Skip to Content
Register · Login
About Theme

A Letterboxing Community

Atlas Quest

Help: Carving & Mounting Stamps

  1. How do I carve a stamp?
  2. Is there a right side and a wrong side to PZKut?
  3. How do I create a #0 carving tip?
  4. How can I see what I am doing when I am carving small details?
  5. What are carving needles?
  6. How do I transfer an image to the carving material?
  7. How can I see more detail through tracing paper?
  8. What carving material is recommended?
  9. What should I know about acetone?
  10. How do I transfer an image to a carving block using acetone?
  11. Can I take my carving tools on my next airplane flight?
  12. How do I convert a photo into a carvable image?
  13. Why should I mount my stamp?
  14. Can I see examples of hand-carved stamps?
  15. Where can I find pictures to carve?
  16. How can I carve small dots into the rubber?
  17. What can you do when a stamp won't accept ink very well?
  18. What printer/toner combinations work with which transfer methods?
  19. Are there any rules about using trademarked images?
  20. What glue do I use to mount a stamp?
  21. How can I create a multi-layered stamp?
  22. What if my stamps suck?
  23. How large should my signature stamp be?
  24. Can I get other people to carve stamps for me?
  25. What is a wire knife? And where can I get one?
  26. How do I sharpen my tools?
  27. How do I get a transferred image off of the carving material?
  28. Does anyone have tips or tricks for doing peoples faces?
  29. How do I carve small letters?
  30. How do you shave down a stamp for MicroPLBs?

How do I carve a stamp?

In general, there are two popular ways to carve a stamp: Using gouges or using a hobby knife (X-Acto). Eventually most carvers end up having both tools on hand, but a gouge carver will still use a gouge for nearly all carving and only use a hobby knife for a few details, while a hobby knife carver will use the hobby knife for nearly everything and only use a gouge for removing bits of rubber that have already been sliced with the knife.

For a primer on gouge carving, read our Stamp Carving 101 tutorial for details and tips on carving stamps, where to acquire carving tools and materials, and even how to mount the stamp after you've finished carving it for a truly professional look.

For a primer on razor knife carving, visit Rubber Stamp Carving Tips by Kirbert.

If you're just starting out, it's generally agreed that gouge carving is easier for the beginner.

There are other ways to carve stamps, of course. Some use a Dremel grinding tool. Some use a pencil in which the eraser has been yanked out and the little aluminum ring has been pinched a little. But the gouge and razor knife methods are the most popular.

Is there a right side and a wrong side to PZKut?

Yes! There is a right side to PZ Kut. When you first receive it, there will be a letter (either "A" or "B") written on one side to identify both the grade of the material and the wrong side. As soon as you receive a sheet of it, dot the entire lettered side with a sharpie marker, or draw squiggles all over, so you can see which is the wrong side when you cut it up into smaller pieces.

If there is not a letter or if it has inadvertently been cut off at some point, hold the carving block diagonally up to the light. One side of it, if you look carefully, will have slight indentations running along the length of it. That is the wrong side. You want to carve on the side that's free of the compression crimps from the extruder.

How do I create a #0 carving tip?

The Speedball carving tools come in various sizes and shapes, from 1 to 5. The #1 nib is the smallest and most useful for detailed carving, but for some carvers who prefer even more intricate carving tools, they fashion it into what they often call a #0 or 0.5 nib. Purchase a few #1 nibs—you might have to try several times before success—and heat the tip over a flame to make it blue hot. This allows you to bend the tip without it cracking. Insert a thin knife into the V-shaped groove and hammer or squeeze the tip into the knife. You've just created your own #0 tip.

You can also heat the tip on an electric stove, but you need to get it every bit as hot as the stove will get it before trying to pinch it. Turn the burner on high and let it get bright red hot. Hold the tip of the nib against the coil itself, with the bottom of the V right on the coil, until the tip turns black from the heat.

However you heat the tip, make sure to pinch it quickly. It is a small bit of metal and will cool down very quickly.

How can I see what I am doing when I am carving small details?

There are ways to help yourself see better when faced with carving small details. Magnification can be a great tool to help your carving. Simply seeing clearer what you are carving can quickly take a novice and turn him into a pro!

  • Magnification Lamp: These can get very expensive, however this link is a cheap one
  • A cheap pair of reading glasses +3.5 strength: Found in many grocery stores, pharmacies, Wal-Mart, or craft stores. If you already use reading glasses for normal reading, try using two pair at once and holding the material closer.
  • A Magnifying eyepiece
  • Use natural light if available. Outside in the shade on a sunny day our out of the shade on a cloudy day.

What are carving needles?

Carving needles are literally the needles from hypodermic needles. Needles meant for horses, generally, are cheapest and easiest to acquire. They can be purchased at Feed and Farm Stores and can also be found at major pet store chains such as PetSmart. Don't try to use a syringe as a handle; the needle sticks out too far and flexes too much. Instead, cut the needle off its flange and mount it in a pin vise. When carving with needles, you DO NOT use them as a gouge like you would with Speedball or Staedtler carving tools. You turn them "sideways" and cut with the edge of the needle in the same way you would cut with an X-acto blade. Using the needle in this fashion you make one slice at an angle. Then make the same cut at the exact opposite angle to slice off the piece you want to remove. Great detail can be achieved in this fashion. This is a challenging way to carve, however. It requires much patience, but will be worth your effort.

