A Complete Guide to
Rubber Stamp Pads and Inks

By "Der Mad Stamper"

Confused about which ink to use? 
 
 
 
 
As 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.old fashioned office supply rubber stamp pad

The first inkpads I ever saw were those single-color office 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 the way.

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 rubber stamper!

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.

Nearly everyone 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:


DYE INKS

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 effect.

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

water-based dye inksWater-based 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

Distress Ink stamp padTim Holtz Distress 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.

antiquing inksWalnut 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 pad.

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

marker coloring an image stamped with waterproof dye inkThis 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)


INDIA INKIndia Ink stamp pad

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

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 surface. alcohol inksThe 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 and conditioner.

 


[ BACK ]


PIGMENT INKS

opaque pigment inksPigment 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 stamp.

Examples of pigment ink include:

  • Clearsnap ColorBox
  • Tsukineko VersaColor
  • Ranger Adirondack Pigment Ink


FAST-DRYING PIGMENT INKSBrilliance ink stamp pad

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 Brilliance 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.VersaFine ink stamp pad

VersaFine 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.


SPARKLING INKS

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.

Metallic 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 Encore.

sparkling ink stamp pads can be metallic,  opalescent or pearlescentThe 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 Opalite.

"Pearlescence" is pretty much the same as interference, except pearlescent 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 retailers.

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!fabric and craft inks

Examples of this type of ink include:

  • ColorBox Crafter’s Ink
  • Tsukineko VersaCraft (Fabrico)
  • Stampin’ Up! Craft Inkpads


CHALK INKS

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.VersaMagic ink stamp pad

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 ]


RAINBOW PADS

rainbow spectrum ink stamp padsAlthough 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 ]


SPECIALTY INKS

SOLVENT-BASED PERMANENT INKS

StazOn ink stamp padSolvent-based 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
  • Décor-it
  • 123 Ink
  • Fiesta


HYBRID INKS

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 ink stamp pad

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 of definition.

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).


WASHABLE INKS

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 surfaces.

washable ink stamp padsWashable children’s ink pads are produced by a number of companies, including:

  • Ranger (4 Stamps)
  • Rubber Stampede (Crystal)
  • Clearsnap (My First ColorBox)
  • Stewart Superior (Memories Kiddly Inks)
  • All Night Media
  • Inkadinkadoo
  • Stampin’ Up!


BABY PRINT INKS

baby foot print inksThese 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 Superiortemporary tattoo inks


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 event.


EMBOSSING INKS

Emboss embossing ink stamp padThese 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

VersaMark watermark ink stamp padThis 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 called Dazzle 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 Inkpad
  • 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.


GLUE PADSThe Essential Glue Pad

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 Essential Glue Pad from Tsukineko requires no heat prior to use.


BLEACH PADS Castaway bleach batik ink stamp pad

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 turn muddy.storing ink stamp pads in an old cassette tape storage unit

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.

Happy Stamping!

--Mitch (a.k.a. Der Mad Stamper) at the Monkey House