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How to Choose Rubber Stamp Ink

Updated on August 17, 2014

So Many Choices!

The rubber stamping section of the local craft store offers a dazzling array of ink colors and types. Determining which rubber stamp ink to use can be intimidating. Choosing the wrong ink can cause you to abandon your project in frustration, and repeated mistakes can be costly. Keeping a few key bits of information in mind will help you choose the right rubber stamp ink for the job and experience the joy and satisfaction of creating a beautiful project.

The two most common types of rubber stamping inks are dye inks and pigment inks. Once you know the qualities and applications of each, youâll be able to choose the best ink for your project. There is also an ever expanding selection of specialty inks. A few types of specialty inks are also detailed below.

Photo of Color Box Pigment Ink, available on Amazon (click here for details)

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When to Choose Dye Ink

Tips for finding and using dye stamp pads

Choose dye ink when you want a quick drying ink that works on any paper surface. Dye inks are an excellent general purpose ink.

Novice stampers and young crafters will find dye inks especially satisfying because they dry quickly, even on coated papers and vellum, and are therefore less likely to smear.

Dye inks come in a wide range of colors.

On the down side, dye inks tend to fade over time, especially if exposed to sunlight.

Dye inks are translucent, so are not effective on dark colored surfaces.

Not all dye inks say "dye" on the label, but you can generally pick them out by the packaging. Because of their tendency to fade, dye inks are packaged in opaque containers. Inside the container, you'll notice that dye inks usually have a felt (rather than foam) ink pad.

When transferring the ink from the ink pad to the rubber stamp, a firm and repeated stamping technique is used to completely coat the stamp.

To get the maximum life from your dye inks, keep the container tightly closed and store the ink pad upside down, so the ink is drawn to the top of the felt pad.

When to Choose Pigment Ink

Tips for finding and using pigment stamp pads

Choose pigment ink when you want to emboss, or need a special finish.

Pigment inks are slow drying inks. In fact, pigment ink stamped on vellum or coated paper stock will never completely dry and must be heat embossed to be usable.

Pigment inks come in a wide range of colors, including rich jewel tones, metallics and iridescents, which may not be generally available in dye inks.

Pigment inks are opaque and can be used successfully on dark colored paper.

Because they are slow drying, using pigment inks may require more skill and patience to avoid smearing the image. Heat embossing (sprinkling the inked image with embossing powder and applying a heat gun to melt and seal the powder) prevents smearing and results in a professional looking glossy finish.

Pigment inks do not fade and are often packaged in clear topped containers, showing off the appealing vibrant colors to their best advantage.

Pigment ink pads are usually made of spongy foam. When inking the stamp, a gentle pressure is required, so excess ink doesn't smear onto unwanted portions of the stamp's surface.

Tightly sealed, closed pigment ink containers should be stored right side up, so the ink doesn't drip out of the foam pad.

Which type of ink do you prefer?

Solvent Ink

A special ink for special surfaces

Choose solvent ink when you want to stamp on hard non-porous surfaces, such as plastic, glass, or metal.

Solvent inks come in more than a dozen colors and are permanent and waterproof when dry.

Solvent inks also work well on coated paper stock and vellum and are not heat embossed.

Solvent inks have a distinctive chemical odor and must be used in a well ventilated area.

Rubber stamps must be cleaned with a special solvent ink cleaner after use with solvent inks.

Store solvent inks as you would pigment inks: tightly close the container and store the container in an upright position.

Chalk Finish Inks

An ink with a soft finish

Choose chalk finish ink for a soft, chalked look to the finished project.

Chalk finish inks combine characteristics of dye and pigment inks. Chalk inks don't dry quite as quickly as dye inks, but do dry thoroughly on most surfaces.

There is no need to heat emboss chalk inks, as that would defeat their purpose in providing a chalky finish.

Chalk inks typically come in soft pastel and muted tones.

Clean up is the same as for dye and pigment inks and storage is the same as for pigment inks.

NOTE: Chalk ink markers are not for use with rubber stamps. They're for white boards and chalk boards.

Watermark Ink

The ink with no color -- what's up with that?

Choose watermark ink when you want to create a clear image, or apply chalks or powders to a sticky design.

Watermark ink is a clear sticky ink that can be heat embossed for a color-on-color look. Using watermark ink and clear embossing powder will result in an elegant, glossy clear image that permits the paper color to show through.

