someone who’s been involved with rubber stamping
for more than 25 years, I truly appreciate the vast array
of stamp pads that are currently available on the market.
There are so many stunning colors, and so many specialty
inks that can be used to produce amazing effects!
But I’ve got to admit that all these choices can
get a bit overwhelming. How can you possibly hope to make
sense of all the different brand names and types of ink?
Well, follow along, and we'll explore the alternatives
and help you decide which ink pads will work best for
your artistic style.
The first inkpads I ever saw were those single-color
supply pads, enclosed in a case with a hinged lid.
They 're great for marking a bill as "PAID"
or a package as "FRAGILE", but they didn’t
do much for me as an artist. After shopping around at
half a dozen office supply stores, I managed to collect
a total of five colors, and the stamp impressions they
provided were less than stunning. Furthermore, it was
almost impossible to ink up a stamp that was bigger than
my inkpad, because the sides of the hinged case got in
Fortunately, those days are over. Now you can go into
the craft aisle of almost any discount store and buy inkpads
with a raised surface for inking up any sized stamp. Plus,
they come in every color imaginable... especially if you
go online or visit a full-fledged specialty craft store!
Some brands have removable lids, or lids that fold away
underneath, so you don't have to worry about them getting
in the way. Most of the popular brands even have little
bottles of ink available for freshening up the pads when
they start to dry out. It’s a great time to be a
There are several different sizes of ink pads available.
In general, I recommend buying full-size ink pads (about
2" x 3") rather than the little Cat's
Eye or Dew
Drop pads. They are easier to use, need less re-inking,
and provide better coverage. Some people say they like
the little pads for applying ink into tight corners, but
there are brush-tip markers available that do an even
better job. If the portability of your collection is a
primary concern, then buy the miniature
ink pads. But, plan on buying re-inkers for them soon
if you expect to use them often. Miniature ink pads are
also a great way to try out a new type of ink before you
invest in the larger pads.
knows that most ink pads are either dye-based
or pigment-based, but a
lot of guides and tutorials fail to really explore
the variations that exist within these categories.
It's wise to examine all your options and determine
which inks work best for the types of projects you’ll
be working on and the techniques you want to try.
So let’s start going through the list of possibilities:
These are general purpose inks that can be used for stamping
on most kinds of paper. Dye inkpads come in a variety
of sizes, as well as inking surfaces—including felt,
linen and sponge. They are generally inexpensive, and
are available in a large range of colors. The colors are
transparent and somewhat thin bodied so you may find that
lighter shades tend to produce a subtle, pastel effect
while darker colors can produce a very strong, bright
Dye-based inks set up by soaking in and staining the
fibers of the paper. On porous surfaces, this tends to
happen quickly, so they are generally not appropriate
for use with embossing powders. On glossy, coated or other
non-porous surfaces, they tend not to not dry at all and
will easily smudge. They also have a tendency to bead
up on the surface of clear polymer stamps, producing a
somewhat fuzzy impression.
WATER-BASED DYE INKS
dye inks are acid-free, but do tend to fade with time
and especially sunlight. Furthermore, these inks are not
waterproof, which means they can run if they get wet.
You won’t want to color over your stamped images
with markers or water colors because the ink will smear,
so stick with chalks, crayons or colored pencils. Avoid
using water-based dye ink on very absorbent surfaces,
such as mulberry paper, since it will tend to bleed.
On the other hand, you can produce some really interesting
effects by taking advantage of the water-soluble nature
of dye inks. For instance, try inking up a stamp that
has broad surfaces in its design, and then use a spray
bottle to lightly mist it with water before stamping to
get a unique mottled effect. Or gently wash over stamped
images with a small, damp paintbrush to achieve a watercolor
look. You can even use your dye ink pads as water color
paints by touching them with a moist brush and then painting
directly onto paper. Experiment with different types of
paper such as cardstock or watercolor paper.
Water-based dye inks are easily cleaned from your stamps
with water. Some people like to use damp paper towels
or baby wipes to dab the ink off.
Examples of water-based dye ink include:
- Marvy Matchables
- Tsukineko Impress
- Clearsnap Vivid!
