This section includes a basic description of stamps, mounting differences and general care of rubber stamps.

The Anatomy of a Stamp

What comes to mind as you think of a rubber stamp? I would say that most commonly there are 3 main components of a stamp: the rubber die, some sort of mounting cushion, and a "handle" of some sort. The components vary in combination with different types of stamps.

We'll talk first about those spongy little stamps with the sticker on top. I think I had some of these when I was about 5 years old--my brother and I stamped Bozo the Clown all over the house! These types of stamps are commonly referred to as "rubber" or "foam" mounted...I assume because that spongy part you hang onto when stamping is foam rubber.

Foam Mounted Stamps

Foam mounted stamps are probably the cheapest mounted stamps you can buy. You will commonly find them in the form of a perforated sheet of thick sponge with the rubber die glued directly on the underside. They will generally come with stickers you must apply after separating all the individual stamps from the sheet. These are referred to as indexing stickers, and allow you to see the stamp image more readily than staring at the rubber underside would. These stamps are great if you are on a budget -- or "rubber diet" as some would say -- and are also ideal for kids' use. If you are just beginning, you may want to start with this type until you find you are becoming addicted. At that point you will most likely want to move to a different mounting system for a few reasons...

Mounting Tension

One of the first and foremost reasons many beginning stampers become frustrated when using foam mounted stamps is that they tap the stamp in an ink pad and "catch the corners" of the rubber die in the ink, which then produces smudges around the stamped image where the corners have touched down. There are a few ways to remedy this:

  1. Wipe excess ink off the corners of the stamp before stamping the image down.
  2. Use markers to ink up the rubber image.
  3. Using an exacto knife, cut away the rubber at the corners, down to the foam mount level.
  4. Peel the rubber die off the foam mount completely, trim around the image, then readhere the image to the foam mount with rubber cement.
Another problem arises sometimes when you have a larger stamp or a long, slim image. The foam mount is not sturdy enough to provide even pressure and the rubber die will rock on the surface of the paper, producing a blurred-looking image. Heat or improper storage may also easily warp the mount, causing more imprecise results.

The final factor is that the indexing sticker that goes on the top of a foam mounted stamp does not line up with where the image is centered on the underside of the foam block. This is irritating when trying to get a precise placement of an image by "eyeballing it" from above when stamping . If you look at modification #4 from above to use on your foam mounted image, you'll find you can apply the same method to the index sticker. Remove the sticker, trim around the image shown on the sticker, then replace it--lined up with the image on the underside of the mount. If you apply contact paper over the sticker, it will give you a smooth surface, allowing you to wipe away excess ink that would otherwise stain the index sticker.

My solution to foam mounted woes? I COULD just be super careful when I stamp, but I don't have time for that. I don't buy foam mounted stamps anymore! I use wood mounted.

Wood Mounted Stamps

Wood mounted stamps have a rubber stamp image mounted to a wood block with some sort of mounting cushion between the block and the image. You will find mostly wood mounted stamps in any stamp store you happen to stumble into. These stamps are usually sold singly, are preassembled, and you'll pay much more for them than the foam mounted stamps. Since you are paying for the fact that these stamps ARE preassembled, take a moment to check out the stamps of your choice before purchase, by asking yourself:

Is the rubber die trimmed closely around the image to avoid excess rubber catching the ink on your inkpad?

Is there some type of firm cushion between the rubber die and the wood to help give you a consistent impression?

Is there an indexing image on the top of the stamp so you can easily identify it?

And of utmost importance to me, is that mounted rubber image lined up with the indexing image on top?

Does it have ink smudges on the wood?
(If it does, the stamp is used and therefore has less value.)

As you buy your wood mounted stamps and use them, you may find that you wish you could keep the wood clean. This can be accomplished by covering the unfinished/uncovered wood areas on the stamp with clear nail polish before using the stamp. If you've already got a few inky stamps, all is not lost...gather up some bleach and q-tips. Many ink stains can be removed by dabbing the wood with a bleach-soaked q-tip. It may take a few applications before you can remove, or at least substantially lighten, stains from more permanent ink types. Be sure your wood is completely dry before applying the clear lacquer over it, and be sure to avoid getting any lacquer on the rubber image.

Wood mounted stamps are my preference for paper projects, and I don't even think of using anything other than wood mounted stamps in other projects, such as those involving fabric or wood.

Unmounted Stamps

Many stamp companies are moving toward the trend of offering the rubber die, or the rubber die attached to a cushion, for sale at about 1/2 the price of a corresponding wood mounted stamp. You can buy your own wood mounting blocks from sources that cater to stampers or simply have a "wood-talented" friend cut blocks for your needs. There are companies who manufacture different types of mounts, such as acrylic mounts, where you can see thru to your image underneath. You can attach your stamp to these mounts with vinyl clings or velcro depending on the system you choose. Rubber stamp magazines such as Rubberstampmadness or The Rubber Stamper are good sources of advertisement for these products.

Acrylic Stamps

As I mentioned above, with the trend towards selling unmounted stamps and acrylic mounts, a growing number of acrylic stamp images are available on the market. These images are made of some sort of rubbery-plastic material (how's that for technical jargon?). The most popularly advertised benefit of an acrylic stamp, when used on an acrylic mount, is the ability to see through to the surface you are stamping on. In this manner you can line up your artwork without the use of an alignment accessory.

