Who doesn’t love stamping? The colors, the designs, the simplicity of it all. You can leave as-is or color them in. And it’s fun for any age! But the cheap stamp pads for kids are thick and gunky and make cleanup a drag. Why not make your own ink pads in any color you want, without using paint? It’s non-toxic, in fact, it’s edible (that’s a hint). While you’re at it, make some custom stamps to go with your custom colors to create truly one-of-a-kind art!
As we’ve started accumulating art supplies from various places, I’ve noticed that the kids stamp pads we’ve been getting aren’t the same as what I remember as a kid. These have a very thick ink. Now, maybe they print better, being more opaque and vibrant, but they leave quite a mess on the stamps. If you have any intricate designs, it’s really a pain to get the ink out of those crevices. And while using them, if you use the same stamp on a different color, you are bound to get the first ink color on the next ink pad, no matter how many times you try stamping on a scrap first to unload it.
I started to think back to my childhood for what we used. We used to love stamping. I remembered having an alphabet set, and some goofy characters, and when I got a little older, an architectural shapes set, which I treasured. And then I remembered the stamp pads we used to use. These were homemade. They worked great for us. Turns out my mom still had them and she gave them to me.
What, you say? How could they still be usable after all these years? Because they were made with plain old food coloring. Yup! Just a few drops of food coloring on a piece of felt in an old jar lid, with a few drops of water and voilà! When you are done, you let it dry out and store it, and when you are ready to use them again, just add a few drops of water to wet the felt and they are ready to go again! I saved an old baby iron supplement bottle with a built-in dropper that I fill with water and then use to add the drops of water to saturate the ink pads. Em knows this is the only way to wet the ink pads (not under the faucet or using a glass of water!) and since the bottle is childproof, she can’t do it on her own (intentionally). When adding the water, add just a couple of drops at a time. Wait and let the felt absorb the water before adding more. You don’t want the felt swimming in a puddle of water, you just want to moisten it thoroughly.
I’ve seen tips online for creating homemade stamp pads for kids, but all the ones I’ve seen use paint. That leads to the stamp cleaning issue. And if you don’t keep the pads sealed tightly between use, they will dry out and be useless. The ones made with food coloring are more translucent, almost like a watercolor. The best part for me (now as a mom) is that cleanup is a breeze. The best part for my daughter is that we can make a stamp pad easily of almost any color, or even multiple colors, and any size.
Now, when I say cleanup is a breeze, I mean on the stamp pads. Be aware that the food coloring can stain your fingers a bit. While the color should wash out, I would have the kids wear their old clothes and/or a smock, and I wouldn’t recommend doing this over your white tablecloth or rug.
The food coloring I use are those little dropper bottles you get at the grocery store. I haven’t tried using gel or paste food coloring. I’m not sure what thickens those, so I’m not sure what happens if they were to dry out. I can only vouch for the liquid kind.
As for the felt, it’s just normal craft felt you can buy in sheets at the craft store. Not the stiff kind, but the soft, flexible kind. I try to use white or cream so I can see the color of the ink better, but you can use any color on hand. You can cut the felt to whatever size you need for your stamps. When I was a kid we just had small stamps, so the jar lids worked nicely. But for a larger stamp, you might want to use a lid from a plastic storage container, or even a flat dish or pan. You can even use a cookie sheet and put all the colors on the same tray. You don’t necessarily have to cut the felt as big as the container. As long as the stamp can fit in the container comfortably, you can have a small piece of felt, and you just move the stamp around on it to get good coverage.
When it comes to mixing colors, there are usually formulas on the package. But keep in mind that these formulas usually assume you’ll be adding the color to white frosting, so the undiluted colors will be very dark (especially ones with blue) and may not come out the color you expect. I would experiment by following the formula in a tiny dish, take a Q-tip and dip to test the color, and then added water to dilute to get the lighter color. Don’t add too much water, though, or the color will look too watered down and pale when stamped. Oranges and greens and browns were easy to mix, but the purple never did come out as I’d hoped. [If I perfect a formula, I’ll update this post.] You can use the eyedropper to put the color onto the felt. If you put a bunch of drops fairly close to each other, they’ll eventually bleed together. I experimented with several different colors.
One other little tidbit to pass along… when mixing the orange, I thought I’d gotten the color right and added it to the felt. But after trying a stamp, I thought it was still too yellow. I discovered I could suck the ink right back up in the eyedropper! Just squeeze the dropper, put the tip down firmly onto the felt and release. It will suck up a good bit. Then release it into a little dish. Do this several times to get as much ink as you can, make your adjustment, and re-add to the felt.
Here are some samples. I used some store-bought rubber stamps, store-bought foam stamps, and homemade foam stamps. All was done on cheap copy paper, so the prints could be better with higher quality paper. But for kids, this is fine!
There is another benefit to these ink pads which I only recently realized. Since they are made with food coloring, they can be used on… wait for it… FOOD! Assuming you have a clean stamp (and for safety reasons I should remind you that it be brand new and shouldn’t have been used with any other non-food grade inks), you can stamp on a cookie iced in royal icing or probably even fondant! I haven’t tried this yet, but I have seen examples, like over at Sweet Hope Cookies. Wouldn’t this be fun next Christmas?!
Now that we have our stamp pads, we need some stamps to use!
There are lots of ways to make your own stamps. My favorite ones for kids is to use those foam stickers. Stick them to a wine bottle cork, a milk jug cap, a jar lid, a small block of wood, or whatever you have. The thicker the foam, the less chance you’ll have of accidentally stamping part of the solid backing. If the stickers are too thin, try doubling them up, sticking one stamp carefully on top of the other one. You can also buy plain sheets of sticker-backed foam to make your own designs (or buy the plain foam and glue it on to a stiff backing). If you don’t feel very artistic, just make shapes. Or combine shapes, like a bunch of dots to make a bunch of grapes.
For the last two years we have made our Christmas cards with homemade stamps. [Actually, I’ll share a little secret with you. We printed the background and the inside sentiment on the printer, and then stamped over it.] Two years ago we had a snowy scene printed and stamped trees onto it. I cut out 3 different trees using the craft foam. I used a pen to poke indentations in the foam on the tree so when printed it doesn’t have ink and looks like snow falling. We used watered down acrylic paint in this instance that I applied to the stamp with a foam makeup wedge.
Last year I made a stamp of delicate tree branches, which we stamped in a homemade brown ink. Then I made berries by using tiny dots in a random pattern on a cork. We enhanced the print after stamping by applying a little white sparkle craft paint with a paintbrush, so it looked like glistening snow on the tree branches and berries. Emma stamped one of the trees from the prior year inside the card and added dots of different colors with a Q-tip to look like ornaments. The photo below is just a quick sample I did today on cheap copy paper, so it isn’t the best quality, and it doesn’t include the glitter white paint, but you get the idea. [Note to self: find my saved samples of these cards to show here!]
One tip when working with the craft foam if you are doing the stamping for a project and want better results… If you have a large, solid foam surface, after dabbing in the ink, take a bit of paper towel or a foam makeup wedge and drag it over the ink to spread it a bit. You’ll get a much nicer imprint.
Do you have any other stamping tips or tricks? Let us know!