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How Printmaking and Stamp Making Works
Projects : How Printmaking Works — Carve Your Own Rubber Stamps

Traditional Printmaking

Carve Your Own Rubber Stamps

How Printmaking Works

By Chris Dunmire

If you've ever had the urge to make your own rubber stamps or experiment with hand printing 2D carved art, the following is a great primer into basic printmaking techniques.

Traditional printmaking and rubber stamping have a lot in common. They both utilize a backwards-carved "pad" dipped in ink and pressed onto paper to achieve a forward image that can be re-stamped multiple times.

A popular kids activity with printmaking is to cut a potato in half and carve an image into the exposed potato flesh (the recessed areas will remain void in the stamping process). Then, the potato "stamp" is dipped into ink or paint and pressed onto paper. The stamp can be reused until it falls apart (or until a tired parent makes it disappear!).

A more sophisticated technique for printmaking and carving "stamps" is using rubbery linoleum blocks. These blocks can be purchased through art supply catalogs and are perfect for kid's art projects when combined with "washable" ink. Below is the basic tools needed and techniques used for this kind of printmaking.

Materials Needed:

  • Linoleum block
  • Carving tools
  • Washable ink and roller
  • Paper
  • Pencil

Project Instructions:

Step 1

Trace the linoleum block onto paper to create a frame for your art.

Step 2

Draw a picture within the framed area on the paper. Simplified images with fewer details work best for printing.

IMPORTANT: Your drawn picture should be a "mirror" image of your desired printed picture. Be sure any words or numbers drawn on your picture are backwards.

Step 3

Transfer your drawing onto the block. To do this, simply turn the drawing over, darken the back of your picture with pencil graphite, and place the drawing right-side up in alignment with the linoleum block. Retrace your picture onto the block. When you lift the paper, you should see an outline of your picture on the block.

Alternatively, re-draw your picture directly on the block.

Carved Linoleum Block

Example of my sleeping kitty in a carved linoleum block (image carved backwards). The carved areas on the block will be void of ink when printed.

Step 4

Carve the picture lines into the linoleum block with a carving tool. The thicker the lines, the more bold the image will be when stamped (due to positive and negative space).

Caution: Most carving tools are very sharp, so always keep your hands "behind" the tool (not in front) to avoid injury.

Step 5

Roll a dab of ink on a washable surface to create a smooth consistency, and then take the roller over the top of the linoleum block, covering it with an even "tacky" coat. Don't glop it on, and be sure the carved areas are void of any ink globs.

Pressed/printed stamp image.

Pressed / printed stamp image

Step 6

Press the linoleum block face-down on paper to create your printed stamp.

You may have to repeat steps 5 and 6 several times to get the knack of good pressed printing. Through experimenting you'll see how much ink you need to yield the best imprints. You can also experiment with mixing different ink colors on top of the block to make multi-colored prints.

When the printing process is done, lay aside the prints to dry for a couple of hours.

Additional Tips: Try a variety of types and colored papers for your printing. Practice on regular computer paper, and when you become a pro, move onto an absorbent cotton-fiber paper for a more classy "artful" effect. •

© 2005 Chris Dunmire. All rights reserved.

About the Author | More by Chris Dunmire
Creativity Portal® founder Chris Dunmire works with artists, writers, and others desiring to reach deeper, more meaningful levels of creativity, artistic expression, and everyday joy. Visit her Web sites at ChrisDunmire.com and CoachingYourCreativity.com.