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Stamping Techniques

A stamp is like your own portable print shop. Surprisingly versatile (not to mention pleasantly affordable), this small-scale crafting tool can be used to create designs that bear an uncanny resemblance to silk-screening, stenciling, or typesetting.

Martha Stewart Living, August 2005


Images can be applied to almost any surface -- not just the expected paper, but also fabric and objects found in nature, such as stones, seashells, and leaves. You can customize clothing and linens with special inks that won't fade or run. Latex paint works on walls and wood, so take a look around the house and imagine adding a pattern to a stairwell, table, or chair. Getting started is easy. All you need are a few stamps, ink or paint, and the urge to make your mark.

We offer several tricks for achieving sophisticated results. You'll end up with original motifs that suggest intricate craftsmanship but -- shhh! -- require nothing more than the lowering of a stamp and a little downward pressure.


Stamping Basics

Designing Your Own Stamp
Any graphic design or text can be made into a rubber stamp; look in the Yellow Pages for a vendor, or search for online sources. Prices run about $5 per square inch. There are two stamp materials from which to choose: polymer or rubber. Polymer, introduced in the early 1980s, generally makes a clearer impression. But rubber is more durable and is still favored among most stamp users. Experiment with clip art or your own artwork, or have stamps made in your own handwriting or a favorite font. Download some of our favorite stamp designs.

Stamping with Ink
Practice on scrap paper. With some stamps, the edge picks up ink and leaves a mark. If this is the case, wipe that area clean with a baby wipe each time before stamping. On curved surfaces, use a rolling motion, stamping a portion of the design before gently lowering the rest of the stamp to the surface. Tightly close ink pad cases after use.

Stamping with Latex
Paint before applying the design; practice on a sheet of kraft paper. Use a brush to apply paint to the stamp. Mistakes on many slick surfaces can be wiped away with damp paper towels.

Stamping on Fabric

Purchase fabric pads -- special sponges that are saturated with fabric-safe ink. Test a fabric swatch before stamping a garment; wipe away excess ink on the stamp as described above in "Stamping with Ink." Also get a sense of how much ink and pressure to use. After stamping fabric, follow the manufacturer's instructions on the ink pad to set design.

Cleaning Stamps
For best results, clean your rubber stamp after each use, so the old ink won't unexpectedly appear on future projects. Begin by pressing an ink-stained stamp onto a clean sheet of paper until the impression is faint.

Next, wash the stamp -- how you do so depends on the kind of ink you've used. Water-based ink is easiest to clean: Gently rub the stamp with a dampened paper towel or a slightly damp cellulose sponge (labeled as such on the package; this type of sponge won't come apart as some others will).

Alternatively, rub the stamp with an alcohol-free baby wipe, which will also moisturize the rubber, making it less likely to crack in the future. If ink remains, scrub the stamp gently with an old soft-bristled toothbrush (or buy an inexpensive one for this purpose), and then blot the stamp dry with paper towels.

If you used permanent ink, apply a stamp-cleaning solvent, which is available at crafts stores. Scrub off any remaining ink with a clean toothbrush, and blot the surface dry.

Never soak a stamp in water because it can loosen the adhesive that keeps the rubber attached to the backing.

Stamping Design Tips:

  • Create your own patterns by combining multiple stamps in a single design or repeat one stamp multiple times.

  • Play with scale by using big stamps on small surfaces and small stamps on big surfaces.

  • To give a design more dimension, creating "shadows" and highlights by overlapping shades of ink or paint -- be sure to let your work dry between layers.

  • Experiment with different object to create new shapes and designs -- cut potatoes, apples, even leafy vegetables can be used to make unique motifs.

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