- Ranger Adirondack Dye Ink
- Ranger Nick Bantock Dye Ink
- Stampin’ Up! Classic Ink Pads (EXCEPT Basic
Black, Basic Brown and Basic Grey)
ANTIQUING AND DISTRESSING INKS
Inks from Ranger are a very popular brand of water-based
dye ink pads that are almost in a class by themselves.
Noted for their soft "worn and weathered" colors,
they’re different from most other dye inks because
they stay wet longer, making them very "alterable".
They are unbeatable for blending with water or other inks
to produce special shadowing and antiquing effects. Try
daubing some of this ink onto a piece of paper, and then
mist it with water and watch the colors start mingling
and spreading! They also work better on photos than other
types of dye ink.
ink, which is actually produced by soaking black walnuts
in water, is another substance that is used for distressing.
It is commercially available from Tsukineko in a crystalline
form that needs to be mixed with water and can then be
used to add a brownish patina to paper for an antique
look, similar to what you would get with the Walnut Stain
or Tea Dye colors from the Tim Holtz Distress collection.
Most recently, Tsukineko has also started marketing "Walnut
Ink" as a brand name for a multi-color line of
antiquing solutions that are available in spray bottles.
A company called FiberScraps makes a product called EZ
Walnut Ink TintZ. They are available in an array of colors,
similar to the Tim Holtz Distress brand, but they come
in a bottle with a dauber applicator, rather than an ink
Hero Arts Shadow Inks are another product that is similar
to the Distress brand. They are marketed specifically
for use with solid "shadow stamps". They provide
a subtle wash of ink that flows into the paper, creating
a soft-edged background. They can also be applied directly
to paper as a watercolor wash.
WATERPROOF DYE INKS
type of ink has a special base that, once dry, will not
run with water. Many of these inks are also acid-free
and may be preferred for scrapbooking because of their
waterproof quality. This type of inkpad is especially
useful for stamping an outline of an image and then coloring
it in with markers or water colors. Hence, you may see
these labeled as an "outliner" pad or "watercolor
ink pad". This type of dye ink also tends to be less
prone to fading than the traditional water-based dyes.
Be aware that although this type of ink is water-resistant
and is sometimes labeled as "permanent", it
is not suitable for fabric stamping or stamping on shrink
plastic. Furthermore, because of its waterproof qualities,
it is also somewhat more difficult to clean off of your
stamps. Usually soap and water will do the trick, but
some brands may require a solvent-based cleaner to really
do the trick.
Examples of waterproof dye ink include:
- Tsukineko Memento
- Clearsnap Ancient Page
- Stewart Superior Memories
- Ranger Archival Inks
- Stampin’ Up! Classic Ink Pads (Basic Black,
Basic Brown and Basic Grey ONLY)
This is a deep black, super-quick-drying dye ink formula
that has been used for centuries as an outline ink for
illustrations that are intended to be painted over with
watercolors. It works fine with modern water-based ink
markers, as well. It is the fastest drying black dye ink
on the market, and can be used for all porous and nonporous
surfaces. Memories India Ink Black from Stewart Superior
is advertized to be non-smearing, acid free, archival
and fade resistant.
Alcohol inks are permanent, dye based inks. They are
sold in dropper bottles rather than stamp pads, and aren't
really what I would call a rubber stamping ink. However,
they are often used in conjuction with stamping techniques—usually
for making background designs onto which images can then
be stamped with other types of inks.
Alcohol inks are fast drying, transparent, and acid free.
Ranger Adirondack is the most popular brand name available
on the market. They can be used full strength, or they
can be diluted with an alcohol blending solution. This
solution can also be used to facilitate the intermixing
of various colors. Other mixing additives are available
to provide metallic or pearlescent effects.
Alcohol inks are often used in conjuction with a special
applicator that resembles an old-school rubber stamp mount.
Instead of a rubber stamp, it has a strip of velcro on
its face, to which replaceable felt pads can be attached.
Dots of alcohol ink can be dropped onto the felt, along
with some blending solution or rubbing alcohol, and then
a random pattern can be "stamped" out onto a
pattern can be further altered by daubing or spritzing
alcohol onto the surface after the ink has been applied.
