Rather than a product review, I’m writing an overview regarding the use of rubber stamps with polymer clay. I started my artistic journey eight years ago with a single book and a rubber stamp store. I married into a large family, and I got the bright idea to make greeting cards myself to “save money.” *snort* Eight years and many, many stamps later (no, I’m not going to say how many I have), I am incorporating my love of stamping with my newest love—polymer clay.
So, what stamps are the best for polymer clay? Well, all of them, of course! However, there are some things to consider when you’re buying images.
Mounted vs. Unmounted
The first consideration is whether to use mounted or unmounted rubber stamps. While there are considerably more images available mounted, unmounted stamps are much more versatile:
- You can run (thinner) unmounted stamps through the pasta machine with your clay
- You can bend and peel the unmounted stamp off the clay, making it easier to remove when impressing into the clay
- You can use a roller to impress the clay much more easily than with mounted stamps
- Unmounted stamps, on average, are half the cost of mounted
- Unmounted stamps are easier to store and transport
- There are some techniques that require the use of unmounted stamps (e.g. Sutton Slice)
Now, if you have to have an image that’s mounted on a wood block, you can easily remove the stamp from its mount. Either microwave the stamp for about 10 seconds and peel the rubber off the mount, or use Un-Do to remove the stamp from the cushion. Use Goo-Gone to remove any residual adhesive. Voila! Unmounted stamp!
What Unmounted Stamps Do I Like?
First, I like medium- to deep-etched rubber stamp. What this means is that the stamp rubber is fairly thick, and the recesses between the lines of the image are fairly deep. This enables a deep impression of the stamp into your polymer clay; in the case of techniques like the Sutton Slice or some of Donna Kato’s surface design and impression techniques, it makes the technique easier to accomplish.
Second, I like a fairly large “background” image. Rubber stamps come in all sizes, but stamp companies have created images specifically to cover an area the size of a regular stamped greeting card (4 ¼” x 5 ½” – ¼ of an 8 ½” x 11” sheet). These background images make it quick and easy to apply a pattern or image over a large area. They also make excellent texture stamps for clay.
Third, I like pattern images. I use fine “picture” images for clay when these images will be stamped ONTO versus stamped INTO the clay. I like using the patterned image (dots, squares, swirls, florals, vines, squiggles, etc.) to create depth and texture on my piece.
What Brands of Rubber Stamps Do I Like?
What don’t I like is more like it! However, there are certain stamps that I continue to go back to for my clay. Clearsnap and Polyform/Sculpey make stamp sheets expressly for use with polymer clay, as does Donna Kato and Lisa Pavelka. I just got some great large background stamps from Stamp Camp that are great and very deeply etched. JudiKins makes some fabulous background images, and I’ve unmounted quite a few in my quest for perfect polymer clay. Hero Arts also has some great images, but unfortunately, Hero Arts is NOT an Angel company.
What’s an Angel Company?
An Angel company is a rubber stamp manufacturer that allows you to use their stamps to create items for sale. Each company has a separate Angel policy, so if you’re going to use an image in your art for sale, you need to check the company’s policy. For instance, Clearsnap is an Angel company, but only “barely” so. Their images are supposed to be for personal use, but they do allow their images to be hand stamped to make one-of-a-kind items (no mechanical reproduction) for sale. Hero Arts is not an Angel company—you cannot use their stamps to create items for sale. JudiKins is Angel, but you need to give image credit/copyright when you do use their images for items for sale. Other companies give you free reign to use their images. If in doubt, check. Rubberstampinglinks.com has a page where the Angel policies for many companies are posted, but always check the stamp company’s web site to see if that policy has changed.
What Do I Do with Stamps?
There are many ways to use stamps. Here are 10 to get you started:
- Texture. Stamp in to the clay to create a texture. Highlight that texture using mica powders, acrylic paints, etc.
- Molds. Stamp into some scrap clay, bake it, and use it as a mold. This creates a raised surface of the stamped image in clay.
- Images. Use the image of the stamp either as a background or focal image of your piece. You can also stamp over surface designs to create additional patterning and texture. Use either a permanent ink (e.g. Staz-On) or a heat-set ink (Crafters, Brilliance, pigment inks). You can also use other media to stamp with, such as acrylic paint and even metallic powders.
- Faux Cloisonné. Use the stamp to create your barriers and image for a faux cloisonné using liquid polymer clay, mica powders and other coloring agents.
- Faux Brocade. Donna Kato has a lovely technique where she stamps into clay, fills the recesses with acrylic paint, and highlights the raised areas with a contrasting color of acrylic paint. She lets it dry, then runs it through a pasta machine. It looks like brocade fabric. SO very cool! Donna is coming out with a new book this summer, The Art of Polymer Clay – Creative Surface Effects that will detail this and other great techniques.
- Sutton Slice. Lisa Pavelka’s friend, Pete (?) Sutton, came up with a technique in which you embed clay in the recesses of a rubber stamp. You shave off any clay that has stuck to the image/top surface of the stamp. You then lay a sheet of contrasting clay on top, press to adhere the clay in the recesses to the “backing” layer. You peel the stamp off the clay, and voila—the pattern made in the recesses are now raised. Here’s an example using this technique.
- Mica Shift. Impress your metallic clay with a rubber stamp, then take shallow slices off the surface to remove any raised areas. Run the resulting sheet through a pasta machine, and you have lovely “ghost” images in the clay—but the clay is smooth!
- Image Transfer. Debbie Anderson makes lovely faux porcelain beads by stamping on plain copy paper, coloring the image with waxy colored pencils (e.g. Prismacolor), and directly transferring the image to clay by placing the image face-down onto raw clay.
- Backfilling. You can stamp into clay, and fill the recesses with a contrasting color of clay. Bake, then sand smooth.
- Mokume Gane. Create a stacked layers of contrasting colors of clay, press a stamp (and other texture tools, if you desire) into the clay, then shave off the top layers to get a cool, multi-colored image. Use slices of the mokume gane to decorate a sheet of clay and to make beads or other objects.
This is just a basic primer on what stamps can do for you in your artwork. There’s so much more you can do…just use your imagination!