I personally don't care for acrylic stamps, because I feel they are of inferior quality. To me, it's like serving dinner with plasticware, instead of silverware. There are some neat stamping tricks that vulcanized rubber can facilitate, which I believe will damage or destroy acrylic stamps over time, such as velvet imprinting, impressions in sealing wax, and bleach stamping. In addition, I feel the acrylic medium does not ink up the same as the rubber die. And the most annoying factor is the suction that must be battled when removing an acrylic stamp from a smooth surface. Storage is also an issue for me--if I put my unmounted images away in a storage notebook or drawers, they are out of sight...and out of mind.

The Ultimate Stamps

Okay, so you've had it with the rubber mounted stamps, you can't stand the fumes of rubber cement and the hassle involved in mounting your own stamps, and acrylic stamps just don't thrill you. But at the prices of the preassembled wood mounted stamps, you're counting the years of mad-money you'll have to hoarde to gather a decent selection.

I have the ultimate stamps for you!

There are companies that offer wood mounted themed SETS of stamps you can use to create some awesome stamped stuff at half the cost of preassembled wood mounted stamps. The catch? You get ALL the supplies needed to assemble your stamps with your set, and you assemble them yourself with no nasty fumes or sawdust! It is so super easy, why pay someone else to do it?

Here's all there is to assembling these types of stamp sets:

  1. Separate the perforated rubber dies (mounting cushion is preattached).
  2. Trim the rubber dies close to the image, and match the dies with the included wood blocks of the appropriate size.
  3. One by one, peel and stick the indexing sticker on top of the wood block, corresponding to each trimmed die.
  4. Peel the backing off the cushioned side of the rubber die to expose the adhesive, and line up your rubber die with the image on top.
  5. Press firmly to adhere.

THAT'S IT! And for that you have saved over half what you would pay retail for a set of similar preassembled wood mounted stamps. Since you do the mounting yourself, you can also enjoy the benefit of preventing stains on your wood mounts by spraying all your wood with an acrylic sealer and letting it dry before mounting the stamps...this is much faster and easier than the nail polish method! These stamps are awesome, and there are some great quality sets available. To see what's available for yourself, check out this link to the Stampin' Up!© Online Catalogs.

Stamp Care and Cleaning

Caring for your rubber stamps is not a big chore. Two enemies are heat and direct sunlight. You can avoid these problems with proper storage. Whether you use a shoebox or a wooden cabinet custom made for stamp storage, just place them in a friendly location. If you are stacking your stamps on one another, I would suggest storing them no more than two deep in any container to prevent weight from above compressing rubber images. I store mine rubber down so I can easily locate the image I want to work with by looking for its index sticker. I am fortunate in that most of my stamps are wood mounted stamp sets I have assembled myself, and each set came in its own plastic container. There was even an index label with the set name on it that I stuck to the end of each container. So, most of my sets are stored in their cases, stacked on a regular bookshelf with each set name facing out. The container also helps me keep my stamps from collecting dust as they would if stored out in the open.

For other single stamps I have, I find that a cardboard drawer unit with shallow drawers helps me keep my stamps easily accessible and safe. There are other methods of storage, but these are the cheapest and easiest for me.

Another part of rubber stamp care has to do with how you treat your stamp when it is not in storage! You'll generally want to avoid harsh chemicals like bleach or household cleaners, and do not get any oil or grease on your stamps because that can break down and deteriorate the rubber.

There are a lot of things you can do to rubber stamps without harming them, but one of the most important things you can do to prevent or stave off harm is to clean your stamps properly. There are stamp cleaners on the market that you may buy that are formulated to be easy on your stamps. For most clean-up jobs, I personally use a mixture of half window cleaner and half water applied from a spray bottle to a clean-up pad. (NOTE: I don't care for window cleaners with ammonia and the only brand I have found locally that fits that bill is "Glass Plus".) The clean-up pad is a plastic-backed pad with short bristles that stick up into the spaces in the stamp image and scrub them out. I just twist and tap the stamp in the clean-up pad to rinse off any gunk, and then dry the stamp with a lap towel. Some inks are more permanent, or thick, in nature and may require a special cleaner and perhaps a toothbrush to do the job.

My biggest caveat is 'Clean your stamps NOW'. It may seem tedious, but I clean as soon as is practical after stamping and always put away my stamps clean. Everything else I procrastinate!

Rubber Repair

As I said before, you can really do a lot to your stamps and still not harm them. You can actually use bleach to stamp on a dark paper to "etch" out the design (and then rinse your stamp thoroughly with water) without hurting your stamp! You can even press a design into velvet by holding an iron on the cloth over your rubber stamp for 30 seconds and still not damage your stamp. You can melt sealing wax into a dollop and stick a stamp into it as it cools to leave an impression...and yep, you guessed it, the stamp emerges unscathed.

However, it is entirely possible that you will come across a stamp whose rubber looks a little neglected and will not work for you. One remedy for dried out rubber is to soak a paper towel with glycerin and tap your stamp on it to spread the glycerin on the rubber, then let the stamp sit on the paper towel overnight. Gently clean off the stamp the next morning. This can help bring back some of the elasticity of the rubber so you can stamp with it again.

One thing I get uptight about myself is when the rubber on my stamps get "stained" from a particularly strong ink. This is acutally harmless as long as there is no ink left on the stamp that will transfer again later, so don't be obsessive like me! If you needed to use a permanent ink to accomplish your masterpiece, then your stamp has served an artistic purpose. Just remember...a perfectly clean stamp is an UNUSED stamp...and how sad is that?!

On a final note, you can repair most any problem with a stamp as long as the rubber is still functional. You may need to find some cushion or some wood or some rubber cement, but it can be done. Stamps are sturdy and durable little creatures.