Stamping 101: Choosing a Stamp

The basics of identifying, valuing, and collecting stamps.

There are thousands of stamps available in craft stores and hobby centers, making it difficult to select just the right one for a particular project. Stamps can also be expensive, so you want to be sure that you are getting the right one, or you could be wasting your money.

This article looks at the different types of stamps available and the best uses for each.

Rubber Stamps
Despite the name, these stamps are seldom made from rubber these days. Modern plastics have taken over, though the stamp faces are often still colored the classic red of rubber. There are a number of different types of these stamps.

The working face of the stamp is called the “die.” Generally speaking, the deeper the etched design, the better the quality of the stamp. A deep etch also makes the stamp easier to use, since you are less likely to get unwanted ink smears from the stamp background on your project. Another sign of a good-quality stamp is that the die is trimmed closely around the edges of the etched design; this also lessens the chances of unwanted smudges. It is possible to trim away any excess rubber with a craft knife if the stamp does smudge.

Art stamps are very fine-line stamps that produce beautiful images. They are usually of the highest quality, with hardwood backs, and are expensive. Look after them well, cleaning them carefully every time you use them. If you want to emboss an art stamp, you will need to use an extra-fine embossing powder to pick up all the detail clearly.

Letter stamp sets are a very useful thing to have in your stamp collection. They are available in various typefaces, but because they are quite expensive, it is a good idea to choose a set that is quite plain so that it will be suitable for most projects.

Foam Stamps
Foam stamps generally have simpler, solid motifs and are much less expensive than rubber stamps. They are good to use with children, since they are easy to handle, and it doesn’t matter as much if they get spoiled. There are two types of foam stamps — hard stamps and soft stamps.

Hard foam stamps will produce good, clear designs as long as you do not over-ink them. There is nowhere for any excess ink to go — other than onto the surface you are stamping on — so if you apply too much ink, it will just smudge out around the edges of the stamp and blur the image. If you want to apply ink to a foam stamp, it is best to use a roller.

Soft foam stamps absorb a lot of color, so they are best used with paints. You can brush the paint onto the stamp, or you can dip it into the paint. To do this, spread some paint out quite thinly on a plate. Dab the surface of the stamp onto it, making sure that all of it is covered. Soft foam stamps are usually lightly textured, and this texture will show on the stamped image.

Stamp Backings
The backing of a stamp is sometimes called the “mount.” Most stamps have a wooden backing that is either a block of wood or has an integral handle, making them easier to use. The best stamps have a hardwood backing, which is long-lasting and should give you years of use. Plastic-backed stamps are generally less expensive, and acrylic-backed stamps are becoming more popular.

Wooden-Backed Stamps: Large wooden-backed stamps often have a gently curved stamping surface. This allows you to roll the stamp onto the surface you are working on, making it easier to ensure that the whole die comes into contact with the working surface. Smaller stamps are usually flat, as there is less chance of poor contact, or of wrinkling the working surface when stamping a small image.

Plastic-Backed Stamps: Inexpensive stamps, especially foam ones, often have a molded plastic back. They are easy to hold but are much lighter than wooden-backed stamps, so you need to apply more pressure to get a crisp image.

Acrylic Stamps: Clear acrylic stamps are becoming more popular, since they are so easy to use. Though the backing plate is often shallow, you can see exactly where you are putting the stamp, making it easier to position them accurately.

Some acrylic stamps have the advantage of a removable die. You can just peel it off and wash it with water to clean it. The back of the die is tacky, so as soon as it is dry, it will cling to the acrylic backing plate again. You need only a few backing plates, and the flat stamps are easy to catalogue and store. They are also relatively inexpensive.

The clear design can be hard to see, so stamp onto scrap paper using a permanent black ink pad. This will stain the die a little, making it easier to see the design. The tacky surface also tends to attract fluff and dust, so work in a clean area.

Roller Stamps: Roller stamps come in various sizes, from mini to jumbo. Some contain ink cartridges and are therefore self-inking. If the cartridge is removable, then you can change the ink color as often as you wish. You can even buy cartridges of embossing ink.

Other rolling stamps need to be inked up by wheeling them over an ink pad. If you are careful, you can ink up different sections of the wheel with different colors and produce a multicolored image.

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