Mastering Rubber Stamps on the Glowforge

Mastering Rubber Stamps on the Glowforge

So this whole thing started because I needed to print a gold seal on an envelope for my brother’s wedding invitations. I tried four different methods – laser toner foiling, stamping, heat transfer vinyl, and finally bronzing on letterpress. In the end the letterpress was the fastest and most consistent result so that’s what I went with, but in the process I learned a lot about creating stamps on the Glowforge.

If you’re wondering… “If you wanted a wax seal look why not just use a real wax seal?” I have an answer for you. One – it takes a LONG ASS TIME to do 200 of them, even if you’re using a glue gun wax and not an open flame with wax sticks. Two – modern mail sorting machines actually give off a lot of heat and smoosh the mail in rollers as it’s fed through: this can melt and smear your seal. Three – many post offices (if they see the seals on the outer envelope) will refuse the mail, return to sender, or charge you higher postage (.70 vs .55 for a regular card) for “hand sorting”. Essentially, you’ll need to pay more to have the item hand sorted so it doesn’t go through the hot machine or you’ll need to put the wax sealed envelope into a larger (and more expensive) outer envelope. Ultimately, people tear right into the envelopes when they get them, so a faux seal will give enough wow factor without affecting your mail’s ability to reach its destination.

If you use a wax seal you will need to purchase the .70 Non-Machineable stamps.

DESIGN

Designing the stamp was pretty straightforward but I’m going to give you some insight into the process. The first and most important thing you need to remember which is so, so easy to forget is that you need to reverse your design. I promise you, pretty much everyone has forgotten this at one time if they’ve ever made stamps, or printing plates (as I have).

Below you will see the same design twice with only one difference – in the first one I have more delicate typography. I wanted to see if the laser could get that sort of detail in a reverse engrave. (Spoiler, it did actually).

I made three different stamps using different settings. One thing to try and keep in mind is how you’re going to be engraving AWAY the negative space, so you want to make sure you reverse your image as I have here. I’m creating an offset path as well, so that I can save material by only engraving away what I need to.
This was my final file, I did end up going with the thicker type. The Yellow is the stamp itself ( I later learned you should make a wider margin around your design), and the teal/pink is the stamping block to be cut from 1/4″ birch plywood scrap.

CUTTING THE STAMP

When I went to engrave the stamp I was really surprised at how SLOW it was. 22 minutes for two stamps felt like forever considering how small they were. I’ll get to the settings in a second, there is a wide range of settings I’ve seen online and all of them pretty much work, but no matter what settings you use you’ll want to be aware that this product produces a good bit of ash – in fact it was hard to tell if it was working at all when you viewed it in the machine.

Although this product produces ash- it really wasn’t as bad as some people claimed.
Yep, some ash will blow around, but it wasn’t a big deal.
Once my engrave was done I used my dollar store bristle brush to see how my engrave turned out. I was pleased to see it did indeed look like a stamp.
I used my mini vac to clean off the ash before removing it so it wouldn’t get everywhere.
After cutting the stamps out a quick wipe down with some alcohol got them ready for stamping.

SETTINGS

I tried two different sets of settings they both worked to create functional stamps, but one engraved deeper (and took longer) and the other made a shallower impression.

ATTEMPT ONE: These settings worked fine, but the stamp ended up being slightly shallower than I wanted.
ATTEMPT TWO: This ended up being the better method. The stamp was sufficiently deep, even if it did take a few minutes more, at least it didn’t require a second pass as many people have been doing.
Here you can compare the depth between the two stamps. I’d generally lean towards a deeper impression as it will lower the risk of getting artifacts from the stamping backing.

My Suggested Settings Are:
Speed: 310 | Power: 93 | LPI:450 | One Pass

MOUNTING THE STAMP

Now comes the part I feel like no one talks about – how to mount the stamp. Mounting the stamp really helps you get the pressure needed to get a nice print. There are some great free files out there for stamping bases (like this one), but I decided to keep it simple and just make a very basic circle/block. It worked great and felt comfortable to work with.

For me I cut a simple stamping block from a scrap of 1/4″ Birch Plywood. With this stamp I tried using the Extra Sticky Lint Rollers from Scotch-Brite to remove my masking and I like them so far. I’ve never really had luck with the Gorilla Tape method.