These methods produces unique mottled and/or streaked
effects that are reminiscent of polished marble or stone.
Alcohol inks are suitable for almost any surface including
glossy paper, plastic, metal, shrink plastic, metal foil,
glass, or just about anything else you can think of. As
I've already mentioned, these inks aren't well-suited
for use with rubber stamps. They dry very rapidly, and
over time can actually dry out your stamps and cause them
to crack. If you want to experiement, be sure to clean
your stamps afterwards with a commercial stamp cleaner
[ BACK ]
ink does not contain dyes. It consists of solid pigmentation,
usually suspended in a glycerin base. It tends to be thicker
bodied than dye based inks and is usually distributed
from a sponge pad. It does not soak in and stain the paper
like a dye-based ink but, instead, dries on top of the
surface and remains opaque. That means the ink takes a
little longer to dry on regular paper, but the color will
remain on the surface, appearing more bright and vibrant.
Pigment inks are fade resistant, so they are great for
projects requiring longevity, such as scrapbooks.
Pigment ink will not dry on glossy paper unless you use
a heat gun to set it. It may never dry on completely non-porous
surfaces, such as plastic or metal. Sometimes, you may
even wish to heat set on porous paper. Once heat set,
you can watercolor over pigment ink without smearing.
Because pigment ink is thick and stays wet for so long,
it’s perfect for use with embossing powders! To
learn more about using embossing powders, see our Embossing
Guide. Another consequence of the thickness of pigment
ink is that it’s a little harder to clean it off
your stamps. It does come off with water, but you may
want to use a toothbrush or a special stamp cleaning pad
to remove it thoroughly from the tiny crevices of the
Examples of pigment ink include:
- Clearsnap ColorBox
- Tsukineko VersaColor
- Ranger Adirondack Pigment Ink
FAST-DRYING PIGMENT INKS
Some pigment inks have a resin base, instead of glycerin
and can be heat set for permanence even on plastic or
vellum. These inks tend to be faster drying and therefore
are somewhat less suitable for embossing because they
may dry before you can get the powder distributed over
the stamped image. Ranger Antiquities Ink is one fast
drying pigment ink that works pretty well for embossing,
and can be heat set for use on smooth surfaces. Tsukineko
is harder to emboss with, but dries naturally on smooth
surfaces such as vellum or coated paper. Inkredible is
another brand with characteristics very similar to Brilliance.
is a revolutionary ink from Tsukineko that is oil-based
yet water-soluble. It has the opacity of a pigment ink,
but offers the quick drying convenience of a dye ink.
It is acid-free, waterproof, and fade-resistant, although
it has a somewhat limited number of colors currently available.
It works great for stamping outlines and then using watercolors
or markers over the top without bleeding. Furthermore,
it provides superior coverage that produces unbeatable
results with highly detailed rubber stamps designs.
Many ink pad manufacturers offer special pigment ink
formulations that are infused with shiny particles that
cause them to shimmer and sparkle. You will see such inks
labeled as metallic, pearlescent, iridescent, reflective,
and/or interference inks. These varying terms can lead
to some confusion.
inks, as the name suggests, produce a metallic lustre.This
effect is achieved by adding minute particles of aluminum
or other metallic dust to the ink or, in many cases, shiny
plastic particles that have been coated with hightly reflective
metal oxides. Most of the manufacturers that produce pigment
ink pads also offer metallic options, such as ColorBox
MetaleXtra, and Tsukineko
phrase "reflective interference" refers to the
tendency of a substance to separate a light source into
various wavelengths and then reflect it back in such a
way that different colors can be seen when viewing from
different angles. Reflective interference is responsible
for the prismatic effect you see when looking at soap
bubbles, oil slicks, hummingbird feathers, dragonfly wings
and compact discs. Ink pad manufacturers usually achieve
this effect by infusing their inks with powdered flakes
of a semi-transparent mineral known as mica. Examples
of reflective interference inks include Pearl Ex Stamp
Pads, ColorBox Mica Magic, and Tsukineko
"Pearlescence" is pretty much the same as interference,
inks tend to have a somewhat milky essence to their
reflective qualities, similar to the mother-of-pearl effect
you see on the inside of an oyster shell. Tsukineko’s
Brilliance collection includes a popular line of pearlescent
ink pads in a wide range of colors.
