Applying An Image To The Stamp
Before you can carve an image onto your rubber stamp,
need to imprint a copy of that image onto the surface of the rubber to
use as a guide. And it needs to be mirror-imaged as you look at
the rubber, so that it comes out correct when stamped.
There are several ways to put the image onto the rubber. The most
obvious, perhaps, is to simply draw it on the rubber in the first
place. This will work, but only with the most simplistic of image
designs. Even those pretty good with a pencil are likely to find
drawing backwards on a rubber surface to be less than ideal. It
seems everybody gets text backwards sooner or later using this method.
The next idea is only slightly more complicated, but it works ever so
much better. Draw your image on paper with a No. 2 pencil, then
lay the paper face down on the rubber and rub the back side. This
will transfer enough of the graphite to the rubber to make a clear
image for carving. Among other advantages, you're drawing
oriented correctly, not mirror-imaged, because the rubber ends up with
the necessary mirror-image orientation after rubbing.
And another idea follows logically from that one: using any image on
paper, just carefully trace over that image with a No. 2 pencil, then
transfer it onto the rubber. This method opens up a world of
opportunities, since pretty much any image you can find can be traced
with a pencil and then rubbed onto rubber.
In the specific example of images found in a newspaper, there's no need
to trace. Newspaper ink will transfer onto the rubber just fine,
just lay it down and rub.
If you're dealing with a digital image on a computer, you can edit it
and scale it to whatever size is needed before printing and
tracing. The option of making an image whatever size you wish may
alone be enough to warrant scanning the image and then printing it
rather than working with the original. The fact that you can mess
up a couple of times and just print the image out over and over again
is also handy.
Once you have the image on the computer in digital format, it seems a
waste to have to trace the printed image with a low-tech No. 2 pencil
just to be able to transfer it. And the quality of the image
transferred to the rubber is dependent on how good you are at tracing,
but it will inherently never be as accurate and detailed as the
original. The computer is doing an excellent job of applying the
ink in exactly the right places; wouldn't it be a better idea to figure
out how to get it to apply that ink to the rubber without the manual
It turns out to be quite possible, and works well. However,
whether you're working with an inkjet printer or a laser printer makes
a world of difference here. The methods of transferring the image
that work with one will not
work with the other. So, read whichever section of the following
applies to you, and remember never to mix them up:
A laser printer works by depositing a very fine black plastic
(toner) onto paper and then heating it enough to cause the plastic to
melt into the paper. The classic "Xerox machine" works
exactly the same way. Hence, for our purposes, a print made from
a copier is the same thing as a print from a laser printer.
There are two general ways to get the toner
from the paper onto the surface of the rubber: solvents and heat.
The most common solvent used here is acetone, which dissolves plastic
like gangbusters. Acetone is available in small, expensive
bottles as nail polish remover -- but there are apparently different
strengths available, and sometimes it's hard to tell if you're getting
or watered-down acetone. A better idea is to buy pure acetone,
which you can find any place that sells paint including Lowe's and
Home Depot. It's available in a gallon can for less than $20, and
there are smaller cans available as well.
Note that acetone -- as well as most other solvents that'll have any
effect on laser printer ink -- is a serious chemical. It has a
very powerful odor -- it smells like airplane glue, and for good
reason, it's the main ingredient in airplane glue -- and isn't
particularly healthy to be inhaling, so
always use in a well-ventilated area. It's also as flammable as
gasoline, so don't smoke or do anything similarly stupid around the
stuff. And finally, it's a solvent; don't let it get on anything
you don't want dissolved.
One transfer method is to simply lay the paper with the
printed image face down
on the rubber and soak the paper with a bit of acetone, and the toner
will quickly dissolve and be deposited onto the rubber. The
acetone will also dissolve the rubber if applied too liberally or left
too long, so be careful. An excellent method is to tear a small
piece of cotton cloth from an old T-shirt (nothing synthetic -- acetone
will dissolve synthetic fabrics), soak it with the acetone, lay it down
on the back of the paper, and press it with a cold iron for five
seconds or so. Don't use any heat on the iron; that'll just make
the acetone evaporate before it can effect the transfer.