How do I transfer an image to the carving material?

There are many different kinds of transfer methods, and everyone has their own personal preference. It is a good idea for a new carver to try a few different methods to see which ones work best for them.

Pencil and Paper Methods

  • Graphite Pencil Transfer (a.k.a. The Tracing Method): Place tracing paper on top of an image. Then, using a pencil, trace the image you want to carve. Once completed, turn the image upside down and place on top of the carving medium. Rub the image onto the material to complete the transfer. For more information, see the graphite pencil transfer tutorial.
  • Vellum Transfer Method: This is very similar to the tracing paper method, but the paper is thicker, the pencil transfers well, and the paper won't tear as easily. Vellum is sold in the scrapbooking section of craft stores. There are several different vellum paper patterns but just chose a plain semi-transparent sheet. Place the vellum over the image and trace with a pencil. Place the pencil side of the image onto the rubber and burnish (rub). A dry embossing stylus (a paper crafting tool) works well but so does the cap of a Sharpie or any other slightly rounded hard object.
  • Carbon Transfer Paper Method: Can be found at many craft or office supply stores. Use as you would in a receipt book/check book. Place the paper carbon powdered side down on the stamp material, lay your drawing over the carbon paper, and trace the image with moderate pressure.

Laser Printer / Copier Methods

  • Heat Transfer: This technique involves using an iron to transfer the image. Nosox has produced a video tutorial to get you started.
  • Acetone Transfer: Using an image printed on a toner copier or printer, secure the image face down onto your carving medium. Dampen a cotton ball, paper towel, or cloth or paper towel with acetone and rub the back of the paper, pressing hard to make a better impression. This will release toner onto the carving medium. Remove the paper while the acetone is still wet to keep the toner from re-adhering to the paper.
  • Xylene Transfer: This method is very similar to transferring using acetone. For help, see the tutorial by Mark B.
  • Wintergreen Oil Transfer:

Ink Jet Printer Methods

  • Clear Cellophane/Transparency Method: Using an inkjet printer, print onto a plastic sheet, then press the plastic against the rubber to transfer the ink to the material. If using inkjet transparencies, be sure to use the "wrong" smooth side rather than the bumpy side. Before you print, alter the image so what you're printing is gray rather than black. If it tries to print black, it'll put too much ink onto the plastic sheet and it'll form globs. By trying to print gray, it still applies black ink but less of it, which is what you need. You may need to change a setting on your printer setup to print using "black ink only", otherwise it may try to create gray by mixing colored inks. After printing, set the plastic sheet aside for a few minutes to dry. Then stamp it with your blank stamp material; the image will transfer. If it doesn't work right, clean everything up and try again until you get it right. Once you have the image on the rubber, it will smear if you touch it before it dries.
  • Quick Paper Transfer Method: Print to regular paper using your inkjet printer. When printing is complete immediately place image onto carving material. You may need to rub the back of the image with a blunt object as in the pencil and paper methods.

See also

What printer/toner combinations work with which transfer methods?
Transferring an Image to a Carving Block Tutorial

How can I see more detail through tracing paper?

When using the Pencil transfer method, it can sometimes be diffcult to see a lot of detail through the tracing paper. To see much clearer, it helps to have a source of light "backlighting" your image, much in the same way a doctor sees an x-ray more clearly with a light board. Since not everyone has access to a backlit board, here is an alternative. You can use a lamp. With the assistance of pictures, here is how.

  1. Find an appropriate lamp. You need to find a lamp that has a flat shade that is hard enough to write on. Even if it is rounded you should be able to trace ok, unless your image is very large.
  2. Then find your image and tape it/them to the lamp You can actually find multiple images and tape them together to create one image.
  3. Then trace your image.
  4. Then remove the tape holding your tracing to the lamp and you have a quality tracing!

Another alternative, during daylight hours, is to tape your image and tracing paper to a window. This has the advantage of providing a flat surface.

What carving material is recommended?

Different carvers often prefer different materials. The two most popular materials used are Speedball's Speedy-Stamp and Stampeaz's OZ Kut.

Other carving materials (not necessarily popular or recommended!) include:
A few comments about some of these:

OZ Kut

OZ Kut is the latest iteration in the quest for a PZ Kut replacement. It is smooth to cut with a gouge and the pop out problem from previous trial batches has been conquered.

Firm Kut
Way too hard for the exacto knife. My hand hurt when I was done and I had trouble getting detail in there well. Image transferred ok. (Reviewed by Shark Boy and Lava Girl)

It's very good. As long as you don't have huge inked in spaces, it doesn't need to be sanded, but really, sanding it takes about 10 seconds and makes the ink take better. No chemical treatment is necessary.

