Sunday, January 2, 2011

Sheets of Possibilities

As promised in my last post, I'll show you how to create high quality stamps for a fraction of the price of other custom stamp suppliers. While this may seem like a trivial issue, it isn't. The initial cost of a set of stamps is spendy -- about $40 per 3 x 3" stamp. And when you have lots of designs waiting in the wings for production, the start-up cost becomes a pivotal concern. In short, the cheaper it is to make a stamp, the more designs I can get into production faster. And when it comes to giftware, diversity is key. I want people to feel like they've walked into their favorite candy store when they visit my Etsy shop, with lots of choices they love! I know I like lots a of options when I shop so I can make choices based on gut instinct rather than necessity.

What I love about stamping clay is that the design can be drawn by hand and then manipulated on a computer. This reduces the completion time of a new design to mere hours rather than days, unlike a press-mold piece that needs to be sculpted out of clay. This not only helps me to keep costs down, but I get to go nuts with every idea that pops in my head because time isn't such a limitation.

What's also welcome with cheaper production costs is the experiment factor: If stamps are a fraction of the cost, then testing the effectiveness of a design isn't such a money pit. So if a stamp doesn't work so well -- no problem -- it's no major loss and another one can be made with the necessary tweaks at a relatively low cost. I've found this to be critical as I learn those sweet spots stamp designs have because what looks good on paper rarely translates to what you think it will in clay. There are compensations that need to be made in the design to anticipate how the stamp will imprint in the clay, and I'm currently learning those little eccentricities.

So...what got this started was a lead from my good friend, Lesli, who referred me to Readystamps, a custom stamp-making company based in San Diego, California. Unlike other stamp-making companies, Readystamps has two irresistible benefits:
  • You buy sheets of stamps rather than one stamp at a time. This means that whatever you can cram on a 9 x 7" piece of paper is what you buy for about $40, reducing the cost of one 3 x 3" stamp by up to 75%! 
  • You get all the "stuff" that went into making your stamp (below).
For example from left to right, here's the matrix (brown), plate (clear) and transparency (black) used to make a sheet of stamps from my designs. The matrix is invaluable for providing the reverse "innies and outies" of my original stamp design, offering a new "reversed" version of the design and allowing me to test which one works better. The transparency can be used later for metal etching, which is another creative option I'd like to explore later in my PMC adventures.

 From all that stuff, the sheets of cast rubber are made. They easily cut apart with scissors (as you can see in the introductory photo at the very top of this post).

So the question then became one of mounting. Luckily all my stamp designs are based on the standard sizes and shapes of my clay cutters, which happen to coincide with many dimensions found in lumber. So at least that was working for me. But I don't have a table saw or jigsaw (or even room for one), so the idea of cutting these boards down to size became a rather big concern. Given the sheer volume of designs submitted in this first order (let alone all those coming down the pike), the last thing I wanted to do was to hand-cut untold numbers of wood blocks!

My buddy, Lynn, suggested clear acrylic pressing blocks that many scrapbookers use in order to get around what I began to think of as "The Confounding Woodcutting Conundrum." They sounded like a fantastic idea, so off I went to our local Archiver's to stock up. To my dismay, however, I found that the sizes were too small! ARGH. Blast!

So I resigned myself to the idea of cutting all those blocks (or at least the hope of bribing asking Hubby to do it  for me). I figured I could rent some sort of disturbing wood-cutting device from Tates Rents just down the street from us if the job really got out of hand. Grumbling under my breath, off I went to Home Depot® expecting to buy 2x4s or some such annoyingly cumbersome block of exasperation.

And so I'm in the lumber department sizing up planks and becoming increasingly irritated by my options, or rather, my lack thereof. Was my grand money-saving scheme to be thwarted by wood. Wood? As my agitation increased, my need for chocolate became imperative so I decided to head to the counter to snatch something chocolatey and decadent to ease my compounding irritability. On the way there, I come across the molding aisle.

Hmmm. Those planks look much more manageable since they already come in the widths I need. I look around this department with a closer eye, becoming ever more hopeful. I stop in my tracks. Wait...WHAT'S THIS? Could my eyes be deceiving me? Blocks of wood in the exact sizes I need...ready to go? And cheap?! 

Ta-da! My answer was in the molding aisle! There were bins full of various square and rectangle shapes perfect for my needs! I think I squealed out loud -- I forget exactly what happened, but before I knew it, my cart was full of these little gems and my need for chocolate was no longer a concern for national security.

I got home and soaked the price stickers off, scraping them clean with this handy brass scraper I got at my local Potter's Center. This is one of my most useful tools for tile/ornament making, allowing me to clean talc, clay or glaze off my work tables with ease, cut smaller size shapes from a clay slab, cut straight edges to clean up tiles, or shove tiles/ornaments around in the kiln for precision spacing. I may have to buy more in order to create "saturation accessibility" so I won't spend so much time hunting the darned thing down!

Contact cement works best. Be sure to work in a well-ventilated area when using it'll make you loopy with its fumes! But the stamps were a cinch to glue to the blocks, and letting them dry overnight, they were ready to use the next day! 

With this approach, a 3 x 3" stamp's price was reduced from $40 to about $15. But since I got the brown matrix, too, I'm able to stamp out the reverse impression of that same design. So essentially, I got two stamps for $15, or about $7.50 each. Even better, having both the stamp and matrix version of the same design revealed a great that I probably wouldn't have gotten so soon without this experience: Mix up the "innies and outies" within a series!

In the next post, I'll show you what I mean by that plus the products of some of these stamps! I also got some new glazes for them just can't wait to show you! 

"In wisdom gathered over time I have found that every experience is a form of exploration." ~ Ansel Adams

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