A dummy’s guide to carving rubber stamps and fabric printing

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If you haven’t read the last post, “A dummy’s guide to using a speedball linoleum cutter”, do read it as it forms the basis for this post on how to carve rubber stamps.

After completing the “house” series of tea towels, I must say that I absolutely can’t stop carving more rubber stamps! The process is really addictive and therapeutic and I now have way more rubber stamps than blank tea towels to stamp on. Carving rubber stamps requires just a gentle learning curve so here’s a quick tutorial on how I’ve done my rubber stamps so that you don’t commit the mistakes I made while figuring it out on my own :)

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Draw your design on paper. To start, you’ll want to draw a relatively simple design like the above. Here are some suggestions to help you start to brainstorm. I’ve also found it nice to make a few related stamps (3-4) which you can stamp alternately.

– Shapes: chevron, herringbone, triangles, rectangles, geometric shapes, abstract shapes, stripes, polka dots, leaves, feathers
– Themes: houses, kitchen utensils, teapots, animals

If you’re not confident of drawing (like me :P), it helps to search on sites like pinterest, google images or stock photo sites like getty images and add the word “illustration” behind what you’re searching for and it’ll generate cartoon-like pictures (example: “kitchen utensils illustration” on google images) that are much easier to gain inspiration from.

After drawing a test design on a piece of paper, replicate it on your rubber carving block using a pencil.

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Once you’re happy with your design, outline your pencil marks with a ballpoint or gel pen. Don’t use an ink pen as it’ll smudge easily.

Next, imagine how you would want your stamp to look like. Specifically, think about which parts of your stamp you would like to print ink and which you want to be blank (i.e. negative space). Color in the parts of your stamp that you’ll want to print ink. Compare the picture of my colored-in stamp to the final product in the first picture and you’ll see that the colored-in stamp is essentially how your printed stamp will look like. This is important so that you don’t carve off the parts you want to leave on. After you’re done, use an x-acto knife or pen knife to cut out your design from the carving block, keeping in mind to leave ample space on all sides of your design.

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Using your speedball linoleum cutter, start carving the details of the rubber stamp. If you’re not sure how to use your speedball linoleum cutter, read this guide! I would usually start by using tip 2 to outline the portions I want to cut out so that the shape has a nice edge (I’ll come back to this again) but for this design I’ve drawn, I just had to do a straight carve on each of the small rectangles.

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After carving the details in your design, start carving the remaining portions of the rubber stamp. If you look at the picture closely, you’ll notice that I’ve cut out the outline of the design. I find it best to do this using tip 2 as it creates a nice edge for your stamp. After which, you can start to remove the rest of the rubber stamp. To do this efficiently, I use tip 5 and if you look at the picture closely, I’ve held it at an angle to cover a wider area.

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You’ll want to take special care to cave out the 4 edges of the rubber stamp. I find that those areas tend to get on the fabric paint. The above picture is my completed rubber stamp! The areas which have been carved off is not neat and it doesn’t need to be. You just need to ensure that it is carved deep enough so that the only thing you’re printing is your design and not other parts of your rubber stamp. A good way to test it is to face the stamp down on a table and look to see if there’s anything else still touching the table.

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Next you’ll want to test out the stamp. There are quite a few brands of fabric paint out there and I’ve tried 2 brands so far – Speedball’s oil-based fabric paint which I used for this post and Dylon’s fabric paint for the “house” series and while they’re both fabric paints, the consistency is really different.

Speedball’s oil-based paint is thick, and because of its consistency, it is a necessity to use a rubber brayer to smoothen out the paint and to apply the paint on the stamp by rolling the rubber brayer over the stamp. The paint is pretty sticky and will stick to the rubber stamp well, giving you a nice clean print. On the other hand, it can get messy if it gets all over your hands. Dylon’s fabric paint, on the other hand, is much more watery and if you didn’t own a rubber brayer, you could use a paint brush to smoothen out the paint and dab your stamp directly onto the fabric paint. The paint is easier to handle but does not stick to the rubber stamp as well and you’ll have to constantly check to ensure that you have an adequate about of fabric paint on your stamp. But, no matter what you choose, testing is the most important and with adequate testing, your prints will come out equally nice :)

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Using a scrap piece of cloth, on top of scrap paper, but using the same material as that of the cloth you want to print on, attempt printing! Don’t worry too much about having to succeed the first time. Depending on the consistency of your fabric paint, you might have to adjust the way you apply the fabric paint onto your stamp but trust me, it’s not that difficult! 

After applying the fabric paint onto the stamp, look at the stamp closely to see if there’s fabric paint everywhere before printing. To print, carefully lay your stamp onto the cloth and press firmly. Leave on for a couple of seconds and lift up carefully. Apply fabric paint before every print. I like printing my designs in a somewhat orderly fashion but you can print randomly if you like. If you’re particular about wanting the designs to be perfectly placed, tear off a long piece of tape and use that as an alignment guide. When you’re done, leave to dry and iron on over your design to set the colour.

Looking at the picture above, I would consider the print on the left to be a good and neat print while the one on the right has definitely too little fabric paint and if you look at the stamp, you’ll notice some blue fabric paint on the right side of the stamp. This means that those areas are not deep enough. You can either use your linoleum cutter to shave those off, or clean it off after every print. 

Wash off your rubber stamps and rubber brayer with soap and water. The rubber stamps may be a little sticky when dry so wrap between cling wrap or foil to keep.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this tutorial and if you’ve tried fabric printing yourself, I would love to see your designs! :) 

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6 thoughts on “A dummy’s guide to carving rubber stamps and fabric printing

  1. I soo appreciate this detailed full tutorial! You wouldnt beliee what a hard time I have had trying to find one as accurate & thorough as this one. Thank you soo much for including even the things most of is should know about stamping but, DONT–Like ME;) Thanks again, pinned and followed your blog.


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