Because of its sticky nature, chalk powders and lustrous pigment powders can be applied to watermark inked images to create one-of-a-kind designs.

Watermark pens are also available.

Watermark ink pads are usually made of firm foam and are packaged in opaque containers. The name on the package often ends with the suffix -mark. The sticky ink is not as runny as pigment ink and the container may be stored either upright or upside down.

It's important to clean your rubber stamp thoroughly before using watermark inks. Residual colored ink from previous projects will stain the pad and tint the watermark ink.

Dried watermark ink left on a rubber stamp can be stubborn to remove, so it's best to clean your stamps immediately after using watermark ink.

Alcohol Ink

A special ink with no stamp pad required

Choose alcohol ink for special projects.

Alcohol inks are sold in liquid form, in a bottle, not in a stamp pad.

Alcohol inks are extremely fast drying, and the evaporation of the alcohol creates unusual effects. Sometimes used in conjunction with other agents, alcohol inks are often applied directly to the project surface, rather than being used on a rubber stamp.

Alcohol inks stain surfaces and skin, and wearing disposable gloves is recommended.

Alcohol inks are best purchased with a particular project in mind. Random experimentation may not prove very satisfying. Check out some project ideas by clicking right here.

Water Color Ink

Rubber stamping with pens instead of pads

Choose water color ink when you want to use multiple colors on single stamp.

Water color inks are often sold in marker form (rather than on a stamp pad), enabling you to draw the color directly onto the rubber stamp. For example, when using a flower stamp, you can color the center of the flower red, the petals yellow, and the leaves and stem green, all without having to re-ink or line up multiple impressions. When you've completed coloring the stamp, your warm breath will re-moisten, or re-activate the ink, just prior to applying the stamp to the project.

Colors can be mixed and blended on the stamp.

Keep water color markers tightly capped when not in use, and store them tip down, to keep the ink in contact with the marker's nib.

A Few Last Tips

Scrapbooks and Rubber Stamp Ink

All inks are acid free but not all inks are safe to use in scrapbooks. Make sure the ink is waterproof so photos won’t be damaged by running ink. One way to avoid the problem is to heat emboss all stamped images, effectively “sealing in“ the ink. However, you may want to avoid putting the embossed image on a page directly facing a photograph, where the raised embossing might mark or dent the photo when the book is closed.

Rubber Stamping with Children

When working with young crafters, provide adequate supervision. Most inks are not naturally non-toxic and almost all inks will stain surfaces. Some manufacturers have child safe ink lines, which you may wish to consider.

Did you learn something new about rubber stamp inks? - Comments open to anyone -- you don't need to be logged in

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    • kislanyk profile image

      Marika 4 years ago from Cyprus

      Some great ideas. I do remember using rubber stamp ink for crafts when I was making stamped greeting cards, it was fun to use them.

    • SheGetsCreative profile image

      Angela F 4 years ago from Seattle, WA

      I used to do a lot of rubber stamping and embossing - great definitions for newbies!

    • Scarlettohairy profile image

      Peggy Hazelwood 4 years ago from Desert Southwest, U.S.A.

      I didn't know any of this! I love the clear info about the different kinds of inks. I tend to buy what's on sale and use them willy nilly. Thanks for the tutorial!

    • gottaloveit2 profile image

      gottaloveit2 4 years ago

      Really nice article, Bossy. Helpful information interspersed with useful items. This is exactly the kind of article Squidoo likes - and me too! Blessed.

    • Margaret Schindel profile image

      Margaret Schindel 4 years ago from Massachusetts

      Thanks so much for creating this wonderful article! I've always been confused about the many different types of crafting inks available and your explanations are helping me to get a better handle on these. Quick question: Do you happen to know which of these inks can be used successfully on polymer clay or on metal and whether they need to be heat-set for those applications? Thanks again!

    • AlishaV profile image

      Alisha Vargas 4 years ago from Reno, Nevada

      Neat! I didn't know there were so many options. Glad you cleared it up, so many choices would have made me scared.

    • Virginia Allain profile image

      Virginia Allain 4 years ago from Central Florida

      Wow, didn't know there were so many variations on the inks. I've collected a few stamps, but need to get some fancy inks to go with them.

    • ismeedee profile image

      ismeedee 4 years ago

      rubber stamping is fun!!