Some ink manufacturers prefer to use the term "iridescence"
when describing their products, which essentially means
the same thing as reflective interference. If anything,
so-called "iridescent" inks tend to have stronger
colors than other interference inks, and usually also
have a metallic lustre which is comparible to the nearly-metallic
sheen of some types of beetles. Stewart Superior Palette
Metallics and Pearl Ex Metallic Color Stamp Pads are classic
examples of metallic iridescent ink pads.
Just to confuse matters even more, I will mention that
I happen to own several ink pads from Dr. Ph. Martin that
are described as iridescent, although they do not have
a metallic sheen and are more like the interference inks
described above. I'm not sure if they're still being produced,
but I see that they are still available from several online
Many sparkling inks (metallic inks, in particular) seem
to be prone to bleeding through one sheet of paper onto
the next, so it's a good idea to insert a layer of scrap
paper behind your work surface when using them.
FABRIC AND CRAFT INKS
These are actually pigment inks, and can be used much
the same as other pigments. However, when heat set, these
inks become permanent, making them especially useful for
fabric and wood stamping. A handy tip to keep in mind
when stamping on fabric is that if you make a mistake,
you can just launder the item without heat setting the
ink, and it will simply wash away!
Examples of this type of ink include:
- ColorBox Crafter’s Ink
- Tsukineko VersaCraft
- Stampin’ Up! Craft Inkpads
These are a relatively new type of ink pad designed
to produce a soft chalk-like look without a dusty residue.
Some of the earliest formulations were dye inks with a
powdery substance suspended in them. These seem to have
gone away, for the most part, and have been replaced by
a new generation of chalk inks that are actually a type
of pigment ink.
They are available in a wide range of very popular muted,
pastel colors which dry to a matte finish. The result
actually does resemble artist chalks, and lends itself
to many simple yet sophisticated techniques. Their opaque
coverage produces dramatic effects on dark papers, and
they work great for making backgrounds with direct-to-paper
application. They are acid free and archival, making them
perfect for scrapbooking. Since they’re water based,
the are easy to clean off your stamps.
They dry quickly on absorbent surfaces (much too quickly
for use with embossing powder) and are permanent when
heat set, allowing them to be used with watercolors and
markers. Even when they are air dried, they resist smearing,
bleeding and fading. They also work on glossy and coated
surfaces, although drying times can vary. In such cases,
you may want to heat set them for faster drying, and embossing
would be an option.
Examples of chalk inks include:
[ BACK ]
most ink pads come in single colors, they can also have
a variety of colors on the same pad. These are often referred
to as "spectrum" or "rainbow"
pads. If you are looking for a water-based dye ink spectrum
pad, there are two basic options. Since dye inks are prone
to bleeding together, one type of ink pad actually separates
the various colors onto a series of small individual ink
pads. These pads provide a mechanism to simply push the
individual pads together for stamping, and then pull them
apart again for storage. Therefore, the colors can not
intermingle during storage and become muddy. Examples
of this kind of ink pad include Stampin' Up! Spectrum
and Tsukineko Kaleidacolor.
The other type of dye ink spectrum pad is represented
by the Ranger Big & Juicy Rainbow pads, in which the
colors are not separated at all. These pads provide a
smooth transition where one color gracefully bleeds into
the next, rather than having distinct stripes. Over time,
however, these pads can begin to look muddy. Be sure to
always store them flat to help keep colors from drifting
to one side, and be prepared to re-ink lighter colors
from time to time.