After exposure to acetone, some people
complain that the rubber becomes sticky, but if you just set it aside
for a while the acetone will evaporate back out of the rubber
and all will be well. Some also suggest rinsing the rubber with
water, since acetone is miscible in water and will be rinsed away.
Some have used solvents other than acetone. One
option is xylene from a
pen", available at crafts stores. Carburetor cleaner has also
been suggested; you want the stinky stuff, not the "low odor"
versions. Still others use Citra Solv.
Many have claimed tremendous success with wintergreen oil, which is
sold at some pharmacies as well as some natural foods stores; it is
atrociously expensive, several dollars
per ounce, but it is used very sparingly by merely wiping some onto the
rubber itself and then laying the printed image down on it and
burnishing the back side of the paper. The nice thing about
wintergreen oil: While it's very effective at transferring the
ink, it will not dissolve the
rubber, which may be one reason it produces such clear transfers.
Whether or not you can stand the smell is a matter of taste, but it
definitely smells better than acetone. One downside: While
the acetone evaporates quickly and is gone, the wintergreen oil will
keep on stinking for a long time, so it's advisable to use it outdoors
or in a well-ventilated area as well.
The other laser printer transfer method involves laying the paper with
the printed image
on the rubber and pressing the back side with a hot iron. The
is designed to melt; you're just remelting it. Obviously you
want to be careful not to melt the rubber. A medium setting on
the iron is good, and apply it for perhaps ten seconds. Try
peeling up one corner of the paper and see if it's working; if not, lay
it back down and apply the iron some more. Do not try to use any
solvents with this method, as solvents and heat do not work well
One problem with these laser printer transfer methods is that they work
better with some
toners than others; in general, the older toners (for older printers
and copiers) work well, the newer toners for full-color machines not so
well. This is because the newer toners are designed not only to
melt but to "set", once melted they don't easily melt again. With
these toners, a hot iron simply won't work; you'd have to get it hot
enough to melt the rubber itself, and then the paper sticks to the
rubber and you have a mess to clean up. The solvents don't seem
to work well, either. The best solution seems to be to simply
find another printer to work with. If your laser printer doesn't
transfer well (or you have an inkjet printer) but you want to try
to get these
transfer methods to work for you, just run your
printed image through a Xerox machine and use the copy. It's
too difficult to find a copier that uses the old-style toner that can
be remelted with an iron. The coin-operated one down at the local
grocery store usually works great.
Inkjet printers work completely differently than laser
printers. There is no heat involved; rather, a tiny nozzle spurts
little droplets of ink onto the paper. The ink is truly ink, not
plastic powder as with the laser printers. Once inkjet ink soaks
into paper, it doesn't want to come
back out. Heat has zero effect on it, and
solvents are of limited use. Reportedly
carburetor cleaner might work.
Acetone definitely does not. The label on a package of
Speedy-Carve says a warm iron will work, but it won't.
The trick with inkjet printers is print the image onto something that
the ink cannot
soak into. Clear plastic sheets fit that bill, but unfortunately
the ink smears around so badly on plastic that it's difficult to get a
good transfer. The solution: parchment. What is
parchment? It's a type of paper that you can get in a great big
roll at your local grocery store for about three bucks. It's
alongside the aluminum foil and wax paper; it's used in cooking somehow.
The first problem is that parchment comes in a 15" wide roll which
won't fit through your inkjet printer. So, you're going to need
to cut a piece down to a more workable size. Second problem is
that it comes off the roll with a nasty curl to it; you'll have to pull
it across the edge of a table or something to convince it to lay
flat. It is possible to purchase parchment in flat sheets rather
than a roll, but they're more difficult to find.
Finally, once you get a piece of parchment cut to size, it's so thin
and wispy that it might not feed through your printer reliably.
So, instead of cutting out a piece that's 8-1/2" x 11", cut out a piece
that's a bit smaller and tape it down to a regular piece of
paper. That should run through the printer with no trouble.
You might choose to tape the parchment down to a piece of clear plastic
instead, for reasons that will become clear below.
