Clock Face

Applying the Clock Numbers


 Historically, Roman Numerals have been the hour-markers of choice on clocks.  Now you have many other alternatives.  You can choose regular “Arabic” numbers in any size or font, or add other shapes or symbols.  I have designed clocks with the Chinese, Japanese, and Korean symbols for each number.  I have another design with the Spanish numbers spelled out (uno, dos, tres, etc) in each hour spot.  You can mark just the 12, 3, 6, and 9 hours.  Or mark each hour with some type of craft embellishment (pegs, beads, etc) and forego the numbers completely.  Add words instead of numbers: 12:00 Lunch, 3:00 Nap, 6:00 Dinner, etc.  For a music lover, put different musical notes or symbols at each of the hour markers.  The possibilities are literally endless.  You can be as creative or as simple as you would like to be.      

 After choosing the style you want, you have several options for applying the face to your clock.  Depending on the method you choose, this is usually the most time-consuming step in making your clock.

 Vinyl Numbers (Stickers)

 “Vinyl Plotters” (machines that print big stickers) are becoming very popular.  You have probably seen them on decorative signs or on the walls of a child’s bedroom.  You can have your entire clock face (along with personalization) plotted and perfectly spaced for you.  The stickers come between two sheets.  You just peel off one side, apply the clock face (using the provided directions), and rub on each number and letter, before removing the backing.  This method is very quick and easy.  Vinyl sticker providers can be easily found through the Internet.

 Creating Templates

 For methods other than vinyl stickers, you will need to make a template for your clock face.  On my first few clocks, I spent hours with a ruler trying to pencil on numbers that were perfectly spaced and sized.  What a nightmare!  It is much easier to create a template on a smaller scale (a regular sheet of paper), and blow it up to the correct size on a giant copy machine at your copy center.  These giant copies cost only about $2.00 to $5.00, depending on the size of your clock.  Making templates to enlarge will save you hours of frustration, and your clocks will be in perfect proportion.  Spacing is essential with clocks!  When blowing up your template, just remember to leave at least 1 to 1 ½ inches on each side of your minute and hour markers.  (For instance, if making a 30” clock, I would enlarge the template to about 28” across (from the hour markers at the 3:00 and 9:00 hours). 

 If you are planning to add a name to your clock face, it is a good idea to add a horizontal line where you want the name to be, before enlarging your template.  This will help you to make sure the name is straight later on. 


 After your template is enlarged and cut out, mark the exact center.  Put the template on your clock, poking a pen through the center to line it up with the center hole of the clock.  Then tape the paper down around the edges (between the numbers).  This helps to stabilize your template, to keep it from sliding while transferring your numbers. Then slide a piece of transfer paper or “graphite” transfer paper under the template.  First make sure you have the marking side down.  Use a pen or pencil to trace each number, hour and minute marker, and the personalization line (if putting a name on your clock).  Do the personalization line lightly- this will be erased after you line up the name. 

 There are a couple ways to draw and fill in your numbers after using the transfer paper.  First, you can paint them by hand.  This method is very tedious and time consuming.  You can also use paint markers.  For most people, these are easier to control than a paintbrush, but be careful that the paint does not run or come out too fast.  Another option is to use permanent markers.  You can trace the numbers and draw the minute/hour markers with a Sharpie, and then fill the numbers in with a thicker permanent marker.  If using markers, you can do a light faux finish over the top, to reduce the shine, but it still won’t look quite like paint.


 Stenciling is my method of choice for applying clock numbers.  If you have the time and a steady hand, you can make your own clock stencils, or you can have them made for you.  Making stencils is not difficult, but it does take some time.  All you need is a steady hand, a stencil-cutting knife, and a little patience.  Depending on your preference and the size of your clock, there are a couple ways to create stencils for your clock face.  You can use small stencil sheets, fitting a couple numbers on each page.  You can also make a stencil for the minute and hour markers (unless you prefer to add them by hand).  Then, line up each stencil with its corresponding number you traced on your clock.  Tape the corners to prevent shifting, and paint the numbers using a stencil brush. 

 Stenciling without Tracing

 Another option is to make a stencil of your entire clock face.  This eliminates the need for any tracing onto the clock.  It is difficult to find stencil sheets that big, but there are other things you can use.  I buy large pieces of thick plastic (usually used for tablecloths) from a roll in my fabric store.  Whatever you use, it must be thin enough to cut, but thick enough to be durable.  Make sure it is something that will lay flat. 

 It takes some time and patience to make a big stencil of your entire clock face (you can hire a stencil-making company to do it if you prefer).  It may be worth having whole clock face stencils, especially if you plan on making a lot of clocks.  If you go to the trouble of making large stencils, take good care of them so they will last.  Large stencils are more difficult to clean in a sink, but baby wet wipes work great for this.  Your large stencil needs to be stored in a safe flat place, like between two large pieces of cardboard under a bed. 

 Stenciling technique

 Stenciling is not difficult, but it does take some patience.  The trick is to have just the right amount of paint on your brush.  If you use too much at once, the paint will seep under the stencil.  After dabbing your brush in paint, tap the tip against a piece of cardboard or paper to remove most of the paint.  When the paint is just lightly showing as you dab, then you are ready to paint with your stencil.  Stenciling takes some time, but if you try to rush and use too much paint you will spend more time correcting mistakes than it would have taken to go slowly from the start.


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