It's a matter of learning how to carve it. It behaves differently than other rubbers, and in most ways it surpasses them. The only thing I don't like about it is the way a knife cuts through it. I just can't get a clean cut with a knife.

I also haven't had a perfect transfer yet. I haven't figured out the right iron temp, but I like the material well enough that it's worth all the trial and error. It's definitely worth a try if you're putting an order in anyway. (Reviewed by Fiddleheads)

Ecocarve (Nasco) "the brown stuff"
Well, it's not quite PZ Kut; but, it was pretty darned good. [The image] transferred well and it actually lightened the brown color which rubbed off on the transfer paper. This made the contrast between the transfer and rubber easier to see. It cut well and I really liked how the rubber lifted out after each cut. So far this is the best alternative I have tried for the orange stuff. I'd rather carve on this and adjust to it instead of having to learn how to carve on the much softer pink stuff. (Reviewed by Shark Boy and Lava Girl)

Orange PZ Kut (no longer manufactured)
Has a trait that no other carving material has: When you make a slit with a razor knife, you can see the slit. With all the other materials, after making the slit it closes up and you cannot see it without bending the rubber so the cut opens up. As a result, the orange PZ Kut is strongly preferred among many carvers who use razor knives extensively. Note that it does nothing for those who carve primarily with gouges, though -- in fact, people who carve using gouges tend not to like orange PZ Kut at all; they usually prefer the white PZ Kut.

Says right on the package that it "cuts like butter", and that's true -- it is very easy and smooth to carve. It is soft enough, however, that physical damage and wear can be an issue. If your image consists of broad inked areas, there won't be any problem, but if the image includes any thin lines or tiny dots -- which involve narrow ridges or points on the surface of the rubber -- these features can easily get rubbed away or damaged.

Speedy-Stamp (Speedball) "the pink stuff"
It is excellent. Speedy-Cut, by the same company, is ivory in color and should be avoided like the plague. It crumbles when carved, and sometimes dries out and breaks into pieces when stored in an outdoor letterbox.

Safety Kut (Nasco)
Inexpensive ($1.35US 4x6" piece), available in various sizes, some carvers feel that the blade doesn't glide through the medium smoothly enough for their liking. It inks up well (little, too no pooling with markers, a light sanding will make it ink up even better.) Downside: not good for fine detail work. It's tough to get sharp edges. (Review by Lone R)

Safety Kut has a texture that is similar to Mastercarve, but not quite so buttery. It cannot handle the detail or fine lines that PZ Kut does, but it does pretty well. Over a large number of prints, the edges will begin to wear, but not as badly as Mastercarve or that crappy Speedball stuff. It also doesn't get crumbly over time like the Speedball. (Review by Thunderbird)

Don't make the mistake of thinking that erasers are the cheapest way to go. On a per-square-inch basis, the PZ Kut is likely to be the cheapest material you'll find -- and that's including the shipping cost. If you order five pieces, you pay the same shipping cost as when you order one. And you can order the "B" grade to save a bit more money yet. And don't forget how much gas you're saving not having to drive around town to find it!

What should I know about acetone?

Green Guillemot says a few drops on your fingertips in a well-ventilated area every week or so is no cause for alarm, but don’t wash your hands in it or use it for extended periods of time in a small room. Acetone can be absorbed through the skin, and is mildly toxic to the liver. It has also been tied to impaired functioning of the reproductive system.

Kirbert warns acetone is extremely flammable, just like gasoline, and it will dissolve most synthetic materials in a heartbeat. He specifies cotton cloth be used. Should you get acetone on your hands or skin, you can use "Fast Orange" hand cleaner, followed by a washing with regular soap.

Acetone will change the surface of the carving medium slightly and for a short period of time. Not to worry as you won't be able to tell the difference after an hour.
One of the reasons that acetone does make a good transfer method is it works both on toner and surface of the carving medium. Acetone will remove most transfer inks from the carving material. The ink left behind on the stamp does not need to be removed. If you really want to remove the toner, you could use more acetone, but very sparingly; acetone may wear away the edges of your carving and ruin it.

Acetone can be found in hardware stores where paints are sold and beauty supply shops. Some nail polish removers contain acetone. Check the label first.

For more info about acetone check out: Material Safety Data Sheet.

How do I transfer an image to a carving block using acetone?

Before you start, you might want to have multiple copies of your stamp image.
  1. Print your image using a laser printer or use a copy machine to copy an ink-jet image. The image must contain toner to work with this method.
  2. Take the copied or laser-printed image and place it face down on the carving medium. You may want to clean the surface using a paper towel and a quick wipe of acetone first. It helps receive the image.
  3. Wearing gloves in a well-ventilated space, soak a cotton ball/swab with 100% acetone, squeeze out the excess, and dab with gentle pressure all over the paper. Do not rub back and forth.
  4. Peel up a corner of the paper. If the image looks good, peel the rest of the paper away. If it is still a little light, repeat step 3, trying not to soak the paper.
  5. If the image is blurry, you've used too much acetone. Wipe down the rubber and start with a fresh copy repeat steps 2-4. You may want to wash the stamp with soap and water to reduce the possibility of acetone softening the rubber.
  6. Carve, carve, carve!

