Comparing Rubber Stamp Inks

Uni Red "cinnabar" chop stamp pad sample

Conversations got started yesterday about folks’ preference for rubber stamp inks and I realized that this is a topic I’ve never pursued.

Since I like to use rubber stamps to annotate my paper planner and my mail, navigating the array of rubber stamp ink pads is something I thought I should investigate.

There are many different kinds of inks used on stamp pads: dyed-based, pigment-based and gel ink.

Office Depot Felt Dye-Based Ink Pad sample

Dye based inks are what are most commonly found in office supply stores and self-inking stampers. The inks dry fast and is waterproof but depending on the stamp design and the type of material you are stamping, the liquidity of the ink can spread, obscuring your design. I tested a standard Office Depot brand felt pad with dye ink and found it a little runny. Both Clearsnap and Tsukineko offer versions of archival dye-based inks. Tsukineko’s is called Memento and Memento Dew Drops. Clearsnap sells Colorbox Archival Dye Ink pads in large pads and Cat’s Eyes. I have not tried either of these brands but they offer a wider array of color than your average office supply store, probably higher quality inks and the option for small, portable stamp pads.

Tsukineko Dew Drop Brilliance ink pad sample

Tsukineko VersaColor cube ink pad sample

Pigment-based inks are what are commonly found in the craft and scrapbook sections. There are standard pigment-based ink pads, as well as slower-drying and “chalk” styles. The slower drying inks are specifically designed to be used by crafters who use heat embossing powders with the inks and not something that is needed for everyday stamping like a return address stamp. Chalk inks dry to a matte finish comparable to the look of powder chalk or pastel but its just a descriptive term. They are not made from chalk. Both standard pigment-based and chalk-style inks dry fairly quickly and can be heat set (using something like an embossing heat gun or similar tool) I tested the ClearSnap Colorbox Cat’s Eye Pigment Pads, Tsukineko VersaColor Pigment Cubes, and Tsukineko Dew Drop Brilliance. All three of these products are also available in larger 2×3″ pads but I really like the small sized pads for portability.The best thing about the pigment inks is the huge array of color options including metallics and even a decent opaque white.

Colorbox Pigment Ink Pad sample

In preparing this review, I had trouble finding the Colorbox Cat’s Eye pads in singles. They are now available mostly as stacking sets of six pre-selected color packs sets called Queues. I really like the quality of the ink in the Colorbox pigment inks, next to my Uni Cinnabar Chop stamp pad that I picked up in Hong Kong, they are my favorites for retaining the design details of my stamps while laying down an even ink coverage. Since the Colorbox Cat’s Eyes are becoming more difficult to find in singles, I think I’ll probably be seeking out the VersaColor pigment cubes instead. The Dew Drop Brilliance pads are just sopping with ink and it is quite slow drying. The Dew Drop is definitely designed for crafters, not mail art.

Office Depot Gel Stamp Pad samples

Gel ink was a new discovery when I went to Office Depot yesterday on the recommendation to try some “standard” ink pads. I found red, blue and black pads in felt pad dye-based and the gel ink pad. The description on the package stated that it would maintain crisp lines and never need re-inking. In use, the ink was less vibrant than the others and seemed to sort of pool around the edges. I don’t really recommend it for creative uses. To be honest, I’d give this whole concept a pass.

All of the small pads have low sides that allow you to tap your stamp, regardless of size, across the pad so a small pad doesn’t mean you can only ink up small stamps. All the ink pads I tested range in price from about $1.50-$2.50 for a small Cat’s Eye, Dew Drop or Cube to $5-6 for the larger pads regardless of whether they are from an office supply store or an art/craft store. They are relatively small investments so you may want to grab one or two of the smaller ink pads with different ink types and try them out for yourself.

And one last tip, you don’t necessarily need to press hard when stamping to get even and complete coverage. Make sure the stamp is completely covered with ink and then lightly but evenly apply it to your paper, envelope or other ephemera. Having scrap paper nearby to test on is also helpful.

(photos can be viewed in more detail on my Stamp Pad Face-Off Flickr Set)

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