How to Make a Handcarved Stamp

This is a fun project to do if you like carving, drawing, rubber stamps, letterboxing, making stationery, scrapbooking, or trying new things.

First, let’s gather some materials.

Stamp-making Materials: Pencil, lino cutting tool set, rubber stamp block, paper.

Pictured: Pencil, lino cutting tool set, rubber stamp block, paper.

Tools and Materials:

  • Rubber stamp blocks. These can be found in many art stores, often next to the linoleum for printmaking. A flat eraser also works well.
  • Linoleum carving set. These are found in the same section.
  • X-acto knife
  • Paper
  • Soft pencil
  • Ink pad or soft markers

Step 1: Make a Drawing

Start by figuring out how big your stamp will be. You can cut a larger rubber stamp block into smaller ones by using an X-acto knife. It’s a good idea to then trace the outline of the rubber stamp block around your drawing before you draw. You don’t want to put all that work into your drawing and then later realize it won’t fit onto your stamp because you got carried away.

Start by making a small, simple drawing. Keep within the confines of the size of your stamp material.

Start by making a small, simple drawing. Keep within the confines of the size of your stamp material.

Make a small drawing on a piece of paper of whatever you want your stamp to be. I recommend using a soft pencil to draw, as it will make it easier to transfer.

Your drawing doesn’t have to be “backward”; i.e., a mirror image. You can just draw it regularly. The mirror image will happen naturally when we transfer it.

My airship drawing takes form. I re-draw the outline of the stamp, since my drawing seems to have drifted a bit.

My airship drawing takes form. I re-draw the outline of the stamp, since my drawing seems to have drifted a bit.

If you are very confident in your drawing (and you won’t want to keep it for a second try), you can draw it straight onto your rubber stamp block. If this is the case, you WILL have to draw it as a mirror image of what you want later.

Once you have a good outline of your drawing, consider how it might be to carve it. Every thin line must be carved around. Would it be easier to color in some of your areas? You could just carve the lines, which would make the lines white against a darker background. On my drawing, I choose to thicken up the important lines, color in larger areas, and simplify some of the details.

I converted my drawing from a line drawing to a more two-tone design, simplifying details such as the rigging, flags, or windows. Narrow spaces can be harder to carve.

I converted my drawing from a line drawing to a more two-tone design, simplifying details such as the rigging, flags, or windows. Narrow spaces can be harder to carve.

 

Step 2: Transfer the Drawing

Take your drawing and lay it over your rubber stamp, carefully lining up the drawing within the outline of the rubber stamp.

Carefully line up the stamp block with the drawing. I want to keep my drawing in my notebook, but for some it may be easier to cut it out first.

Carefully line up the stamp block with the drawing. I want to keep my drawing in my notebook, but for some it may be easier to cut it out first.

Rub the back of the paper carefully but firmly with a tool handle, or a spoon, or some blunt object.

The stamp material is under this paper. I'm using the butt end of a screwdriver to smooth my drawing over the rubber stamp block.

The stamp material is under this paper. I’m using the butt end of a screwdriver to smooth my drawing over the rubber stamp block.

If your pencil is soft enough, an imprint of your drawing will transfer straight onto the rubber stamp.

Rubbing the soft pencil on to the stamp block will make a nice, mirror-imaged transfer of your original drawing. When you stamp it, it will show with the same orientation as the original. Do any pencil touch-ups straight on to the rubber at this point.

Rubbing the soft pencil on to the stamp block will make a nice, mirror-imaged transfer of your original drawing. When you stamp it, it will show with the same orientation as the original. Do any pencil touch-ups straight on to the rubber at this point.

You may need to touch up your drawing, straight on the stamp block, with a pencil after you transfer it.

Step 3: Carve the Stamp

Using your lino carving tools, carefully carve out the area around the drawing. Anything that stays flat and uncarved will show when stamped; anything cut away will not show up.

Carving tip: Pick a position that works well for your carving hand, and then move the block with your other hand.

Carving tip: Pick a position that works well for your carving hand, and then move the block with your other hand.

Tips for carving:

  • Hold the cutting tool in your hand as you would a pencil. You may need to practice to get a good angle that works.
  • Instead of moving the cutting tool, carefully move and turn the stamp block. This allows you a lot more control and precision.
  • Long, flowing strokes seem to be easier than little choppy gouges. Sometimes, you can use an X-acto knife to pick out very tiny details, but sometimes this is more trouble than it’s worth.

There is no specific order of carving, but I share mine here in case it helps you.

First, I cut around the outside of my image with a medium-sized tool. The lino cutting set has a number of different options for blades. I pay close attention to where the outside of the little V-shaped blade is, not the center. That is where the line will be cut. I leave extra room around the portions that have a lot of detail, like the propellers or the flag. I can get these later with a smaller tool.

First, I carve the outline of the image with a medium-sized tool.

First, I carve the outline of the image with a medium-sized tool.

After I have a nice outline, I use a larger tool to cut away the background. It’s not necessary, but I make my lines flow in the direction of the airship. If anyone presses the stamp too hard, these lines will look like air currents or something.

I cut out the entire background with a larger tool. Using long, flowing lines can be easier than little choppy ones.

I cut out the entire background with a larger tool. Using long, flowing lines can be easier than little choppy ones.

Next, I switch to the tiniest V-shaped blade and attend to all the detail inside the ship and around the propellers.

I use the smallest tool to carve the details inside the ship, like the propellers, windows, and stripes.

I use the smallest tool to carve the details inside the ship, like the propellers, windows, and stripes.

It seems to work best to start in the tightest corners, and carve my way out, rather than counting on getting a perfect point carving in from the outside. Again, I use as many long, smooth cuts as possible. It makes for a cleaner stamp, and I like the way it looks.

Step 4: Try it out!

When you think your stamp is done, try it out. Then you can touch up any areas that might need a little help. Some areas might need to be a little deeper, or there maybe little rubber crumbs clinging to the picture that you didn’t notice.

Once stamped, the image will show up facing the same direction as the original drawing. Now's the time to check and make sure it's what you want.

Once stamped, the image will show up facing the same direction as the original drawing. Now’s the time to check and make sure it’s what you want.

After a few touch-ups, I decide my stamp is done. Michael (an engineer) has a phrase, “Shoot the engineer, and ship the product!” In other words, it’s easy to get so caught up with perfection that we never get anything done.

After testing, you might choose to tweak the drawing quite a few times before you are satisfied with the result.

After testing, you might choose to tweak the carving quite a few times before you are satisfied with the result.

If you want, make another stamp! You’ll only get better with practice!

Have fun stamping!

 

The finished stamp, stamped into my letterboxing journal. Hand-carved stamps are also great for personal touches on stationery, branding hand-made goods, marking books in your home library, or any number of decorative touches.

The finished stamp, stamped into my letterboxing journal. Hand-carved stamps are also great for personal touches on stationery, branding hand-made goods, marking books in your home library, or any number of decorative touches.

 

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