Hein (fub) wrote,

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How to get started with cutting stamps

I've cut quite a few stamps, and I sometimes get questions on how to go about it. It's not hard, but like with everything, it takes the right tools and a bit of practice to crank out nice stamps!

First, the tools. I use a lino cutter from Abig. There are many manufacturers who make sets like these, and any store with artist materials/tools should have these. The set contains a handle, one knife and four gouges. You might want to get a spare handle, if you don't want to swap the gouges semi-constantly. The gouges come in four sizes, and in my experience you will use the most narrow one (nr 1) the most. Keep it sharp, get a few spares -- this will make your life easier.

Next, the medium. You can use rubber erasers -- an excellent choice for beginners, because they're readily available everywhere and don't require much investment. Get erasers that are supple -- you don't want stiff and brittle erasers, because you don't want pieces to break off.
When you've decided you want to continue with this hobby, you could move on to the 'official' stamping rubber. This is often sold in sheets, so you can make larger designs: simply cut off the piece you need. Stampeaz has everything you want. I've become a big fan of their 'PZ Kut' medium, and most of my stamps were cut from their grade 'B' PZ Kut. Unfortunately, they're having manufacturing problems, but they've started up again with another type of material.
If you're just starting out, it might be worth your while to order their Sampler Pack, which also has the material from Speedball (the so-called "pink stuff") and a block of MasterCarve. The latter was too soft for my techniques (it fell apart while I was carving it), but there are others who love the stuff. Maybe you need to find what works for you.

Next, the design. You can draw your pattern on the rubber with a permanent marker. I myself have always used computer images as designs, simply because I can't draw. ;) Make sure your design is black-and-white only: there are no greytones in a stamp! Almost everything is possible, but you might want to start with relatively easy designs with clean lines.
There's an easy trick to get your design onto the rubber, if you have a laserprinter. Print your design and place the paper with the printed side onto the rubber. Next, rub the paper with acetone (I use the cheapest nailpolish remover for that) -- really soak that paper. The toner will come apart from the paper, and attach to the rubber!
Of course, using that method, you get your design mirrored on the rubber -- but because stamp impressions are mirrored too, your impressions will be the exact same as your design!

And then you're ready to start carving! If you work slowly and precise, you'll make a nice stamp! Here are some tips:
- Use gouge nr. 1 to make the start. Nr 1 is the narrowest, use that to trace the outlines of your design. Then when the outlines are made, use a wider gouge to cut out of the larger patches -- just like you used to do when coloring when you were a kid.
- Vary the depth of the gouge to vary the width of the cut. If you make a shallow cut, you can make a very narrow line, like so: . If you make a deeper cut, the line will be wider: .
- When making flowing lines, keep your gouge steady, move the rubber instead. If you want to create a flowing cut, it is much easier to keep your gouge steady and instead move the rubber with your other hand against the cut. That way, you can make much longer movements -- and hence get a much more steady line.
- Make a test impression. Maybe obvious, but hey. Make a test impression, so that you can see which parts get inked unintentionally. Especially around the edges or with large pieces of 'white', you run the risk of leaving something inked.
- Trim your rubber to fit your design. When you're done, you can cut the corners of the rubber to fit your design -- this will also help keeping the design 'clean'. Make sure that you cut diagonally, so that the top of the rubber (with the design) is supported by the rest of the rubber. Because you will apply pressure to the back of the stamp when making an impression, you don't want the material to 'topple'!
- Work safe. The gouges are sharp, and you don't want to embed those in your fingers! Be careful with applying too much pressure.

As for the impressions, my favourite inks are fluid chalks. Craft stores often have palettes of fluid chalk pads, offering a good selection of colors. Of course, a water-based or pigment ink pad will work too. When you're done stamping, rinse your stamps under running water and allow them to dry: clean stamps work best!

Of course, this is how I cut my stamps. There are other people who have other preferences, so experiment to see what works for you.
Tags: craft, how-to

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