The next thing you need to do is mount your stamp to some foam backing. I just used a scrap of craft foam I had around. This stuff is maybe slightly stiffer than your typical sheets, but I can’t say by how much. I would go with the firmest foam you can find, as that stiffness helps make the impression really even. If it’s too soft it’s easy to print the backing of the stamp as you press down.

I happened to have a sticker maker I picked up at the thrift store, so I just ran both my stamp and my foam through it. You could also use 3m double stick adhesive sheets or tape. When I was first testing the stamps I just used double sided tape and it was fine.

Running a scrap of craft from and the stamp through my Xyron sticker maker. The adhesive in this thing is SUPER sticky, so it works well.
Next step mount the stamp to the foam…
You’ll now have an item like this – your stamp is attached to the foam, and once you peel this backing you can stick it onto the block.
Using care, try and line up the stamp design with the printed design on the back of the block, this way you can use the engraved design on the top to line up your stamp when printing.
Using some small scissors (you could also do this before mounting the stamp which would have been smarter). I “beveled” the edge a little bit to try and reduce the stamp background/edges from picking up ink.
Ta-dah! A stamp.

TIPS & TRICKS

I refuse to call a tip a hack – they aren’t the same thing. Now that I’ve gotten than snobby thought out of the way, here is some advice for the stamping process.

1. Stamp on the right surface.
If you’re struggling to get an even impression, try stamping on a surface with more give. The foam mounting behind the stamp really helps with this, but in my case I used a silicone nail mat as well. You can overdo this however. I tried adding two layers of foam and it was too much, causing the stamp to smear as there was too much give when you pressed it down.

Remember earlier how I said you want to try and line up your stamp design with the engraved design? This is why, it helps you get a good lineup.
Good padding means a better, more even stamp (I’ll address the artifacts from the stamp edge in a minute)

NOT ENOUGH PADDING

Below you can see an early test using the back side of a stamp I already had laying around.
In my earlier tests where I just mounted the stamp straight to a block (with no foam) and you can see it’s harder to get an even impression.

TOO MUCH PADDING

If you have two much padding sometimes you’ll get smearing as the stamp shifts when you apply pressure and the padding gives way.

2. Give your stamp a wide negative space.
This may seem counter intuitive but even though it takes more time, make sure to engrave a wide margin around your stamp. The closer your stamp edge is to your design, the more likely it is to print. It’s sort of hard to explain, but because the edges are closer to the design, even minimal rocking when making the stamp can cause it to print. It has to do with how the pressure is distributed across the surface. It’s also harder not to get ink on the edges if they’re close to the design.

Here I’m comparing prints from the shallower stamp (left) with the deeper stamp (right). Having a deeper engraving and beveling the edges definitely helps, but it would still work better if my negative space went all the way to the edge of my stamp block.
Both the deep, and the shallow stamp sometimes produced these artifacts around the edge. Proper stamping technique, good stamp depth, and a wide margin of negative space really help to eliminate this problem.

3. Stamp with the right technique and ink
I found applying the ink to the stamp (vs applying the stamp to the ink pad) tended to work better. Also try and line up the stamp and press straight down instead of rocking back and forth. Dab your ink/stamp, do not rub the ink on as you will get poor coverage.

I really love these Encore little stamp pads. I use them to stamp brass wax seals (the real deal) before I press them into the wax to get an effect like this:
You can get this product here. If you cannot find Encore (it’s discontinued but still out there), try Delicata, another really dense nice stamping ink available on Amazon and elsewhere.
When I ink like this, I tend to get more ink on the backing, and I think it’s slower as you are continually flipping the stamp around to make sure it’s evenly inked.

FINAL RESULT

Ultimately, I was happy with how these turned out, and if you I use the deeper settings along with a wider margin around the design I think my stamps will turn our perfect next time.

This is the shallower stamp.
This is the deeper stamp

BUT WHAT ABOUT THE DETAILS?

The technique I covered above worked great for the very solid stamp design I used, but what if your design has delicate lines of text? If you look at a typical stamp you’ll see the material ramps up to the face of the design. In platemaking we call this the shoulder. With more advanced lasers like those made by Trotec or Boss, there is a setting in the software interface that will add the shoulder to your design for you. With the Glowforge we will need to add it ourself.

See how on the face of this stamp the little dots have “hills” that hold them up?

If you use my settings above without adding the shoulder, you’ll end up with something like this.