See also:
What printer/toner combinations work with which transfer methods?
Video demonstrating how to dab and how the transfer should look

Can I take my carving tools on my next airplane flight?

You will have no trouble whatsoever if you put either Speedball gouges or X-Acto razor knives in your checked baggage.

If you try to bring carving tools onto the plane in your carry-on bag, you're likely to have more trouble. It definitely wouldn't be a good idea to try to bring X-Acto razor knives through security. With the Speedball gouges, it probably depends on the person in charge of the security checkpoint you go through. Most people do not have trouble getting their SpeedBall carving tools through security. The #6 knife-blade would likely cause the biggest concern for security rather than the gouged-shaped carving blades. Separating the blades from the handle may make them look less threatening and help their way through security.

Be prepared to junk the carving blades if security challenges them, however. You should still be able to keep the handle.

How do I convert a photo into a carvable image?


The best tool to help you with this is Photoshop. If you don't own it, find a friend that does and ask them to help you. Other photo editing software such as Paint Shop Pro can be used, but the commands in the following steps may be called something different or found in different locations than on Photoshop.

  1. Choose a photo (color or black and white) with a plain background, preferably with simple details, and—if necessary—scan it into your computer.
  2. Open the photo in Photoshop. For the most flexible results, make a copy of the photo in a duplicate layer. Press Ctrl+J (Mac: Cmd-J) to jump the image to a new layer. Press the D key to set the foreground and background colors to black and white, their default settings. Then choose Filter > Sketch > Photocopy. Set the Darkness value to its maximum, 50. Then raise the Detail value until you get nice thick edges, typically in the neighborhood of 9 for a 300 pixels per inch (ppi) image.
  3. To merge the lines with the original color image, choose the Multiply mode from the blend mode pop-up menu in the Layers palette. A filthy dirty result appears. Yes, ugly, but we'll clean it up.
  4. The subject will look like it's been smeared with graphite or something, so next do some cleanup. We'll start with the digital equivalent of a vacuum cleaner, and then do some hand-scrubbing. Choose Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur, enter a Radius of 2.0, and click OK. The result doesn't look any better, but it gives you some gray values that you can trim away with the Levels command.
  5. Choose Image > Adjust > Levels. Increase the first Input Levels value to punch the blacks (make them darker), and then decrease the third value to drop out the whites. Try setting the first and third Input Levels values to 115 and 140 to start with. Click OK to accept the change. This step results in a much cleaner image, but not clean enough.
  6. Use the lasso tool to select the stray dots and pock marks. Then either delete them or make them invisible with a layer mask. You can also use the eraser tool if you like,or the paintbrush with white selected as color. You should expect to spend 10 to 15 minutes on this step. Keep just the most obvious edge outlines. Delete nonessential busy "fuzz".
  7. For reasons that will become increasingly evident as you work through the steps, you need to keep the original image around for reference. But as it stands now, the image competes with the black outlines. To lessen its impact, click the Background layer and make a new layer. Press Ctrl+D (Mac: Cmd-D) to deselect the image. Then press Alt+Backspace (Mac: Cmd-Delete) to fill the entire layer with white. Reduce the Opacity value in the Layers palette to 50 percent to let some of the original image show through.
  8. Now it's time to fill in the shadows with black. The approach is a bit more technical, but it's also vastly more automated. Create another new layer and fill it with black by pressing Alt+Backspace (Mac: Cmd-Delete). Double-click to the right of the black layer's name in the Layers palette to display the Layer Style dialog box. Go down to the last slider bar, which is labeled Underlying Layer. [Look closely - it's there]. Drag the white triangle to the left to force through the lightest colors in the underlying layers. I dragged my triangle until the right-hand value above the slider read 160, meaning that the black covers brightness levels of 160 and darker. That's all there is to this procedure. Click OK to exit the dialog box.

At this point, you have something that vaguely resembles a line drawing traced in velum over a photograph.

When you've cleaned up your image and are happy with the results, ask yourself if it's something that can be carved and looks like what it's supposed to. If so, make the lower layers (white and original color photo layer) invisible by clicking on the eye icon next to the layer. Adjust the size of the image to the size that your stamp will be (Image --> Adjust --> size), and then print it out to transfer to your carving material.


Creating a photo-realistic line drawing by Deke McClelland
How to use Adobe® Photoshop® to turn a Digital Picture Into a Rubber Stamp by Pungent Bob

Kodak Easyshare

If you don't have Photoshop, you could try Kodak's Easyshare.
It's free.


1. Open Kodak EasyShare
2. Choose a photo from your collection. It will appear in the middle frame and drag the photo into the "Picture tray" (the right hand frame).
3. Double click the photo that you dragged into the "Picture tray" area
4. Click "Fun Effects" in the top bar
5. Click "Coloring Book" in the left bar
6. Click the "Accept" button
7. Click the "Save" or "Save As" button


Another free program is GIMP. It works very well if you want to do multiple stamps to layer them for a realistic photo like image.

