Acrylic Stamps and Rubber Stamps
I use stamps a lot in my creative work and I own both traditional rubber stamps on wood blocks and acrylic stamps. I have thousands of stamps in my collection, in fact too many to really make good use of all of them. Of course I have my favourites that I return to again and again. This article looks compares rubber and acrylic stamps, discusses some of the problems with each and some of the solutions to the problems. I hope you find it interesting and useful. Please leave me any comments below.
What are Rubber Stamps?
Rubber stamps are images or designs which have been etched or moulded onto a sheet of rubber and are usually fixed onto a cushiony material and then onto a block, which you hold when a stamped image is made. Very high temperatures are used in the making of rubber stamps, so the rubber is durable and can withstand high temperatures when you use them, for example when you press them into molten embossing powder for deep embossing techniques.
There are also rubber stamps available now that are Cling Stamps, which consist of the rubber image which is mounted onto a cling material but not glued to a woodblock. You then stick the stamp to an acrylic block when you want to use it and remove it afterwards. We will talk a bit more about those later.
What are Acrylic Stamps?
Acrylic stamps also go by the name of clear stamps or even polymer stamps. They are all the same thing and refer to a transparent stamp, with a sticky or clingy backing that comes affixed to a sheet and can be peeled off and applied to an acrylic block for stamping.
Acrylic stamps are not really acrylic at all, as they are made of a photo polymer or vinyl. These stamps are made through a process of light development and this impacts on how you should look after them, as we will discuss later. Acrylic stamps have become very popular in the last five years and when you look at their benefits, it is not hard to see why.
We will have a look at the advantages and disadvantages of acrylic stamps and as far as those for rubber stamps go, you can consider the opposite for each issue applies.
Advantages of the Clear or Acrylic Stamps versus Rubber Stamps
The stamps are clear
The stamps are obviously transparent and this is a real plus point when you come to position your image on the page. You can see through the acrylic block and through the stamp itself and this means that you can get your image exactly where you want it. This is probably my favourite thing about acrylics!
Combining is easy
You can easily combine different clear stamps on your acrylic block, which is useful if you are trying to build up a picture or scene, maybe with words too. This process is arduous with rubber stamps and prone to failure but can be aided with special tools like the Stamp-ma-jig postioning tool.
Less storage needed
Acrylic tamps take up very storage room compared to traditional rubber stamps. Some acrylics come in CD cases but most are bought in plastic sleeves and these can easily be stored in folders on a shelf. As you move the images on and off blocks, you only need a few acrylic blocks too.
Can be a lot cheaper
Acrylic stamps can be produced for a lot less money than a rubber stamp on a wood block and this cost saving is passed on to the purchaser. You normally get a whole sheet of images, often for the same or less than you would pay for a medium sized rubber stamp.
Easier to post
Acrylic stamps being less bulky and lighter are ideal for posting, this means that you can access a much wider range of stamps around the world and the market is bigger and more competitive for stamp producers too, which should also keep the prices down.
Washing is easier
Washing acrylic stamps is often easier as you can immerse the stamp and the block in water whereas wood blocks will crack if put into water. Also, so many of my wood blocks have become ink stained, through my own or others misuse of them and this is not an issue with acrylics.
What are the problems with Acrylic Stamps?
Acrylic stamps can deteriorate easily
If you don't store your stamps correctly they can deteriorate very quickly. The first lot of acrylic stamps I bought were stored on display in a shed. You can see a photo of some of them below.
Over a short space of time they became white, dusty, hard and brittle and lost their definition because they were exposed to light and also to cold. You must store your stamps in a container that keeps out the light to avoid discolouring and ruining yourstamps and keep them inside the house.
Be careful with the inks you use
I regularly used to use Stazon ink and because I did not clean them off promptly, they have stained very badly (see below). This hasn’t affected the effectiveness of the stamp so far but these solvent based inks can be too harsh and could well destroy them overtime. Steer away from your bleach techniques too and don’t use inks that areoil based, such as printing inks or any products containing acetone, such assome household paints, aerosols and paint removers.
