by Kirbert

updated:  7/28/2005

You can find ink pads in red or black at any office products store; sometimes you can find blue as well.  The lid is hinged and the pad itself is recessed within the container, so the pad needs to be bigger than the rubberstamp.  Trying to ink a larger rubberstamp with such an ink pad involves trying to tilt one end or the other into the pad, and is just asking for damage to your rubberstamp.  That's why these pads are big, about 3" x 4-1/2", sometimes even larger.  The pads are usually made of foam, which isn't the best thing for inking a really intricate rubberstamp design; because the foam tends to apply the ink to the rubber in tiny droplets, it can make the finished image look a little blotchy.  You can buy ink in bottles with a roller on the top for re-inking these "industrial style" ink pads.

If you go to a crafts store like Michael's or the crafts section of JoAnn Fabrics or Wal-Mart, you can find ink pads in dozens of colors.  These ink pads are more attuned to the desires of the artist rather than the needs of the office worker.  They generally have a fine felt or fabric surface, ideal for inking intricate rubberstamp images.  Perhaps more interesting, though, is they are designed with a lid that comes completely off and a pad that is raised up above the base it's mounted on.  This enables you to ink a large stamp with a small ink pad by moving around on it.  In fact, there's little reason for the ink pad to be large at all.  Sometimes you can buy a package with several small ink pads rather than one large one, with each pad only 1" square or even smaller.  These are ideal for placing in letterboxes, if you choose to provide an ink pad.

There are two general types of ink pad available: dye and pigment.  The first thing most people will notice is that the pigment typically costs more than dye.  The second thing noticed is that dye ink pads seem to only come in basic colors such as pine green or royal blue, while the pigment ink pads come in more elaborate colors including metallics.

There are other differences.  Compared to the dye ink, the pigment ink takes longer to dry after stamping.  The difference is only a matter of seconds, but it must be kept in mind when doing such things as stamping a letterbox log book.  With dye ink, you can basically stamp in, close it up, and be on your way.  With pigment ink, it is of considerable importance that you wait the few seconds for the ink to dry before closing the log book; otherwise it'll get all smeared.

The pigment ink also has more trouble soaking into some types of heavy card stock.  If you use a pigment ink pad, you might want to carry along some tissue to blot the stamped image.

The pigment ink will often soak through really thin paper more than the dye ink.  If you are using a pigment ink pad for letterboxing, you should bring along a piece of card stock to place under the page you are stamping so the image won't bleed through to the next page.  Of course, that's not a bad idea regardless which type ink you're using.

After stamping, there's no ink left on the flat surfaces of the rubber, but there is ink left down in the cuts and grooves.  If allowed to dry, the accumulating ink gradually tends to fill in these cuts and grooves until eventually the rubberstamp loses much of its original detail.  This is apparently only a problem with the pigment inks; it doesn't appear to happen with dye inks.  So if you are using a pigment ink pad for letterboxing, you should carry along some tissues for cleaning the excess ink off the rubberstamp before returning it to the box.  Of course, that's not a bad idea regardless which type ink you're using.

Gee, it sounds like you want a dye ink pad!  But besides the available colors, there is one other benefit to the pigment inks:  if the logbook gets soaked, the pigment ink won't run.  Of course, some would argue that if the logbook gets soaked, it's ruined regardless of whether the stamped images run or not.

Finally, the kicker: as a result of some of the issues mentioned above, some letterboxers give explicit instructions not to use pigment inks in their letterbox log books!  For this reason alone, you might want to carry a dye ink pad; having only a pigment ink pad leaves you with the choice of either disobeying the placer's instructions, not stamping in at all, or simply not even hunting those particular letterboxes.

There is now a third type of ink pad called chalk, but some reports say it's really a type of pigment.

These various colors of dye ink pad found in crafts stores apparently are not intended to be re-inked; at least, nobody seems to offer ink for re-inking them.  You're probably expected to just buy a new ink pad when they're used up.  They do last a good long time, and they're not expensive.  You can sometimes find ink for re-inking the pigment ink pads.

Ink pads come in some odd shapes for various reasons.  Some people prefer the "cat's eye" pads that are shaped like an eye.  This is because you can use the pointy ends to apply ink to a particular portion of a rubberstamp rather than to the entire stamp.  Having applied different colors to particular areas of the stamp, you can then make a multicolor impression all at once.  For example, this method works well for stamping an American flag using blue and red ink pads.

There is also something called a "dauber".  Rather than a pad, it looks more like a fat magic marker.  You're supposed to go over the stamp with it before stamping.  Sometimes it comes as a "duo" with a different color on each end.

You may find some ink pads with special effects, such as "shadow" or "antique".  These inks do funny things when you stamp them.  The shadow tends to pull the darker color to the edges of the image, leaving the center portions lighter colored and giving a 3-D effect.  The antique tends to form a blotchy color, which gives the impression that it's old.

One final note:  I've never seen an ink pad that was anything close to being air- or watertight.  This seems a serious oversight to me, just asking for ink pads to dry out, or worse, get soaked in a rainstorm and leak ink everywhere.  Get a package of "craft bags" (little baggies) from the "Fabric & Crafts" department at Wal-Mart and keep your ink pads in them.