Mounting Your Unmounted Rubber Stamps
Mounting your own art rubber stamps may seem like a lot of work, but it is much easier than you think. Mounting your own stamps can save you lots of money and all that extra savings can be turned back into even more rubber stamps.
The Basic Stamp
There are several different mounting systems available these days, from the plain and simple expedient of using the nearest jar lid, to cutting your own wood mounts from select hardwood and lovingly sanding and varnishing them yourself until your hand mounted stamps are a work of art in themselves. In this tutorial we'll explore several different ways to mount stamps, but first let's review the construction of your typical wood mounted stamp.
Illustration 1 shows you how a typical stamp is mounted. Rubber, cushion and wood mounted together to form one unit. This is the typical way in which most stampers mount their unmounted rubber stamp die.
Components of a typical rubber stamp.
The Rubber Die
Unmounted rubber can be purchased from many vendors, most often by mail-order or off the internet. They will often offer their stamp images either as a fully mounted stamp or just the rubber die (unmounted). Some vendors trim the unmounted rubber image before hand and some attach and trim appropriate cushion. Often unmounted rubber is just cut from a larger sheet of rubber and comes to you with excess rubber surrounding the image, making it necessary for you to trim the rubber yourself.
Cushion can come in many forms and thicknesses (typically 1/8”, 3/16” and 1/4”). Colors are typically red, gray, or black and can be purchased from several sources, though it is not as easily found as true natural rubber. Usually it is sold in sheets, often 9 x 12 inches or smaller. It is available with or without adhesive on one side or both. If you do not purchase self-sticking cushion, usually referred to as “Stickyback”, rubber cement makes an excellent adhesive. We have experimented with several different materials and have found that the natural sponge rubber cushion seems to be your best bet. In a pinch, the thin layers of foam sold in craft stores as Fun Foam can be layered together with rubber cement and make a passable cushion, but after time this foam looses its memory and becomes permanently depressed.
Mounts can be made out of several things, though the most common is wood. Wood mounts are available from many vendors and usually sold in strips of various widths or precut to standard sizes. Wood mounts are also available in various heights, with or without two grooves running along parallel sides. The type of wood mount you use is mostly a matter of personal preference, but it is advisable to stay with hardwoods that have been well cured. Wood can also be purchased at local lumber supply outlets.
Other materials that are often used as mounts are as varied as the stamper. Acrylic blocks, wooden doweling, jar lids, and heavy foam blocks can all be used with varying levels of success. Actually, any flat hard-surfaced object that allows you to grip it firmly can be used. Ultimately the most important part in making a good mount is its flatness.
TRIMMING THE UNMOUNTED DIE
Now let's assume that you have your unmounted stamps in hand and are ready to begin turning them into stamps you can use. There will usually be a good deal of excess rubber around the raised images. It is necessary for proper impressions to get rid of this excess rubber. Special rubber and cushion trimming scissors are available, (see the Cape Arago Rubber Stamps supplies page or the Cape Arago Rubber Stamps eBay Store for the famous KAI rubber trimming scissors), and although you may have a pair of regular scissors around the house, the KAI scissors are well worth the cost of having a dedicated tool for trimming rubber. (A good pair of sharp scissors is an necessary tool for trimming your rubber properly and even though any good pair will work, the comfort and ease with which the KAI scissors trim rubber makes it a breeze!)
The idea in trimming unmounted rubber dies is to get as close to the raised images as possible, without cutting into it. Extra pieces of excess rubber have a tendency to pick up ink and make an unwanted impression right where it's least appreciated. The following illustration shows how one of these dies can be trimmed, close but not too close to the raised image.
Under and Over Cutting
This is probably the most common mistake beginning mounters make when trimming rubber dies and cushion. Illustration 2 provides a picture of this.
Undercutting is when the rubber or cushion is cut at a slant where the slant is protruding up under the image. This can often result in poor impressions of the rubber image, as the raised area of the image has insufficient support to transfer the ink properly to the paper.
Overcutting is when the rubber or cushion is cut at a slant where the slant is protruding out, allowing extra surface of the die or cushion to be exposed. This extra surface has a tendency to pick up ink and transfer it when the image is impressed onto the paper.
Properly trimmed dies and cushion should have the edges cut straight, as in Illustration 2a. This will result in the very best results and impressions from your stamping. Try to hold your scissors perpendicular to the rubber and cushion when you are cutting.
Working With Cushion
There are two approaches to working with cushion. One is to mount your trimmed rubber on the cushion and then trim the cushion. The other is to trim both cushion and rubber at the same time. Unless you have an extremely good pair of scissors and a strong hand, we recommend applying the already trimmed rubber die to the cushion and then trimming the cushion.
Step By Step
So you have trimmed your rubber die and are ready to mount it to the cushion. If you are using a self adhesive cushion or “Stickyback”, all you need to do is pull back the protective release liner and press your trimmed rubber dies firmly onto it. When cutting Stickyback cushion, the adhesive has a tendency to load up on your scissors. To avoid this, wipe your scissors with a little WD-40 before you trim the Stickyback cushion. Another way is to cut off the section of cushion with the rubber die already mounted and lightly dust the exposed sticky part of the cushion with baby powder before you trim the cushion away from the rubber.
