How to Make Your Own Photopolymer Stamps

Well, this blog post is a little out of the ordinary for a photography blog, but I’m also a crafter. A number of people have asked me how I make my own photopolymer stamps, so it was easiest for me to write a blog post!

Before I jump into the tutorial, I’d like to explain how I came to choose this method and how I determined what to buy, etc.

I heard about the Teresa Collins Stampmaker (which I believe is no longer being made with her branding on it), and I’ve also heard about various other gadgets for making stamps including the Silhouette Mint Machine, and also cutting stamp material with the Silhouette Cameo or the Cricut machine.  After Googling the topic, reading every blog post and watching every video I could find on making photopolymer stamps, I determined that I wanted to make stamps with UV sensitive photopolymer liquid packs.  There are various ways to set up UV lights and purchase liquid photopolymer, but Imagepac (who manufactures the Stampmaker kit) seemed to have the most efficient system for making stamps.

Imagepac USA sells the whole Stampmaker kit here which has everything you need to get started, however, I decided to take a chance and order my own UV nail dryer lamp which I found on Ebay for much, much cheaper here.  It is a dead ringer for the Imagepac UV lamp, and to my delight, it worked fine!

Next I needed the acrylic A7 clamp sold here that holds the negative and the photopolymer gel pack in place.  I’ve seen people online make their own, but I was worried about introducing too many variables which could throw off the curing times, so I ordered the clamp directly from Imagepac and I also ordered a bunch of the Medium 4″ x 2.5″ sachets (gel packs).

NOTE:  You can shop around for the best price of the sachets, but I chose to order them from Imagepac so I’d get the newest product and I could be assured that they have been properly stored in a box in the dark to prevent them curing prematurely.  I have emailed and spoken to customer service at Imagepac and asked lots of questions, and they have been fantastic!

Now, before you start placing orders for supplies, let’s discuss the process of designing your stamp and creating the ‘negative’ that you’ll need to make the stamp.  This part takes the longest and may cause the most headache.  If you are not patient with computers and printers, this tutorial may not be for you.  You’ll need to design your stamps in some sort of software like a word processing software or photoshop, etc.  I work in photoshop and I created a 4″ x 2.5″ image to work on.  Note:  you want the black borders of your negative to completely fill the 4″x2.5″ clamp.  If there is light getting in around the edges that my affect the curing.   Too much light equals too much curing and hardening!  I am not technical enough to give a tutorial on this part, so if you need help, there are  youtube tutorials.  Here’s one video that is pretty involved on Photoshop Elements.  This video will also lead you to other videos too.

For designs, I suggest playing around and printing your designs on cheap printer paper to see how they will look.  Make sure they are sized the way you want them and make sure the fonts work well and are easily legible, etc.  If they are too small or detailed, you run the risk of not getting a good solid stamp cured.  Also, be sure to observe copyright laws, etc with images.  I plan on using my stamps for my own personal use, and I have no plans to sell them, etc.  I mainly use my fonts to write up bible verses, funny quotes, and I find clip art and digital stamps here and there.

Here you can see my scratch piece of paper where I printed a draft to make sure that I liked my designs.  I got the triangle from the Wingdings 3 font on my mac, the pineapple is from a free printable coloring page that I downloaded and the bible verse is made with the aptly-named Worship Display font that I found on the internet.

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Here’s a screenshot of my photoshop process.  On the left is the 4″ x 2.5″ design block.  I managed to get three images in one block.  Notice the blue guide lines.  Those are lines that won’t print, but they are guidelines to remind me to stay within at least a quarter inch on each edge.  If you get too close to the edge, your stamp may not come out well.  You also want to leave enough room to trim around each stamp without cutting too closely.  On the right is where I created an 8.5″ x 11″ file and duplicated and dragged the small block onto it so it would print twice.  Ideally, I would make up a bunch of design blocks so I wouldn’t waste a transparency on just one.  But for the first go ’round I was excited and wanted to make a stamp as fast as I could!

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So now that you’ve made your design and have a negative ready to print, you need to figure out how to get the absolute blackest print on a transparency with your inkjet printer.  There are a few pitfalls to work through:  1.  Not all inkjet printers are designed to print transparencies.  I have an Epson and I had to use double sided tape to stick a transparency to a piece of cheap printer paper to fool the Epson to print on the transparency.  2.  Even when I set my printer to print on the highest quality on glossy photo paper, I could still see through the black ink and light would get through.  So I had to print two and layer them one of top of the other to keep the black part as dark as possible so light won’t pass through.  If light passed through the black part of your negative, then the photopolymer gel will harden all over and then you won’t have a detailed image.  3.  The ink will be very sticky and tacky, so be very careful when handling the negative so you don’t damage it.  If you get any white specks on the black parts of the negative, you can use a black sharpie if necessary.

Whew!  That’s a lot of work so far, but now it’s all downhill!  Here is what you need now that you have your negative ready to go.

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You can see that I have the UV nail dryer, the box with the imagepacs (I’m keeping them in the dark so they won’t harden), the clamp, a larger plastic container to wash the stamp after it’s been exposed the to the light, a very, very, soft toothbrush to gently remove the sticky gel from the detailed parts of your stamp, gloves because the gel is super sticky and you probably don’t want it on your hands, liquid dish soap to help remove the sticky gel, a dark towel to cover the UV light (I drape it over the UV light to protect my eyes) some Two-Way glue to stick the two negatives together to get it black enough, scissors that you don’t mind getting wet and sticky, and a smaller plastic container that will fit in the UV nail dryer for the final curing time.

Now you’re ready to make the stamp.  I highly suggest you watch this video so you can visualize what I’m about to describe.