The image quality may not be as good
Compared to a good quality deep etched rubber stamp, the image quality of some acrylic stamps can be poor. I have to say that some of the first acrylics I bought did not produce a very good image.
On some of the cheaper clear stamps, I found that the image can spread when you press down as the material is too soft and this can create an unsatisfactory image, so you need to apply less pressure. Also, without the cushioning that you have on rubber stamps, you can sometimes get patchy images.
However, overall the standard has been improving and good quality acrylics from reputable producers, such as Hero Arts or Penny Black, will produce excellent results, especially on simple designs. Where rubber stamps win over acrylics, is with very detailed designs. This is because polymer stamps are made through a photo development process which does not pick up the fine details, whereas rubber stamps are made from impressions into a mould.
Loss of stickiness
One of the biggest problems I find is the fact that over time the acrylics will losetheir stickiness and be difficult to affix to your acrylic block. By washing them gently in water, you can usually wash off the dust and dirt that stops them from sticking and they will become as good as new. However, as I am a bit lazy, I have lost lots of small acrylic stamps from them dropping off their backing sheets and getting sucked up in the vacuum cleaner, because I have not got around to washing them.
Can be a bit fiddly
Acrylic stamps can be a bit fiddly to use sometimes and I think this is in part due tothe fact that some of them are very small images, much smaller than you might get on a rubber stamp. I have no idea why but this may be due to the way that acrylics are produced which enables much smaller and fiddlier designs to be made and the fact that it would not be so economical to produce individual woodstamps for such small images.
Won't last as long
Acrylic stamps will not last as long as your rubber stamps as they have not been designed to do so. Some are made from better polymers and will last longer thanother stamps made from cheaper materials. Rubber stamps if kept well, will last forever but clear stamps will naturally deteriorate over time, no matter how well you look after them. Even some of my old clear stamps that have been treated like kings have started to get crusty and hard. If you really like a stamp and want if forever, buy it in a rubber stamp format but if you like to change your stamps like you change your clothes, acrylics are perfect!
Storing and looking after Acrylic Stamps
Some of the points have already been covered in the section on advantages of acrylics above but in summary:
I store some of mine in a tin with a lid which I keep in a cupboard.
and some in plastic wallets in a file
Using Acrylic Stamps
One of the things I have noticed ever since my first acrylic stamp experience is the fact that that the ink would often not stick to the stamp properly. This was frustrating because the image would be quite patchy and poor and no matter how much ink I added, it would still not ‘stick’ to my image. The surface of the stamp seemed to be quite sticky and appeared to repel the ink. This is particularly noticeable with my Adirondack Dye Inks, which are quite watery anyway.
After several years, I have worked out that it is important to condition your stamp before use. This is not true of all acrylic stamps and in fact I have narrowed it down to identify that some have needed conditioning but others haven’t. The best quality/more expensive ones seem to be fine on first use and the trouble-makers were definitely older bought stamps, so maybe the processes are improving.
However, if you find your stamps misbehaving and you are not satisfied with the images you are getting, then try these tips:
A halfway house?
So what if you want the advantages of the acrylic stamps, in terms of ease of storage and placement with the durability and detail of a rubber stamp.Well you can do this with some ranges of stamps (Hero Arts for example) that are actually rubber stamps that you can mount onto an acrylic block.
The stamps come on a backing sheet and are just the rubber image and the cushiony grey material that usually sits between your stamp and the wood block. Instead of sticking to the wood block, you can peel of the stamp you want and stick it to an acrylic block. I think these are great for getting the advantages of bothworlds but at the moment, you are perhaps limited by the range of stamps available in this medium.
I hope you have enjoyed this article about the different types of stamps and their care. Whatever stamps you end up buying, the most important thing is to take good care of them and they will give you enjoyment for many years to come. Watch out for more in our series about stamps and stamping techniques.
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