If you are using natural sponge rubber cushion, you will need to use some type of adhesive to affix the die to the cushion. We recommend Elmer's Craft Bond Acid Free Rubber Cement. There is a special way in which you use it to make the very best bond. Turn your trimmed rubber dies face down and give them a light coating with the rubber cement on the back. Be sure to cover the entire surface of the rubber. Do not apply the cement so liberally that it runs down the sides. Then set these aside while you coat one side of the cushion with the rubber cement. The trick here is to wait until the rubber cement has set a bit before you put the two together. The cement will start to get a bit cloudy and dull as it dries and you can test one small area with your fingertip. The cement should still be tacky, but not wet. When it has reached this point, simply place the rubber die, cement side down onto the cushion, which is cement side up. When you have positioned them where you want them press down firmly to make a good seal. We recommend putting them on a flat surface like a good flat kitchen counter and putting a book or something with some weight to it on the assembly and allowing them to dry for at least 20 minutes. Don't worry if the edges of your cushion curl up a bit. This will be taken care of when you trim away the excess cushion. Now cut carefully around the rubber die, trimming away the excess cushion. It is not always necessary to trim every bit of cushion away from the rubber, especially in areas where doing so would weaken the underlying support. This is particularly true when you have a small skinny piece of the image that has been trimmed closely. Experience is the best teacher here, but generally if you ink your stamps properly and if the rubber die is of sufficient depth, a little bit of extra cushion will not cause any problems.
Onto The Mount
Regardless of what material you choose as your mount, there are a couple of things to keep in mind. Be sure to choose a material that is sturdy and will not warp. Hardwood is best if you are using wood. Avoid plywood or composite wood.
It is important that you choose the right size mount for the stamp you are mounting. Mounts that are too large may have the tendency to pick up ink along the edges and if you are not careful this ink will transfer to your work when you are stamping. Mounts that are too small, even by a tiny bit, will leave areas of unprinted image or blur the image in the area where there is poor support.
It is best to finish wood mounts before you mount the rubber die and cushion. Sanding and varnishing both give you a much prettier mounted stamp, but this is by no means essential. We recommend that you at least give your mounts one coat of a good spray sealer. It acts as an effective sealant once it is dry and makes indexing much easier.
Now that you have your rubber die mounted to the cushion and the mount cut and finished to our tastes, the next step is to index your mount. Indexing is the term used for putting the image of the rubber stamp on top of the mount so that you can tell at a glance which stamp it is. Indexing can be accomplished in several different ways.
Ink Indexing With Permanent Ink
Most often stamps that are already mounted when you buy them have been indexed with ink, usually of the permanent variety. The mounts are actually stamped with the rubber impression. The only tricky part about this is that it is much easier to stamp an index with a mounted stamp than with an unmounted one. You can't mount your stamp and then stamp the same mount with it. So this alternative method works fairly well. Permanent ink has a tendency to dry quickly, so you must act fast. Either press your unmounted die onto the permanent inkpad or using a bray, roll ink from the pad onto the bray and then roll the bray onto your rubber die. Lay the rubber ink side up on a firm surface and quickly press down on it with the topside of your mount. Be sure that you position the index on your mount in the direction you are going to mount your die to it.
Ink Indexing With Pigment Ink
It is possible to index stamps with pigment ink though not with regular dye ink. If you use pigment ink, the procedure is the same as in indexing with permanent ink, but the index must then be resealed in some manner. Be sure to let the ink thoroughly dry before sealing it. It is also possible to emboss the pigment ink index while the ink is still wet, though the embossing tends to come off after a time.
Paper Label Indexing
A popular and easy method of indexing your stamp is to wait until after you have mounted it and then stamp the image onto a piece of paper which is then trimmed and affixed to the top of the mount. This can be done at least two different ways.
You can glue the stamped image to the mount and then seal it with another coat of varnish, similar to decoupage. Often these little paper images can be colored in and embellished beforehand, resulting in a pretty and unique index.
Another way to affix the paper index is with the use of clear packaging tape. The method is as above, though the paper index must only be glued in one spot to hold it while the tape is applied. Careful cutting of the tape is needed. It may extend down over the sides of the mount or only cover the very top, but press firmly getting any air bubbles out for a tight and water proof seal. Clear Contact paper can also be used.
Self Adhesive Acrylic Sheets
Available in office and some art supply stores is a special clear acrylic self-adhesive paper which can be run through a copy machine. It is fairly expensive but for a small collection of stamps, works quite well. Simply stamp several images on a plain piece of paper and run the acrylic sheet through a copier, transferring the images onto it. These can then be cut out and affixed to the tops of your mounts. Applying clear packaging tape over the top of this makes an attractive and well sealed index.
Step By Step
Affixing the rubber-cushion assembly is just like the step where you attached the rubber die to the cushion. If you are using Stickyback cushion, simply peel off the release liner from the adhesive and place the rubber-cushion assembly onto the bottom of the mount, positioning it so that your index and rubber image are both correctly aligned.
If you are using natural sponge rubber cushion, both the wood mount and the underside of the cushion must be coated with rubber cement as you did to mount the cushion and die. Wait for the glue to become tacky before applying the cushion-die assembly together and then press down firmly, making a good seal. If you have applied more rubber cement to the wood surface than is needed, it can be easily rolled up and peeled off after it becomes dry. Again, check for proper alignment of index and image before you permanently make the bond by pressing the whole thing firmly together.
If you've managed to follow all these instructions, your result should be a perfectly mounted and attractive rubber stamp. Don't worry if your first attempts don't look like the mounted stamps you get from your favorite stamp company. As in all things, practice makes perfect and before you know it you'll be turning out mounted stamps that look as good as the professionally mounted kind. And look at all the money you've saved!