Spectrum pads are also available with pigment and chalk
inks. Because these inks are so thick, the colors will
not mix and muddy when stored in contact like the dye
ink pads. Clearsnap’s PaintBox
Pads and Option Pads are designed so that each individual
color will actually snap out so you can use them alone,
or you can rearrange them within the container to create
your own customized spectrum of colors. They are available
with pigment, chalk, or Crafter’s inks. Clearsnap
also has similar pads, called PetalPoints,
that are arranged in a radial design, like petals on a
flower. These are available with dye, pigment or chalk
inks. Tsukineko Splendor ink pads consist of a 12-color
checkerboard with various colors of pigment ink.
Examples of Spectrum/Rainbow ink pads include:
- Ranger Big & Juicy Rainbow pads (dye)
- Clearsnap ColorBox PaintBox
(pigment and chalk)
- Clearsnap ColorBox PetalPoint
(pigment and chalk)
- Clearsnap Crafter’s Ink Option Pads
- Dee Gruenig Blending Blox
- Memories Dye Rainbow Pads
- Memories Pigment Rainbow Pads
- Memories Chalk Rainbow Pads
- Tsukineko Splendor
[ BACK ]
SOLVENT-BASED PERMANENT INKS
inks do not require heat setting and, once dry, are permanent
on almost any surface, including plastic, glass, ceramic,
metal, wood, leather, acetate and paper. However, they
are not recommended for fabrics that will be laundered.
The most popular brand, StazOn,
comes in a nice array of transparent colors, as well as
a special opaque line that includes white and several
pastels. They are acid-free, archival and dry almost instantly
on porous surfaces. They take about 3 to 5 minutes to
dry on non-porous surfaces.
They work great for stamping outlines and then going
over them with markers or paints. They also work great
for stamping on shrink plastic.
Examples of solvent-based inks include:
- Tsukineko Staz-On
- Zim Ink
- 123 Ink
Hybrid inks are a recent innovation with characteristics
of both pigment and dye inks. They are suitable for all
surfaces, including fabrics. Hybrid ink is easier to clean
off your stamps than solvent ink, yet is completely permanent
after being heat set.
Hybrid inks dry faster than regular pigment inks, but
are only semi-opaque. They seem to work better with clear
stamps than regular dye inks, since they are not as likely
to bead up on the surface of the stamp. However, they
don't seem to provide as crisp an image as pigment inks,
and sometimes their colors look a little blotchy. But
their versatility really helps to make up for their lack
So far, the only brand of hybrid ink on the market seems
to be Stewart Superior's line of Palette ink pads (which
includes the sparkling iridescent "Metallics"
inks described above).
These are water-based inks that are made especially
for use by children. While certain washable inks may stain
some fabrics and surfaces, most of them should wash off
your children and their clothes quite easily with soap
and water. Most importantly, they are non-toxic.
Make sure that the washable inkpads you buy have a raised
surface, just like the ones you would buy for yourself.
Young children are likely to become very frustrated if
you give them a small, enclosed inkpad that doesn’t
fit the dimensions of the stamp they want to use.
Kid’s washable ink pads come in a nice variety
of colors, as well as rainbow pads which are always a
favorite! Be aware that washable inks, like other water-based
dye inks, do not dry well on glossy paper or other slick
children’s ink pads are produced by a number of
- Ranger (4 Stamps)
- Rubber Stampede (Crystal)
- Clearsnap (My First ColorBox)
- Stewart Superior (Memories Kiddly Inks)
- All Night Media
- Stampin’ Up!
BABY PRINT INKS
inkpads are specifically marketed as being 100% safe for
creating keepsake handprints and footprints of infants
for scrapbooks, baby books, thank you cards, and announcements.
They are non toxic, acid-free, smudge-proof, and gently
wash off baby’s hands and feet with soap and water.
They are usually available in black, pink, and baby blue.
Examples of baby print inks include:
- Proudbody My Little Prints Baby-Safe Ink Pad
- Memories Precious Impressions from Stewart Superior
TEMPORARY TATTOO INKS
These are temporary body inks and are lots of fun for
kids of all ages! Temporary tattoo stamping is much easier
and faster than using body paints, and looks great! The
ink in tattoo pads dries in seconds, and the image can
be worn for days, although it washes off pretty easily
with soap and water when you really need it to. These
inks also work great to stamp hands for admission to an
pads are basically the same as pigment inks, except without
the pigment! Obviously they are not used for their own
color, but rather just to provide the wet base needed
for a medium such as embossing powder to stick to the
surface. They are also available with a slight tint added
(usually a faint pink blush or a very pale blue) to help
you see where your image has been stamped. This can be
very helpful; however, there are some techniques that
require a completely clear embossing pad in order to produce
the desired effect. Embossing pens are also available
for adding powder to freehand drawings.