1. Open Gimp.
2. Open a picture file that you previously saved.
3. Above the picture, choose Image>Mode>Grayscale. Your picture should be turned black and white.
4. Again, above the picture, choose Colors>Posterize. The default is three layers. Your picture will turn black, white and gray.
5. Adjust the Posterize Levels until you are happy with your image. Remember that you will have to carve one fewer stamps than the number of levels because you do not need to carve a stamp for the white. For 6 layers, you would need to carve 5 stamps.

Why should I mount my stamp?

There are two ways to use a rubber stamp. The one that springs to mind when using a store-bought stamp is to hold the stamp by the wooden handle, apply it to the ink pad, and then apply it to the paper. When using a stamp in this manner, it is vastly better if the rubber is mounted. Trying to do this with just a piece of unmounted rubber is likely to result in a poor image as well as inky fingers.

For this type of application, the best method of mounting is to provide a three-layer assembly. For the handle, use something stout and rigid. Wood is popular, but make sure it's thick enough that it won't crack or warp. It's better to use hardwood such as oak rather than pine, and you're using so little that the cost isn't really a factor. Visit a cabinet shop and you can pick up enough scraps of oak to last a lifetime. Besides wood, there are other materials that will work. Plastic and metal are also popular. People have even mounted stamps on things such as jar lids or Matchbox cars.

The rubber shouldn't be mounted directly on the handle, though. Rather, a layer of soft, squishy foam should be provided in between. This provides a cushion so that when applying the stamp to the paper, there's a bit of give. This helps the surface of the stamp to make even, consistent contact with the paper.

The other way to use a rubber stamp is upside down. The stamp is laid face up on a surface, the ink pad is turned upside down and applied to the stamp, then the paper is applied to the stamp and pressed onto it. When a stamp is used in this manner, the rigid block handle is not only unnecessary but gets in the way. Simply leaving the stamp as a loose piece of rubber works quite well. However, in many cases where the stamp is large or the carving is deep, just leaving the stamp unmounted can result in it getting broken. As a result, some carvers prefer to mount their stamps on a backing of "fun foam". Fun foam is the rigid, colorful foam commonly used in various crafts, notably in "doorhangers". This type foam is too rigid for use in the three-layer assembly described above, but it's just perfect for this upside-down use.

Which type of stamp you create is up to you. In general, the 3-layer mounting scheme works better with small stamps; it leaves a clearer, crisper image. You can easily demonstrate this to yourself: carve a stamp, use it unmounted upside-down to stamp several images, then mount it with foam and wood and use it right-side-up to make a few more images. You will see that the latter images are significantly better, even though the carving itself has not changed. The 3-layer mounting doesn't work as well with larger stamps, though; one has to find a rigid, flat surface to lay the paper on to get a good print, and that's not always easy in a letterboxing situation. The upside-down scheme works better with really huge stamps, including stamps the full size of a sheet of PZ Kut -- 4.75" x 10". The unmounted upside-down scheme also results in a more compact stamp, important when you're trying to fit all this stuff into a tiny letterbox container.

Can I see examples of hand-carved stamps?

There are several areas on Atlas Quest where you can view many hand-carved stamps by our own members.

Where can I find pictures to carve?

The world's largest collection of images suitable for carving can be found using the Google Images search. Here are some tips at finding images you need:

  • By clicking on the Advanced Image Search link, you can search for images that are in just black and white or those that are in grayscale. This might cut out a lot of photos that would be hard to convert into a stamp you can carve well. You can also search for line drawings.
  • Learn how to use the full power of the search engine. For example, if you're trying to find a picture of an apple but photos of iPods keep showing up, try searching for "apple -ipod" (without the quotes).
  • Cartoon-type pictures tend to be easier to carve than real-life photos, so consider searching for "cartoon apples," "apple icons," or "apple coloring book" (without the quotes). Use any word that might generate easier-to-carve images.
  • Not sure what you want to carve? Do a simple search for "coloring books" and look at all those wonderful images available for carving!

How can I carve small dots into the rubber?

Two issues. First, a white dot among an inked background:

An easy technique for adding dots to your carved image is to first find a small rounded metal object. One example is a dry embossing stylus which is a paper crafting tool found in the scrapbooking and paper section of a craft store. It has a tip on each end with a small rounded ball. Using the flame from a candle, heat the metal tip and press into the rubber carving material. You may have to do this several times depending on the size and depth of the hole you are creating. You may need to occassionaly wipe the metal tip to remove melted rubber. After the rubber has cooled you may have a raised edge around the hole. Scrape away this extra rubber with your finger nail or exacto knife.

To make a really tiny white dot, obtain some samples of steel wire. One excellent way to get a selection is to visit a welding supply store and purchase the tool used to clean the tips of an acetylene torch. It only costs a buck or two, and it contains a whole bunch of different size wires -- each with a rough section, helpful for gripping. Other ways to obtain such wires would be to buy music wire from a hobby shop -- but that would be expensive. Of course, you can get two or three sizes of steel wire by straightening out paper clips.