First, turn on your UV nail dryer.  You want it to warm up for about 1 and a half to 2 minutes.

You’re going to want to work quickly.  Once you pull out the gel pack, it will start to harden as it is exposed to the light in the room.

You’re going to make a ‘sandwich’ with your negative and the imagepac gel.  Your bread is the pair of acrylic magnetic plates and your negative will be inside with the gel pack.  The gel pack has a soft side and a slightly harder side.  The harder side is the side where you can read the word Imagepac along the side.  When the Imagepac word is up and legible, you’ll want your negative beneath it so you can read the stamp, or the right side of the stamp.  You’re looking at the back of the stamp.  Think of it this way, when you put a stamp on a block, ink it up and press it down on the paper, you can read the words, right?  That’s what you want to envision when you make your stamp.  The harder side of the pink gel pack is the back of the stamp and you’ll want to look through the gel pack to the right side of the negative.  I really hope that makes sense!

Once you have your negative and gel pack and clamp sandwich made, put it in the UV light with the gel side up for 6* seconds.  Then quickly flip it over and immediately start your timer for 100 seconds.  (100 seconds is the same as 1 minute 40 seconds).

During the 100 seconds, I cover the nail dryer with a dark towel to avoid looking at it.  That’s just me.  Safety first!

Once the 100 seconds is over, immediately turn off the light.  Now you pull out the clamp, open it up and set aside the negative and clamp and keep them clean and dry.  Now, you’ll take the gel pack to your larger plastic bin which should have warm soapy water in it ready to go.  With your gloves on, carefully cut along each edge of the gel pack and throw them away.  On the gel pack, remember one side is soft and the other side is more rigid and hard.  Your stamp is stuck to the hard side and you can now peel away the soft side of the gel pack.  Once you peel it away, you should be able to see your stamp image and there is residual pink goo over it.  With your fingers, gently wipe away the goo under the warm soapy water.  Now you can put some liquid dish soap directly on the stamp and gently work away the excess pink gel/goo.  Be very careful.  In the video, the woman seems to aggressively scrub the stamp with a brush.  I was much more gently with a soft toothbrush and I help the stamp up the light to look for the excess pink gel in the detailed areas.  You don’t have to rush through this process.  Slow and steady wins the race.  I worked beside my kitchen sink and went back and forth between dunking it in the tub of warm soapy water, applying more soap directly to the stamp, rubbing the detailed areas with my fingers and using the toothbrush to gently scrub away excess gel.  I also would rinse away the bubbles and hold it up to the window light to see where the excess pink gel was.

Once you feel confident that you’ve rinsed off the excess gel, you’re ready to put the stamp into the smaller plastic container which has clean water in it.  Now place that smaller container with your stamp and water back into the UV lamp and let your stamp cure or harden for two minutes.  This time frame is not as crucial as the first time frame.  You won’t hurt your stamp if you go over the 2 minutes a bit.

Now your stamp is ready to trim down.  These Imagepac gel packs have a plastic backing that sticks to the stamp.  Initially, I did not care for this feature, but I realize that it actually is very helpful.  When I was rinsing my stamp the first time, I noticed that the photopolymer around my stamp was very, very thin and not thick enough to support the shape of the stamp.  So, the plastic backer actually supports the stamp and keeps the design in place.  To help the stamps stick to blocks, you can use some sort of repositionable adhesive.  I’ve read that stencil glue works quite well.  I haven’t tried it yet, but it’s on my list.

And here are my new stamps!  I used Stampin’ Up ink and some basic white cardstock.  I think it’s the cheap card stock from Wal Mart in the office supply section.  I can’t remember the brand name at the moment.

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Whew!  That’s very looooooonnnnnnngggg tutorial!  I hope this helps you understand the process.  Please watch the videos and practice making a negative before you invest in the rest of the tools, etc. to make sure you want to take on this project.  I am a gadget girl, and I love this sort of project, so I was excited to tackle it.  I love a challenge, but not everyone does.  So you may want to decide if you want to tackle this or not. :)

Here’s the breakdown of what I have spent so far:

Computer and Printer – most of us have those already

Nail Dryer:  $15 (cheap!)

Clamp $25 plus shipping

Imagepac Sachets (the pink gel packs) $27.96 for a box of 10 plus about $6 shipping.  I ordered the clamp and two boxes of sachets (what can I say, I was feeling confident) and spent $9 in shipping for all three items.

Transparencies – I had some old HP transparencies lying around.  I don’t think they make them anymore, so I’ll have to order these when I run out. If my math is right, the ones I just linked are only about 4 cents a piece.  I figure with trial and error I’ll be able to print two sets of design blocks per sheet.  So 2 cents a design block.  Some blocks I’ll be able to squeeze 2 or three stamps on, so not too shabby!

The rest of the supplies I collected from around the house.  I’ve spent under $50 for the tools and the rest are consumables which will need to be replenished.  If you use the UV nail dryer a lot, the bulbs will start to become less effective.  If you notice that your stamps suddenly aren’t hardening during the 100 seconds, it’s probably time for a new set of four 9w bulbs.

You’ll want to decide if it’s worth it in the end for you.  I’ve been papercrafting since 1999 so it’s not a passing fad for me.  I’m pretty sure I’ll be stamping for years to come, so the investment was worth it for me!

Happy Crafting Everyone!!

 

*PS When I was writing the instructions and typed in 6 seconds, I totally thought of that ‘Friends’ episode where Ross got the spray tan.  LOL When you count to 6, don’t say Mississippi between each number.  Count a little faster.  And if you’ve read this far, and if you have seen that episode of Friends, then we should be friends! :)

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