See how delicate those swirls are? There is no way they’ll stand up to any sort of stamping.
Notice how the lines are easily warped or crushed with stamped.

What we want is something like this…

The delicate lines are now supported and will stand up to the pressure.
MUCH better. Crisp, sturdy impressions.

Ok enough talk. How do I get those lines? Simple – well at least it is if you have a vectorized or transparent design to work with. For my method you will need Photoshop. Likely this technique will work with other programs and hopefully you can figure it out from these instructions. The basic steps are as follows:

1. Create a new Photoshop document with a black background.

The black background will help you see what you’re doing

2. If you’re starting in Illustrator reflect your design now so you don’t forget later. It will also save you a step if you make your design white now.

3. Copy and paste your vectorized design into a Photoshop canvas. When you drop it in it will ask you how you wan to import the image. You can also just import (or place) a transparent .png file. If you copy and paste in a vector design it will ask you how you want to paste it. Choose either pixels or shape layer – in either case it will add it to your file as a transparent layer.

4. Scale your design as needed. If you did not copy and paste in a white design, you will need to make your design white. You can do this by choosing Image>Adjustments>Hue/Saturation (keyboard shortcut is CMD+U).

In the dialog box check the COLORIZE box and slide the Lightness slider to 100. This will turn your image layer completely white.

5. Double click your layer (on the right of it, next to the text, if you double click the text it’ll just cause you to re-name it) to bring up the Layer Style dialog box. Then input the following Outer Glow settings to start:

Make sure to click Precise under technique. You may have to adjust the Range and Size sliders a little bit to get it right but this is a good starting point.

6. From this stage you can simply save your file as a jpeg and go straight to the Glowforge, or you can erase out some of the background so that your engrave won’t take as long (no point wasting time engraving out all that negative space). Double click the black background layer to unlock it, then erase leaving a bit of a margin around the design.

Erase out the background to leave a margin
Save the file as a .jpeg for importing to the Glowforge

7. Finally import the design into the Glowforge UI. You can use the same settings as above, all you need to do is select VARY POWER in the grayscale drop down and set the min power to 0. The only disadvantage I’ve found with this technique is that when you import a jpeg it doesn’t come in at the original size, so you have to use the rules in the interface to make sure it is scaled as you want.

These are the settings I used for my stamp.

In the end the results should have a really nice shoulder that results in a crisp, clean stamp.

WHERE TO GET THE MATERIALS

If you’d like to try your hand at rubber stamps, here are a few suggested materials. These are Amazon affiliate links, just FYI, but they’ll point you in the right direction!

Orange Rubber Stamp Sheet |
This is the product that I used and it is laser safe. Not too expensive, and easy to work with.

Gray Rubber Stamp Sheet |
I’ve seen other forgers use this laser safe gray sheet as well, though I’m not sure if the settings differ.

EZ Mount Foam Static Cling Stamp Backing |
I did not use this, simply because I hadn’t thought of it and didn’t have it on hand. I used simple craft foam, but if you’re an avid stamper this stuff is the right density, and can be applied to acrylic stamping blocks using static electricity. I believe it is also sold in a double sided adhesive variety for permanent mounting, but I didn’t see it on Amazon.

Scotch-brite Extra Sticky Lint Rollers |
Many people feel these work easier/better than Gorilla Duct Tape and I’m inclined to agree so far.

LIKE WHAT YOU SEE?

Obligatory code plug. If you found this post helpful and you plan to buy a Glowforge you can use my code for a discount: https://glowforge.us/r/QHDONFXB

And finally, if you’d like to be updated on posts like these in the future you can sign up for my email list. You will only receive an email if there is new content, and only once weekly in that case:

BONUS CONTENT

Even though I didn’t use my stamps for the actual invites, for anyone curious here they are! Illustrated, designed, and letterpress printed by me (with the exception of the envelope liner, I didn’t have time to paint one myself so I bought a file for that).

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Wonderful tutorial! I appreciate all of the detail and “tips” you’ve included. (I don’t like “hack” either). I’m planning on creating a signature design stamp for my paintings, as my actual signature is distracting. I plan to start with your process. BTW, your wedding invitation design is gorgeous! I love the letterpress. Would love a tutorial on that too! 😉

    1. Glad it was helpful! There are actually letterpress tutorials on my other blog at: PantheraPress.com/blog

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