Make sure the end of the wire is not sharpened at all. You want it square, flat-ended. Put the end straight down onto the rubber and push hard enough to "punch" the wire into the rubber, just a little. When you pull it back out, the punched area of rubber will remain depressed. A quick, excellent way to create a night sky full of stars!

Second: An inked dot among a white background.

This is much more difficult than the white dot, since you must carve away all the rubber surrounding the dot and leave a tiny pedestal of rubber. The simplest method is to use a gouge -- even if you're a razor knife carver. Press the gouge into the rubber alongside the dot, and spin around in a tight circle, digging a circular groove. Then, if you're using a razor knife, it's easy to carve away all the rubber from the groove outward. It takes some practice to control the size of the dot, and to make it perfectly circular.

Another method that works well with very small dots involves the use of carving needles. Roll the needle over so that the rounded back side is facing upward. Position the needle at a shallow angle across the dot with point on the far side. Press the tip into the rubber, down and away from the dot. Remove the needle from the rubber, rotate the stamp 90 degrees and repeat. After stabbing the rubber in four directions, the width of the needle will have cut the entire circumference. You can then easily remove the surrounding rubber. This works to make very tiny dots, but it's difficult to make them perfectly round.

To make a perfectly round inked dot, buy a selection of metal tubing. Hobby shops sell brass tubing in lots of sizes. For smaller sizes, buy hypodermic needles -- which you can get in really teeny sizes, tinier than you can actually use. More useful will be the sizes used on horses, which you can buy in a feed store for a few cents each. Cut the tip off and trim the end square -- or save the sharp end for carving and square off the back end. Chuck a piece of tubing up in an electric drill. With the tubing spinning, carefully jam something pointy into the center of the tube. The tip of an X-Acto blade or a pointed knife blade might work, but better would be a tiny Dremel grinding stone. Work the tool and bevel the inner edge of the tube until you have formed a sharpened edge on the tube. The outer edge of the opening of the tube should be straight-sided; the bevel should be entirely on the inside of the tube.

Once you have made this tool, set it straight down on the rubber. Push it down just a little, just barely enough to start cutting into the rubber. DO NOT press it in too far! Remove the tool, and then cut the surrounding rubber away with either a razor knife or a gouge. The circular cut you have made will guide your tools and make it easy to cut the rubber away, leaving the circular dot. When you do this right, the dot made -- even if very tiny -- will be obviously perfectly circular, which is sometimes important if you're trying to represent bubbles or the like.

If you press it down too far, the rubber will get jammed in the middle of that tube and you'll pull it off when you remove the tool. You'll have made a circular white dot instead of a circular inked dot.

What can you do when a stamp won't accept ink very well?

Condition the stamp using any of these methods:
  • Use a permanent marker to color the stamp and let the ink dry.
  • Wipe the stamp with acetone (just a little, don't soak it or you'll 'melt' the rubber).
  • Sand lightly with a fine grain sandpaper.
  • Sometimes just inking and stamping it a few times will make it work.
  • Wipe the stamp with a Magic Eraser. The scrubbing substance is Melamine foam and it works basically as a super fine sandpaper.

What printer/toner combinations work with which transfer methods?

Printer/CopierToner Cartridge/ManufacturerHeatAcetoneXyleneTransparency/Direct Transfer
HP Laserjet 4200 SeriesOfficeMax OM9881Great on PZ White and pink stuff, workable on PZ orange Mixed results on all tested blocks ?Can work with just rubbing, but better with heat
HP Laserjet 4 PlusHP 98A (92298A)??works great on the pink stuff?
HP Laserjet 5PHP 03A Toner Cartridge, HP C3903A?Produces very good image on Safety Kut and dollar store erasers (haven't tried other blocks)??
HP Laserjet 4300dtnHP 39Aworks on PZ Kut White and Orange, though heat setting should be lower with the orange???
Xerox Workcenter 5645Produces good images on pink stuff and PZ Kut white; faint but usable images on PZ Kut orange???
HP Laserjet 1022n?works fineyes??
Xerox XC356"old"Yes??Yes, when set on dark
ALPS Micro-Dry 1300 (no longer produced)ALPS dye sublimation ribbon cartridgesAbso-freakin-lutely amazing clarity on pink stuff; haven't tried anything else.n/an/an/a
Samsung ML-2010SamsungTransfer is always dark and crisp!???
HP Laserjet 2100HP?Works extremely well on white PZ Kut, and almost as well with orange PZ Kut??
HP Laserjet 2100M???worked very good on the pink stuff (clear, crisp transfer)?
HP Color Laserjet 4600dn *?Works very well on the pink stuff?worked okay on the pink stuff (transfer needs minor touchups before carving)?
HP Color LaserJet 1518 *HPworks on PZ Kut white and pink stuffworks on PZ Kut white??
HP Color LaserJet 2320 MFP *HPworks on PZ Kut white and pink stuffworks on PZ Kut white??
HP LaserJet Pro M28WHPIron-on??Good for SpeedyCarve pink slab
HP Color Laserjet Pro MFP M477fdnHP 410A Toner Cartridge Cyan, Yellow & Magenta, 3 Toner CartridgesWorks well on pink ? ? iron-on
Xerox Docucolor 250 (Kinkos)???Amazing on the orange, ok on pink?
Toshiba e-Studio 45Produces good images on pink stuff and PZ Kut white; faint but usable images on PZ Kut orange???
Canon MF5850 dnCanon cartridge 119 IITransfers very well onto the pink stuff?? iron on
Canon NP2020Transfers clear, dark image well on all materials???
Dell 1710nTransfers clearly on white and orange PZ Kut??
Brother HL-L2360DWBrother DR-630Clear, crisp iron/heat B/W transfers onto pink stuff and white PZ Kut; OZ dark, but not quite as crisp due to sheen???
Brother HL-2170WV4INK?Crisp transfer onto pink stuff; haven't tried others yet??

