Applying An Image To The
Before you can carve an image onto your rubber
stamp, you 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
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 tracing?
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
powder (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.
Solvent transfers: 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
pure acetone 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), dampen 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
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 "blender 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
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. There are
reportedly natural and synthetic wintergreen oils, with the
natural being better for transfers -- and, of course, the more
expensive of the two. 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.
Iron transfers: Another 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
toner 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 together.
Rubbing: Finally, some people manage to transfer
images from laser printers by printing on parchment or something
else that the toner doesn't stick particularly well to, then
laying the parchment on the rubber and rubbing the back side
with a coin or some such. Parchment can be purchased at a
grocery store; it's used in cooking. It's available on a
roll or in flat sheets; the flat sheets are less curly to work
with. Parchment will often jam in a printer because it's
too slippery to drive through properly; to print, it's suggested
that you cut out a piece and tape it down to regular paper and
run that through the printer.
Selecting a usable laser printer: 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.
If your laser printer doesn't work well for transfers, one
solution may be to buy new toner for it -- cheap aftermarket
toner rather than the brand name stuff sold by the printer
company. There are numerous places online to buy no-name
toner, and these are far more likely to transfer well than the
good stuff. http://www.4inkjets.com/
is one such supplier.
Another solution is to simply find another printer to work
with. Atlasquest has a chart
listing various laser printer models and toners with comments by
users on transfer success.
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 usually not 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 and dries, 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.
I have worked out a (hopefully foolproof) step-by-step process
for transferring an image from an inkjet printer to rubber, as
Step 1: If you don't have Irfanview, get it:
It's free, there's no reason not to.
Step 2: Load a sheet of something that ink won't soak
into into your inkjet printer. Items known to work include:
- Parchment -- available at grocery stores. Cut out a
piece and tape down to regular paper; the parchment alone
tends to jam in a printer.
- Overhead projector sheet -- the type intended for
laserjets seem to work best here.
- Sheet of stick-on labels with all the stick-on
- Sheet of cellophane cut from a report cover; a
"frosted" type works best. If you get a clear one, you
might need to buff the surface a little with ultrafine
sandpaper, 1200 grit or so.
- The best option: mylar sheet intended for
drafting. Dick Blick offers mylar,
as do many other suppliers.
Step 3: Bring up your image in Irfanview, click on Image,
then Decrease Color Depth. Select "2 colors
(black/white)". Click OK. This will make your image black
and white -- not grayscale, but actually black and white.
If your image was B&W to begin with, the option of Decrease
Color Depth won't even appear for you.
Step 4: Click on Image, then Palette, then Edit Palette.
You should see a large window with two boxes in the upper left
corner: One black and one white. Double-click on the black one.
It'll bring up a selection of colors to choose from. Click on
the blue, which is near the center of the array of colors. Click
OK. Click another OK. Your image is now blue and white.
Step 5: Click on Image, then Color Corrections... You'll
be looking at several sliders. The one at the top left is
Brightness; move that slider to the right until the little box
next to it reads around 140. Hit OK. Your image is now light
blue and white.
Step 6: Click on File, then Print. Select the size you'd
like the image and how far down and right you'd like it from the
upper left corner of your printed sheet. Hit Print.
Step 7: Lay the rubber face up on something soft, like a
layer of foam. As soon as the page comes out of the printer, lay
it face down on the rubber and press it with a cold iron or
something else suitably flat. Press for perhaps ten
seconds. It may help to have a book the same thickness as
the stamp to lay the other half of the page on while pressing.
I would suggest you not save the light blue image at this
point. Rather, keep your original image on your hard
drive, and go through the steps above each time you need a
transfer -- which, with any luck at all, will be only once.
Why blue? Because inkjets have a similar problem to laser
printers in that some transfer well and some don't.
Specifically, the Canon PIXMA inkjet printers have 5 ink
cartridges, two of which are black -- one dye ink and one
pigment ink. Left to print in black, a print from a PIXMA
printer will not transfer. Switching to blue,
though, it transfers just fine. If you have another type
of inkjet, notably one with only one black ink cartridge,
perhaps printing in black ink will transfer just as well as
blue. If so, just omit step 4 above. You still need
to do step 5.
And again, believe it or not, cheap aftermarket ink may transfer
better than the brand name stuff. When replacing ink
cartridges, you'd be well advised to buy the knockoff ink from http://www.4inkjets.com/
or some other such supplier.
The reason for that 140 setting is that, left at a regular
setting, an inkjet printer will pile far too much ink onto a
sheet that doesn't absorb the ink. When you lay it on the
rubber and press, it'll just squeeze out into a gloppy
mess. By making the image lighter you convince the printer
to apply only a light layer of ink, just enough to transfer to
the rubber without smearing. The 140 brightness setting
works well with images that consist entirely of narrow lines. If
your image has broad colored areas, you might need to go higher
than 140, say perhaps 175 or so, to prevent making an unholy
mess. Experiment to find what works
best for you.
Some have suggested 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.
Note that a transparent or translucent material, such as the
mylar, is a better choice than an opaque material such as the
parchment or the stick-on label sheet, because it helps to be
able to see through it when lining up the image over the stamp
when transferring. If using parchment, you might consider
taping the parchment to a clear plastic sheet rather than to
If it gets messed up, clean all the ink off of both
the sheet 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 of
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. Parchment can be reused several times, although
eventually it loses its slipperiness and the ink starts sticking
to it. If you used mylar, you can
clean the ink off the mylar with household spray cleaner and
reuse it indefinitely; you'll only need one sheet for a
lifetime. The other items may last more than once, but you'll
probably need to replace them periodically.
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 the 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 arm 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
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 you 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 consider hand-coloring in the image on the rubber with a
marker to make it more apparent which areas need to be cut away