13 September 2012

tutorial: making stamps

Lately I've gotten super into making stamps, ever since taking a class at my friend Heather's store Bespoke. Way back in high school art class, we made wood block prints, and it's pretty much the same process, so getting a refresher was nice.

I've been making stamps for a whole lotta things, like the labels on my jam jars.

I've been wanting to make a stamp for a greeting card cover, one to celebrate a wide range of occasions and congratulatory purposes. And I thought I'd bring you along for the ride as I make it, so you can try it yourself. Though a steady hand never hurts, the thing about making stamps is that it's super easy. And you never need anything to be perfect. That's the charm of stamps: they will always look a little imperfect, so it's best to embrace that and go with it. Here's what you need to know.

Stamp-making tutorial:

Materials: You will need a few things that you probably don't have laying around, namely: 1. Tracing paper, 2. A set of linoleum cutters, and 3. A block of carveable linoleum. (I recommend the Speedball types since they are waaaaay easier to cut than regular block linoleum, and are widely available at art supply and craft stores. For this project I used Speedball "speedy carve," since it's the cheapest and this stamp is pretty big. Buy the blue or pink stuff if you're doing a smaller stamp and don't mind a slightly higher price.)

This is what the cutter looks like, and it costs less than $10 for the full set, including several sizes of gouge blades. 

I use the smallest size gouge blade almost exclusively. 

Design: Using Photoshop, Word or the design program of your choice, lay out the stamp design as you want it to look, in the same size you want the final stamp to be. If you're going to be creating a stamp of an image, not words, you could print it out or just trace right from a book or magazine.

Print out the image. It doesn't matter if it doesn't print perfectly, as mine didn't, thanks to low toner (we keep printing until the last hint of toner is gone -- waste not, want not!). It just needs to be clear enough to be traceable. 

Tape tracing paper over your image to keep it all lined up nicely, and start tracing in pencil. 

Graphite will transfer magically onto the Speedball speedy carve (not as well onto regular block linoleum -- another reason why I recommend using the softer stuff). Line up the traced image FACE DOWN on the speedy carve in the way that conserves the most space. You can get a lot of stamps out of one block if you position your cuts economically. Holding the image still, rub with medium pressure all over the back of the image.

Remove the tracing paper and you'll see a nice transfer of your image that you'll follow for cutting the stamp. It should appear backwards, so that it will print forward. If you accidentally reversed the image, start over at this point, and just use the other side of the lino block. 

Carving your stamp: As a first step, use the smallest gouge blade to trace around all of your graphite lines, outlining the elements of the stamp that you'll want to see on the finished stamp (as opposed to the negative space, which you're removing). Try to stay close to the line, or even on the line, depending on the design. Go for what I did on the outer left portion of the Y below, not what I did on the right side (which I later cleaned up). 

A tip on technique: For letters with corners, start in the corners and cut outward. For letters with curves, hold the blade still with one hand and turn the lino block with the other. You'll get the cleanest lines that way. 

You don't have to go deep with your gouges, and it really depends what kind of final look you want. I personally prefer clean-edged stamps without the grooves visible in the negative space, so I tend to go down a good 1/8 inch. But I have seen a lot of really cool stamps with the gouges visible, so it's just a personal preference. The gouges between letters or images don't have to be pretty. All that really matters is trying for clean edges on the visible positive space portions.

Repeat the process until your whole stamp is carved, and then do any clean-up you think it needs. After your first stamp, you'll also see if there are any areas where the lines are too thick and you can trim them down then. A bit of advice: You can always go thinner with the lines, but you can never go thicker. Start thicker and gradually thin the lines down. 

Now you're ready to print. 

Printing: There are two major methods of printing with stamps: 1.) Traditional ink-and-brayer, and 2.) stamp pad. Stamp pads are way easier and more convenient, but I'll show you both just for fun.

To print with liquid ink, start by mixing up your colors (you remember your color wheel right?) to make the final color you want. I was looking for a teal print, so I started with blue, white and metallic gold.

I mixed it up with a disposable chopstick and then rolled the ink on my small brayer.

Then I rolled the ink on the stamp...

... and positioned the card over the stamp, getting a fairly crooked result. Because this type of ink is a little bit tacky, it's hard to lay it over the card without making a mess, so lining the card up over the stamp is what's easiest. It's also more error-prone.

The other method is to use a ready-made stamp pad. I recommend buying stamp pads that have the sponge part sticking up from the base of the pad, so that you can use the pad to ink up a stamp much larger than the pad's surface area. Just lay the stamp out and press the stamp pad all around it, being careful to blot away any lines of ink that pool around the pad's edges. 

Starting with any background design you want, print your layers from back to front. Here I used some tree-texture prints in the background (that's a store-bought stamp), with my new handmade stamp as the foreground. If you use a really dark or opaque ink for your background, you may want to use pigment ink for the foreground (instead of regular dye ink) so that it will be opaque. In general, only use pigment for the foreground, since pigment over pigment usually doesn't look so good.

Repeat the process for the foreground. I used regular dye ink in black for the foreground. Pigment would have been overkill.

And you're all done! Yay for you!

For bonus points, you can glue your stamp to a block of wood (flooring samples from Home Depot or Lumber Liquidators work especially well -- don't pay the high price for the stamp mounting blocks at the craft stores). That makes printing a whole lot easier.

Another tip: wash and dry your stamp between uses, or anytime you want to switch colors. You'll be glad you did, and you'll avoid ruining ink pads.

P.S. When Mark saw me laying out this text on my computer, he assumed I was making it for silk screens (I've been screening some other things lately) for t-shirts, and he said, "Well that's awfully mean and sarcastic." Haha. Mean and sarcastic card, anyone?

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  1. what terrific stamp/cards - I could see just inking a portion (either the yay or for you) to get a totally different vibe too! Can you explain the difference between your technique and linocuts?

    1. Same technique as linocutting. Linocut just sounds all artistic, and I'm clearly taking it in a more crafty direction. :-)

  2. What a great how to! I love the tree stamps. I bet you could make that one too, it would be fun to carve it!

    1. I agree! I have a vision of making some kind of birch bark stamp that I could use as a background, but just haven't found the right picture of bark to use yet.

  3. Those are the most adorable stamps ever! I'm impressed.

    1. Thanks! Soooo easy to make, so it's the best kind of project. Easy to do, impresses others. :-)

  4. Am super-impressed. I took a PaperSource class last year and it was probably the first time I've stamped... not counting potato efforts as a kid!


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