The Mini Maker Faire, not the big one. I’ve applied to participate in it and if I get in, you’ll be gleefully invited to turn out and make crazy rubber stamps and stickers by carving up and printing erasers. Fingers crossed!
I scrambled together the application for Make this week, and while I was at it I figured why not also write the project up into what I hope will be an appealing and informative tutorial?
Making Your Own Rubber Stamps and Stickers
These white plastic Staedtler Mars erasers are the ones I favor, for no justifiable reason except that I already use them in my day job and thus always have them around. This annoying silhouette of the Roman god Mars on them renders two of the six surfaces useless for rubber stamping purposes, but they’re really good erasers, which matters in my day job. Anyway, if you wanted to stamp something as big (relatively) as the large sides of these erasers, you’d need to mount the soft squishy stamp on something hard: too much like work for me, compared to just doing something tiny on the ends that are convenient. I’m lazy about my fun.
Okay! I use a sharp knife to cut off a slice of eraser a little more than a half-inch thick, and I use a Sharpie to draw the design on the rubber. I could use a ballpoint (and in fact drawing with a ballpoint on the soft rubber is mysteriously satisfying) but I use a Sharpie because I have found that the fat line it makes is about as much detail as the eraser can really capture in relief. Remember to reverse any letterforms! Taking the bit of eraser into the bathroom and holding it up to the mirror will catch this error, if you’ve made it. Before you start carving, yes?
Staining the surface of the rubber with a stamp pad before you start cutting will make it easy to see what you’ve cut as you go along. To cut the design, I use a linoleum cutting tool. You can get them at any reasonable art supply store, either buying the handle and blades separately, or as a set. The tiny V cutter I use for rubber stamps is Blade Number 1. You hold it as pictured, with the butt of the handle pressed into your palm and your index finger stretched out to direct the point.
You don’t need to use much force to carve an eraser. To get good fingertip control, you can either lean back in your chair with your elbows pressed to your sides and hold the eraser and tool up to your face; or you can lean forward, plant your elbows on the desk and bring your face down to the tool and the eraser; whichever works for you. If you find yourself holding the tool like you would a pencil or a pen, with the point down and the round end up in the air, you will have trouble; the point will be stabbing down into the rubber instead of slicing a shallow channel out of it. It may feel awkward to hold the tool the proper way at first, creating the oomph with the heel of your hand and just using your index finger to direct the point, but that’s how this tool is designed to work. You can also hold the tool steady and turn the eraser to make the cuts.
Carve a little, stamp it and see what you’ve got, carve a little more, stamp it again; you can always carve off more once you see what you’ve done. As your design gets close to what you intended, work in even tinier steps: carve, stamp, carve, stamp. When you like the way it looks, use that sharp knife you used to slice your stamp blank off the eraser to carve away the shoulders of your stamp so they don’t print. And then — why, stamp away!