Examples of embossing inks include:
- Tsukineko Emboss
- Marvy Tinted Embossing Pad
- Clearsnap Top Boss
WATERMARK AND RESIST INKS
is a translucent ink that can be used to stamp very subtle
watermark images onto paper or cardstock. This technique
is excellent for producing interesting background designs,
especially on colored papers.
Some brands, such as VersaMark
and Palette, dry slow enough to work well with embossing
powder. VersaMark also produces a line of watermark ink
that has an extra iridescent shimmer that will add a bit
of sparkle to your designs and looks great on dark papers.
Another use for watermark ink is as a resist agent to
produce a batik effect. If you stamp it onto glossy paper
and then use a brayer or sponge to apply dye ink over
it, the stamped image will resist the ink.
Examples of watermark/resist inks include:
- Tsukineko VersaMark
- Clearsnap Watermark
- Stewart Superior Palette Embossing & Watermark
- Ranger Clear Resist
Ranger Perfect Medium pads are similar to watermark pads,
although the formula is much thicker. They come in clear
and black, and are marketed for use with pigment powders.
As the pigments soak into the stamped image, the mixture
is converted into paint. However, this product can also
be used for watermarking, embossing, or as a resist agent.
Strictly speaking, these are not ink pads. They contain
an acid-free, archival, rubber-stampable clear adhesive!
They can be used with flocking, glitter, gold leaf, pigment
powders, metallic powders and chalk powders to create
amazing effects on coated papers. Just stamp your image
on glossy paper and apply the finish of your choice.
There are two distinct types of glue pads. After you
make an impression with the Palette Stamp and Stick Glue
Pad from Stewart Superior, it needs to be heat activated
before it becomes sticky enough to work properly. The
Glue Pad from Tsukineko requires no heat prior to
Again, this product isn’t really an ink pad. It
is a stamp pad containing a chemical which alters the
color of paper, rather than adding color. Although various
types of paper react somewhat differently, the result
tends to be a marbled or dappled antique look that is
similar to batik fabric. This is an alternative to a popular
technique that involves making a homemade stamping pad
by pouring household chlorine bleach onto a towel.
The commercial product, Jacquard’s Castaway
Stamp Pad, is much safer to use than chlorine bleach,
and simply requires heating the paper with a dry clothes
iron to activate the bleaching process. It works on most
non-coated papers, except pigment colored paper such as
laminated mat board.
[ BACK ]
STORING INK PADS
Having provided all this information about the different
types of stamp pads, I thought I should share a few tips
with you about storing them. However you choose to store
your ink pads, you should always try to keep them flat.
Dye ink pads, in particular, need to be stored flat so
the dye doesn’t run to one side of the pad, causing
uneven inking. And you will almost certainly ruin your
Big and Juicy Rainbow pads if you don’t store them
flat, since the stripes of color will run together and
Some people like to store their inkpads upside down so
that when they’re ready to use them the ink will
be near the top of the pad, providing a nice wet surface
for inking up stamps. You can store your inkpads in a
box or drawer, but I like to store mine on the wall in
an old cassette tape storage unit. You can pick these
up for next to nothing at almost any thrift store or garage
sale, and they will help you free up your desktop and
drawers for other craft supplies.
If a dye ink formulation is very wet, as with antiquing
and distressing inks, you won’t need to store them
face down. In fact, if you do, you may even find that
some of the ink pools into the lid. Of course, as long
as you know to be careful of this when you open them,
you might want to take advantage of this to provide a
well of ink for brushing or daubing. You may also want
to store heavily-inked pigment pads face up to avoid ink
seepage from the foam pad.
--Mitch (a.k.a. Der Mad Stamper) at the Monkey