*Before printing on a color LaserJet, configure the printer driver to "Print in Grayscale" to ensure that the printer only prints with black toner. In the printer Properties, click on the "Color" tab to find the "Print in Grayscale" checkbox.

There has also been discussion about using solvent cocktails with both inkjet and toner based printers, with some success. The most common of these are various carburetor cleaners containing methanol, sometimes referred to as the "napalm" option. There has not been sufficient data submitted to suggest specific a specific combination to try or to avoid.

Are there any rules about using trademarked images?

Not particularly. Technically speaking, it's probably illegal to use a trademarked image, but nobody really seems to care much if you're only using it for personal reasons and don't plan to make lots of money off of other people's work or cheat the artist of money they are due. If the owner of a trademarks asks you to stop using it, however, take the request seriously.

What glue do I use to mount a stamp?

Some suggested glues for mounting a stamp to foam include:

  • Super glue
  • Perfect Glue #1
  • Contact cement
  • Gorilla Glue
  • Silicone II kitchen & bath 100% sealant
  • 3M Super Trim Adhesive -- tip from Kirbert: This glue is so "watery" when it comes out of the can that I've taken to just spraying a gob onto one piece. Then I put the other piece on top and slide it around a bit to spread the glue to completely coat both pieces. Then separate them and allow the glue to dry, which only takes about two minutes. Then press the parts together, and they're together for good.
  • E6000
  • Elmer's Stix-All Gel
  • Acrylic medium to glue stamps onto foam

More Kirbert tips:

  • You need a glue that dries to a rubbery consistency. Anything that dries to something hard will be problematic holding rubber to foam.
  • Not water soluble glues e.g. most glue sticks

How can I create a multi-layered stamp?

The procedure is fairly simple although there are more complicated ways.

Each step must be precise.
Step one is to use two, three, or whatever layers of vellum. I trace the "holding" layer first from one of my drawings. I mark each corner at 2.5 x 3.5. (I'll often rule out the entire edge as well.) I then layout the next color layer over the first "holding" layer making sure to mark the corners again.(I tape each layer down on it's longest edge to hold it in place) I then use a flipping back and forth technique used by animators to check for accuracy. This keeps the piece in alignment from start to finish. I repeat this process for each layer. I also ever so slightly create a "trap" as I make each layer. A "trap" is a process of making the layer below just SLIGHTLY bigger than the one above to allow for a little wiggle room. This is VERY slight....a line breadth.

I now transfer each layer to a separate piece of PZKut cut precisely to 2.5 x 3.5. I say precisely, but in reality it is near impossible to cut the PZKut perfectly.

Carve each layer. Make sure edges that butt together with other layers are precisely cut. No bigger, no less.

This is where a steady hand comes into play. I print all of the bottom layers first (unless I am looking for a particular blending process) and then each consecutive layer. I align them by matching the top and left side of the stamp with the top and left edge of the card. I slightly bend the PZKut convexly in order to keep the stamp from touching the card prematurely.

That's it.

This process can be streamlined using the iron-on transfer method and printing each layer instead of tracing.

Here are some examples of what we have done using the layer technique described above.

What if my stamps suck?

Who cares? If nobody likes your stamps, they don't have to look for them. There's no such thing as a perfect stamp, and it doesn't matter how long you've been carving or how good everyone thinks you are, there will always be someone who isn't going to like your stamp. Tough noogies for them. They'll just have to deal with it.

We all know that every stamp carver has to start somewhere, and few people carve their first stamp and have a masterpiece to show for their efforts. Stamp carving takes practice, practice, and more practice to become really good. We all understand if you're new to carving and the stamps are something less than perfect. Most people don't look for letterboxes looking for incredible works of art—just stamps that people put all their effort into. Do your best. If others don't like it, so what? There will be plenty of other people who will appreciate your efforts and thank you for hiding the letterbox.

