When you first go shopping for stamps you’ll see a glorious array of designs in all shapes and sizes; words, pictures, collage designs, abstract designs, borders and corners. It’s tempting to go for large picture stamps at first – I know I did, and I have several rather expensive stamps that never get used – they simply aren’t versatile enough. For your very first stamp purchase, I’m going to suggest that you get the words “Happy Birthday” (or “Merry Christmas” if you are thinking about making Christmas cards) in a fairly simple font that will work with lots of different styles of card. Choose one big enough to stand alone as a focal point but small enough to add to a card that already has a main image – around 8cm by 5cm is useful.
Stamps come in several types. The traditional ones are made of rubber and mounted on wood. If you treat these carefully, they will last just about forever. But they can be expensive, and if you buy a lot of them, can take up a lot of storage space. Much cheaper, and in a fantastic range of designs, are the clear plastic ones. If you buy these, you need to buy clear acrylic blocks to stick them to when you are using them. Simply peel them off the backing sheet and place them on the block, where they will cling until you remove them. Clear stamps can discolour when certain inks are used with them – this is nothing to worry about, as it won’t affect the performance. But they don’t last like rubber ones – I’ve found that older ones, especially ones that don’t get regular use, can go rigid and crack. There are also unmounted red or grey rubber ones, intended for you to mount yourself. I sometimes use these by sticking them to an acrylic block with a glue stick, then cleaning off the glue immediately after use, but it isn’t an ideal way to use them!
Next you will need an ink pad. Again, you will be tempted by all the colours and types of ink available. But many of those ink pads aren’t suitable for the straightforward stamping you’ll be doing to start with. Make sure that whatever ink you buy says the word DYE somewhere on the packet – you often need to look at the BACK label to find out! This means that it will dry quickly and cleanly on most surfaces. Pigment inks are for embossing with (more on that later) and Distress inks are great for blending and covering surfaces with – you CAN stamp with them, but they’re not ideal to start with. Ignore all those lovely colours, glittery metallics and rainbow pads – they all have their places, and you can add them to your collection later on. To begin with, just buy a plain black one. With this, you can stamp words for on cards, stamp images to colour in, stamp silhouettes and edge papers to give them more definition. Most experienced stampers still use black or dark brown ink more often than any other. For a very first inkpad purchase, I suggest a Memento inkpad in Tuxedo Black.
Then you need something to stamp on. White card is the best to start with, although you can get some great effects with other colours and with patterned papers. Choose a good, smooth but not glossy card. A lot of the cheap card sold in pound and bargain stores doesn’t have a smooth surface and will give your stamped edges a slightly blurred effect, so it is worth spending a few pence more and buying card sold by a craft company – if you don’t want to order online, you will find it (in the UK) in stores like Hobbycraft and The Range, or if you are lucky enough to have a local craft shop, ask the staff to recommend a good stamping card.
Finally you need something to clean up with – dirty stamps can get clogged with ink and that will spoil the image. You can get specialist stamp cleaners, but to start with a pack of unscented baby wipes (the kind sold for sensitive skins) is ideal, and useful for lots of other messy-craft-cleaning jobs too.
Right, you’re home from the shops and raring to go. What now?
First of all, prepare your stamp. If it’s a wooden one, get a piece of sticky tape and quickly and lightly press it to the surface of the stamp a few times to remove any polish, preservative or, if you’ve bought it from a display, dirt and grease from grubby fingers. A clear plastic one just needs to be removed from the pack and stuck to an acrylic block. If you’ve bought a set of blocks, choose one that the stamp fits comfortably on without having too much space around the edges.
Now get your card ready to stamp on. You’ll often find that you get a better image if it’s not sitting on a very hard surface. I use a wodge of scrap paper from an old, non-standard sized printer. It just has a tiny bit of give – and it also means I can test stamps on it before I apply them to my card, stamp over the edges of the card without making a mess of my craft mat, and generally not worry about any mess I make as I can simply throw the top sheet away. And as we’ll see next time, it’s great for when I’m heat embossing too.
At last it’s time to ink your stamp – and if you’ve tried stamping before and not had much success, this could be where you are going wrong. Do NOT lay the inkpad on the table and press your stamp onto it. You’re not a 1950s librarian! Instead, lay the stamp flat on the table and tap your inkpad gently and repeatedly over the surface until it is evenly covered in ink. There are two reasons for this. The first is that by doing it this way, it really doesn’t matter what size your stamp and pad are – you can use the cute little 1” square pads just as easily on a huge stamp as on a tiny one. The second is that you have far more control over how much ink is applied to the stamp, so that it doesn’t get pressed into the grooves and onto the wooden or acrylic surround. If you DO get any ink on the surround, wipe it off quickly with a tissue.
And then, quickly before your ink starts to dry, turn your stamp over and press it smartly and cleanly straight down onto your card. Don’t tap it, and don’t lift it off straight away, instead press down evenly over the back without wobbling or rocking it at all. Then lift it smartly away, again without any sideways movement, and you should see a good, sharp, clear image of your design. Practice this until you are sure you know just how it feels to be holding the stamp and pressing it down correctly. And when you’re satisfied that you’ve got the knack, don’t forget to close the lid of your inkpad and clean your stamp. Extra-grubby clear stamps can be washed under the tap, or in lukewarm soapy water, and if you have old ones that don’t cling too well this can be a good way of restoring the cling. But don’t get wood mounted stamps wet, or the wood could warp. Inky wood won’t affect the performance of your stamp, although if you ink up your stamps carefully this isn’t likely to happen.
If you’ve stamped an image, you may now want to colour it in. You can use pencils, wax crayons, water colours, chalks or marker pens. Some marker pens are water based and some alcohol based – the reason I suggested Memento ink rather than any other is because, unlike some other inks, it doesn’t smudge when alcohol ink comes into contact with it. However if you are using watercolours, or water based markers, they CAN smudge, so you may prefer to save these until you’ve started to create embossed images. I’ve found a very useful guide to different inkpads and the best way to colour them on eBay of all places! http://www.ebay.co.uk/gds/GUIDE-TO-RUBBER-STAMPING-INK-PADS-PIGMENT-OR-DYE-/10000000005503021/g.html
I’m not a great expert on colouring techniques but if you search You Tube or Google for “Colouring stamped images” you’ll find lots of advice, information and inspiration.
Here’s a little video I have made of stamping an image, or you can view it on YouTube – please forgive the quality, it’s the very first time I’ve recorded a video on my DSLR so I was too worried about getting it right to actually SAY anything! Plus I was holding and operating the camera in my right (which in my case is my wrong) hand, while trying to stamp single handedly. If the video looks OK-ish despite all that once I get it on to the blog, I’ll set up the tripod before I make my next instalment, which will be about heat embossing, because I definitely can’t do THAT one-handed!