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rubber stamp basics

Carve Your Own Letterboxing Stamp

©2006 by aisling d'art

When I started carving rubber stamps, I was reminded of why I hated high school art classes: I'm frankly terrible at this kind of stuff. However, using Speedball's pink rubber stamp material (get the kit - it's worth it) makes this easy, even if--like me--you're all thumbs when it comes to this kind of stuff. The kit is under $20 at Michael's.

Low-tech method: Sketch your design on paper with a nice black pencil. I recommend a pencil with a 2B or 4B lead, or softer. Flip the paper over so it's face-down on the pink rubber pad. Trace over the lines again (or rub the back of the paper really well, all over), on top of the pink rubber pad. The lines should transfer well to the rubber.

High-tech method: Photocopy or use your laser printer to print the image/s you'd like on the rubber stamp. (Inkjet will not work for this.) Place the image face-down on the pink rubber pad. Dab the back of the paper with acetone (nailpolish remover), until the paper is saturated. The image should appear nice and dark, showing where to cut and where to avoid.

CARVING THE STAMP

Either way, the next step is easy. Cut away everything you don't want to grab ink. It doesn't have to be a deep cut, just enough so it doesn't come in contact with the rubber stamp pad when you're printing.

You can cut with block printing cutters, or with an X-Acto knife. Different people like different cutters. I took more block printing classes than I can recall, so I'm more comfortable with the block printing cutter.

What's key is not to undercut the image. That is, the part that contacts the stamp pad should be well-supported on each side. I like the illustration--and instructions--at Der Mad Stamper's website.

If you make a mistake, you can glue the errant piece back in, so be sure to save it. If you're using the pink Speedball rubber, Super Glue works fine. I used it, and except for the glue squirting all over my fingers when I punctured the tip to open it, it worked fine. (Another handy reason to have acetone nearby. It'll separate your fingers, but alas it doesn't fully remove the glue.) I applied the glue with a sewing needle, which did not stick to the rubber... but then the needle was glued to my desk when I put it down for minute.

If you use Super Glue, you'll need to sand the glue off the stamp before using it. The glue resists the ink. Sanding can be done with sandpaper, of course, but an emery board or file works fine too.

When you think you've cut the stamp pretty well, use a very light color of stamp pad to test the image. That way, if you need to cut more, you can still see your original lines.

Remember to cut less than you think you need. And also, it's supposed to look hand-cut, so leave bits of rubber lines here & there for that "artsy" look.

When the stamp is done, you can use it as it is, or you can glue it to a piece of wood (for a handle).

The Shakespeare stamp--of my all-time idol--was my first attempt at carving a rubber stamp. I still use it, years later.

I carved the Aisling one specifically for letterboxing; that was the third stamp I carved. The second one was regrettable and is sitting in landfill somewhere.

But, whether you have a hand-carved stamp that you love, a hand-carved stamp that's ho-hum, or a store bought stamp... get out and go letterboxing! It's important to go out and play, even with an imperfect stamp.


my first carved stamp
(the bard, of course)


computer graphic for stamp

final rubber stamp (2 1/2" x 1 3/4")


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