Don't just load your parchment into the printer and hit "print"; you'll
be sorry. Open up your image in Irfanview
-- don't try to fiddle with whatever software you're presently using,
just go ahead and download Irfanview, it's free. Once the image
is open, click on "Image" and "Decrease Color Depth..." and click on
the button for 2 colors and click OK. You image is now black and
white, regardless of what it was before. Now click on "Image" and
"Palette" and "Edit Palette". You will be presented with two
color boxes, black and white. Double-click on the black
one. You'll be faced with a display of colors for editing.
At the far right is a vertical scale with black at the bottom and white
at the top and shades of gray in between. There's a little arrow
pointing at the black. Click-and-hold on the little arrow and
slide it halfway up the scale and release it there. Click on OK
twice. Your image is now gray and white. Now hit print! And when
you're done printing, there's no reason to save this altered image; you
can just as easily go through these steps again if you ever need to
print it again.
Some suggest taking the easy way and just printing in "draft"
mode. This works, but it loses detail; besides being lighter, a
draft print is also lower resolution. I recommend using the
method above; even if you can't carve well enough to make use of the
better resolution now, you'll never get better if you don't give
yourself the chance.
Immediately "stamp" the rubber onto the parchment and the
image will transfer onto the rubber. You can do this either
upside down or right side up. If you taped your parchment to a
sheet of clear plastic, you can lay the rubber down face-up and lay the
parchment down on it and see through the plastic and parchment well
enough to line it up. It also helps to set
the other end of the parchment
on something the same thickness as the stamp so it lays flat as you
press it. You'll need to apply pressure
uniformly, so use a
block or something to press the parchment onto the
rubber; a cold iron works great.
Lining it up when stamping right side up is more challenging.
Draw some guidelines on a sheet of
white paper, perhaps the outline of the blank. Lay the parchment
with the image printed on it over this piece of
paper, line up the image so it's properly positioned within the
guidelines and hold the sheets in position
with a clipboard. Carefully line up your stamp blank over
sheet and stamp it. Again, having the parchment taped to a clear
plastic sheet rather than a piece of paper will make it easier to see
If it gets messed up, clean all the ink off of both the
parchment and the rubber and try it again. To get the ink off the
rubber, just use a household spray cleaner and a paper towel. You
can usually get most of the ink off the parchment by simply wiping it
with a dry paper towel, but if some ink won't come off just use a
regular pencil eraser to remove it. The parchment can be reused
many times, and of course you have a whole roll of it. You can
over and over until you get it right.
If you have trouble getting all the ink off the rubber
between attempts, put a
little acetone on a paper towel and wipe it. This will take all
ink off instantly, but note that the acetone will also dissolve the
rubber itself if you leave it in contact for any length of time.
Just wiped quickly, though, this solvent action is a good thing; it
dissolves only the surface of the rubber and then evaporates quickly
whereupon the rubber surface solidifies again, leaving the surface
perfectly smooth and ready for work.
One downside of inkjet transfers is that the ink may never fully dry
on the surface of the rubber, and then gets smeared while you're trying
to carve. Smearing is a disaster, since you've already started
carving and will never get a new transfer to line up right. It's
important to support your hand on a clipboard positioned over the work
so you don't have to touch it while carving. Some also advocate
inking up the stamp with a very light color ink, such as yellow, and
then stamping it onto a paper towel or some such to remove the excess
ink. Once the yellow ink dries on the rubber, it helps "lock" the
inkjet ink in place. It also helps you see where you've carved.
Perhaps a better solution is to A) make sure your images are only
outlines rather than solid black areas; even if the stamp image is to
end up with a solid black area, just draw and transfer the outline of
it and carve accordingly. And B) use Speedy-Carve pink
stuff. Inkjet ink seems to anchor itself pretty well to
Speedy-Carve, better than some other types of carving material.
This author uses this method and doesn't have issues with smearing.
Whichever transfer method you use, applying a piece of paper with a
straight-up image to the surface of the rubber will leave a
mirror-image print on the rubber --
which, after you cut it out, will make a non-mirror-image print when
stamp it. So, print the same way you want the final image to
appear; the reversing onto the rubber takes care of itself.
If you are using the outline idea for your image, you might
hand-coloring in the image on the rubber with a marker to make it more
apparent which areas need to be cut away when carving.