but i too am having trouble with a sticky residue on my painted timber sigbs. I am currently using the Silhouette Cameo and silhouette brand premium vinyl, i am wondering if you were able to work out what to do, or suggest another type of vinyl. TIA Juanita

  23. Rosemary says:

    I absolutely loved your tutorial. I have a craft business in making rustic weathered barnwood signs. I just got my cameo and its still in the box. But your tutorial has helped me to get it out and use it.

    My question is “what is barnish” and what purpose is it?

    Second question, I make signs out of wood that are 6×12, 6×18, 6×24. What is the best way to make my stencils long?

    Can you reply to my private email?

  24. Dannie says:

    Hello would you mind letting me know which web host you’re utilizing?
    I’ve loaded your blog in 3 different browsers and I must
    say this blog loads a lot quicker then most. Can you recommend a good internet hosting provider at a fair price?
    Thanks a lot, I appreciate it!

  25. […] gallery wall but decided that I wanted to do something a little different.  After reading through All You Wish Design‘s awesome subway art tutorial I decided to take a risk and see what the Silhouette could […]

  26. Jessica says:

    I just wanted to thank you for your awesome tutorial. I’ve been looking for directions on how to make canvas art and your directions (and photos) were so helpful! I’m so excited to know how to use my Cameo to do this again!

    My project!

  27. Tina says:

    Great tutorial, may i ask you what font you used?

    • Janet says:

      Thank you! I have a couple of favorite fonts, one is Franklin Gothic Demi, the other is Kozuka Gothic Pr6N – BOLD. I believe it’s and Adobe font that came with Photoshop.

  28. Tiffany says:

    I love your tutorial and your step by step pics! Question about the gesso though. Do you use it because the canvas NEEDS it or are you using it to smooth out your canvas? The canvas I just bought for my first attempt says that it is “acid-free titanium acrylic gesso primed”. So I’m not sure if I should still gesso it or not.

    • Janet says:

      I use it because I have a hard time getting the vinyl to stick otherwise. Also, if you are going to distress it, I would think it will be easier to wipe the paint dust off gesso than a blank canvas. Let me know if you try it and can get it to work without it, any steps we can eliminate saves time, right? 🙂

  29. Donna says:

    Check out Expressions Vinyl. They have the best prices I have found on the indoor and outdoor oracal vinyl.
    I get the 12×24 sheets and cut them down to 12×12 for storage unless I need a longer sheet.

  30. Connie says:

    Would the method of putting the modge podge over stencil work on wood to keep paint from bleeding and can you paint over modge podge with acrylic paint

  31. […] easy either because the vinyl does not have a strong grip over canvas. This tutorial from As You Wish Designs, helped me a […]

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