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Beginner's Guide to Stamps

Stamping 101

The array of stamp designs and colors and types of ink on the market offer ready-made, theme-appropriate illustrations for your pages.

Put stamps to work to create eye-catching titles and one-of-a-kind journaling, or let them take on supporting roles as unique accents and backgrounds. Once you discover the versatility of stamps and inks you're sure to fall in love with them.

What do I need to get started?

Plan ahead. The number of stamping products on the market can seem overwhelming, but you can get off to a comfortable start with just a few basics and the build your collection over time. Choose stamps that you expect to use on multiple projects. Good early purchases include background stamps, geometric shapes, and alphabets.

Know the types. Rubber stamps come in two forms: mounted and unmounted. Mounted rubber stamps come glued on wood or acrylic blocks with a cushion. They are ready to use but are often more expensive than unmounted stamps. Unmounted rubber stamps require you to cut out the images and mount them (permanently or temporarily) before use.

Other options. Additional stamp types give you more versatility. Magnetic-mounted rubber stamps attach to a metal base and can be rearranged to spell words. Clear stamps stick to an acrylic mount, making it easy to see where you're stamping. And foam stamps are an economical way to get large letters and designs on your pages.

How can I use stamping to enhance my pages?

Now that you've gathered the right supplies and practiced your technique, look at some great ways rubber stamping can enhance your scrapbook pages.

Spell words. Learning the feel of your alphabet stamps is very important, so practice on scrap paper first. Use very light pressure; if you press too hard, outlines will appear around your letters. Alphabet stamps are very versatile and allow you to place journaling or titles on unusual objects and surfaces.

Create backgrounds. One of the easiest ways to use rubber stamps on a scrapbook page is to create background paper. Stamp one image or several images repeatedly or singly on your cardstock to get the look you want.

Stamp on various surfaces. Glass, metal, fabric, plastic, and wood appear on scrapbook pages, and you can stamp on any of them with the right tools. Solvent ink is a good medium to use, and you can experiment with paints and bleach for varying results.

What tips will help me along the way?

Get the best results from your stamps and tools with these tips from top designers.

Use the tools. Cover large areas with the help of a brayer. By rolling the tool (which resembles a small paint roller, right) directly over an ink pad and then onto your stamp, you get an evenly distributed coat of ink.

Keep 'em clean. Use a 1:1 mixture of water and window cleaner on a towel or pad. An alcohol-free wipe works, too. Stubborn ink may require a solvent-type stamp cleaner (allow the surface to dry before re-inking).

Employ clever ink substitutions. Markers make it easy to color directly onto the stamp surface. Juicy brush-tipped pens work best. For gradient tints, start with the lightest color, then apply the next shade, overlapping slightly to blend. Huff (as you would when cleaning a pair of eyeglasses) on the stamp before pressing it on cardstock to obtain a brighter image.

Hasten heat embossing. Cover a thick piece of cardboard or chipboard with aluminum foil and place it under your project before heating. The metal helps the powder melt quickly and can reduce the warping of the paper.

Keep powders at bay. Prevent embossing powder from sticking where you don't want it by rubbing the paper with an antistatic pad or powder bag or lightly dusting it with baby powder or cornstarch before stamping.

Heat-emboss without ink. Run a transparency through your ink-jet printer and sprinkle with embossing powder before the ink dries. Heat with an embossing gun, taking care to keep it moving to prevent excessive warping. Use clear embossing powder to add shine and dimension, apply a colored powder to cover the black printer ink, or output on a color printer and use clear powder.

What type of ink should I use?

Dye ink. This general-purpose ink is great for stamping on all types of paper. It has a very quick drying time, which makes it difficult to heat-emboss. It is normally permanent and waterproof. Dye ink soaks into paper and becomes more muted as it dries. It also can bleed or feather, causing the image to lose clarity.

Pigment ink. This thick ink is slow-drying, so it's a good choice for heat-embossing. It doesn't soak into the paper but instead dries on the surface, producing a crisp stamped image. A heat tool speeds up the drying process. Pigment ink won't dry on coated glossy paper.

One versatile pigment ink is a watermark ink called VersaMark. Clear when stamped, it gives a watermark look to paper surfaces, creating subtle tone-on-tone images that vary in intensity depending on the color. VersaMark also can be used to create a resist image by stamping on glossy paper and running a brayer with dye ink over the top.

Permanent ink. Also know as solvent ink, permanent ink dries by evaporation. The ink is designed for stamping on nonporous surfaces such as shrink plastic, glass, metal, and transparencies.

Chalk ink. This hybrid ink shares traits with both dye and pigment inks. Like a dye ink, it dries quickly, and like a pigment ink, it produces crisp images. The result is a soft, almost muted, chalklike finish, yet the colors are rich.

How can I store my stamps?

To figure out which storage system will work best for you, divide your collection into four categories:
-- Mounted
-- Unmounted
-- Foam
-- Magnetic

Once you have your stamps sorted by type, group them in a way that makes sense to you. Do you use your stamps by manufacturer (Hero Arts, Scrappy Cat) or by theme (winter, flowers, alphabets)? Figure out which way you usually work, and group similar stamps together. Then you'll be able to assess how much storage you'll need and figure out a plan. Most scrapbookers find they'll need more than one storage system to meet their needs.