Carving a beautiful stamp does not require artistic skills of any sort. If you can trace an image, you can carve a stamp! Check out the Carving Tutorial here on Atlas Quest. It'll explain the tools you'll need, carving tips, along with other Internet resources about the subject. You'll start carving stamps worthy of a professional before you know it!

How large should my signature stamp be?

Ideally, make it as small as possible. A 1" x 1" stamp will fit well in most logbooks you find while larger stamps may not fit in a many boxes you find. Some people carve several signature stamps of various sizes—the large, highly-detailed stamp would be used in large logbooks while the small version gets used in smaller logbooks. Others make sure that their large stamp has a small section that can be used and still look good, even if the whole stamp won't fit. Perhaps the head of an animal can be used in a small logbook, while the body will be off the page. Do what works for you, but most people carry at least one small stamp to handle the smallest of the logbooks they are likely to find.

Can I get other people to carve stamps for me?

Definitely! Some people enjoy carving stamps so much that they carve far more than they can plant themselves. Or sometimes people have old stamps that they no longer have a good use for and would be willing to send them to you to give them a new life.

First, go to the Stamp Exchange. The link for it can always be found under the Toolbox menubar option. Go ahead and peruse the stamps already being offered, but be sure to check the option for notifications of new stamp offers to make sure you learn about any newly listed offers each day.

You'll also want to follow the link to the Stamp Swap board. Some people post requests to this board, and if you have any questions about requesting a stamp carving, this is a good place to ask. You can mark the board as a favorite by clicking the red heart in the title next to the board name. If there's a checkmark in the heart, then the board is a favorite. You don't have to 'swap' one stamp for another—many carvers are willing just to let you have them.

What is a wire knife? And where can I get one?

A wire knife is a carving tool made by grinding a cutting edge into a piece of steel wire and then mounting the steel wire "blade" in a pin vise. By using a small piece of wire, you end up with a very tiny cutting tool indeed. Excellent for carving exquisite details into a stamp -- even better than carving needles. A wire knife is also easier to get used to than carving needles, since it is used exactly the same way as an X-Acto knife.

Kirbert provides instructions on how to fabricate a wire knife on his web site:

How do I sharpen my tools?

Kirbert has written an excellent guide on how to Sharpen and Modify carving gouges.

How do I get a transferred image off of the carving material?

If a transferred image doesn't come out the way you wanted it too and needs to be removed, the best way I found, if it's pencil, is using nail polish remover. The acetone melts the image off nicely.

Does anyone have tips or tricks for doing peoples faces?

Nobody has answered this question yet! Be the first!

How do I carve small letters?

Remember to carve the mirror image so that when stamped they come out correctly. Use lots of magnification, go slowly and breathe.

How do you shave down a stamp for MicroPLBs?

Carving thin stamps is a knack for sure. Here is one way to thin down a stamp for a micro. I'm sure there are many other ways it can be done.
  1. Pick the image. The most successful images for Micro’s have lots of lines and texture and not a lot of open area.
  2. Transfer the image to carving material using your preferred material and method. If you don’t want to transfer at this stage that’s OK, just make your material a rectangular shape slightly larger than your chosen image.
  3. If you have transferred the image, trim the material around the edge, but not right against the image, leave a bit of space around the outside edge that can be trimmed off later if you prefer. It helps if the material is trimmed square or rectangular a little bit larger than the image.
  4. If your procedure is to apply a layer of yellow Stays-on ink to the transfer to set the image do that and let it dry. That makes it easier to see the carving once you start the front.
  5. BEFORE you carve the front, shave off the back. The reason it’s better to trim the back before carving the front is the ability to push evenly against your work surface when using the gouge. If you carve the front first, and there are large open areas on the front, it is very difficult to shave down the back without breaking through to the front as there is nothing to push against underneath.

    First step is to scribe a line with a ball point pen around the perimeter (edge) of the material. Abut the edge the material up against the edge of something like a thin ruler or drafting triangle that is about half as thick as the material and use that as a guide for the scribing the line. Do one side and turn until there is a line on all four edges. Some carvers are skilled enough to use a knife and cut the material in half along these lines yielding two usable pieces of material. Bless their hearts.

    The rest of us need to be patient and spend a lot of time shaving the back using the edge line as a depth gauge. Put on a rerun of a favorite movie so you can just listen to pass the time while you shave away. Use your widest half round gouge and just go back and forth taking a little more off each time. You’ll get the hang of it. There will be scalloped rows and then you shave off the ridges of the scallops which creates a lot more scallops and you shave off the ridges and so on and so on. It will get thinner and thinner, and smoother and smoother.

    If you want to get a really smooth back rub it against a piece of coarse sandpaper.

    It’s nice to practice your technique on a piece of scrap before buggering up a perfectly good piece of material.
  6. Then carve the front of the stamp making sure not to go too deeply. When you’re working with thinner material and you are used to carving deeply it will be an adjustment. Here again, practice on a sample piece that has been trimmed down. You don’t need to carve deeply to get a line to print as anybody knows who has had a small gouge slip across an area and leave a mark that prints every time.