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How to Make Rubber Stamps: Comparing Methods of Manufacture
Vulcanized rubber seals
The traditional red rubber stamp that everyone knows will have been produced on a vulcanizing machine. The first vulcanizing rubber stamp press was patented in 1890 by Charles Schultze in New Orleans, USA. Vulcanization is today one of the most cost-effective methods of making rubber stamps for mass-produced stamps. Each batch of stamps is produced using a mold. This production method is most suitable for the production of stamps where the same molds are used repeatedly. Making custom-made stamps with a vulcanizing press that requires ‘one-off’ molds will significantly increase the cost of production.
Mold making – before a mold can be made, you must have a master plate manufactured from metal or polymer, the master plate has the necessary relief (the artwork is raised) to make an impression on the mold. Having a master plate made each time a mold is required is what increases the cost of production for vulcanized stamps. Pressing the master plate onto a Matrix board creates the mold that will accept the tire. Heat and pressure are applied to the main plate and die board inside a vulcanizing press. The matrix follows the relief shape given by the master plate, then solidifies during cooling.
Making Rubber Stamps – Making stamps is a simple process once the mold is made. The raw rubber stamp gum is placed on top of the mold and then placed inside the stamp press. Hydraulic pressure is applied to the rubber and mold from within the stamp press causing the rubber to melt into the areas of the mold containing the images and text, curing and hardening takes about 10 minutes. Once dry, the rubber sheet is pulled from the mold and cut into individual stamps to be attached to the assemblies.
The cost of a vulcanization system is approximately $12,000 AUD
Advantages – Low production cost for mass produced stamps, good ink transfer.
Disadvantages – Cost of manufacturing custom made master plates and stamp molds.
Laser engraved rubber stamps
The traditional raw rubber used to vulcanize stamp stamps is quite unacceptable for laser stamp machine production, the laser process requires a very even thickness and flawless surface to produce an acceptable printed image from a stamp stamps. The rubber must also undergo a special hardening process before being exposed to the elevated temperature of a laser beam.
The depth of the engraving is determined by the speed of the laser, its power and the density of the rubber. For example, a 50 or 100 W engraver will engrave the tire deeper and faster than a 25 W machine, which may require a second pass to achieve a similar result. Usually supplied in an A4-sized sheet form, a good quality laser eraser is required for stamp engraving and must also have adequate compressive strength and ink transfer properties.
To aid the engraving process, it is necessary to remove the excess dust that is constantly generated by the laser cutting action with an efficient exhaust filtration system. Since very few, if any, CO2 laser engraving machines were originally built for engraving and cutting rubber, installing and maintaining an effective dust extraction system pays long-term dividends. Mirrors, lenses and any exposed bearing surfaces should be thoroughly cleaned as part of a regular maintenance program. Any negligence in this area will be detrimental to the overall smooth operation of the laser, as the accumulation of dust and debris will affect the efficiency of operation and the quality of the finished seal. Lasers are controlled directly from a computer, the software drivers supplied with the laser work with many graphics programs such as CorelDraw.
The approximate cost of a 25 watt laser suitable for stamp making is $40,000
Advantages – Production is computer controlled, custom stamps can be made easily
Disadvantages – High capital investment, maintenance and operation costs will be much higher than vulcanization or polymer production methods.
Liquid Polymer Rubber Stamps
The conversion of rubber stamp polymer from a liquid to a solid to make stamps is quite fascinating. Polymer stamps are produced between two sheets of glass using precisely controlled UV light that passes through a negative containing the stamp artwork which hardens the polymer. Negative production has been simplified with the introduction of water-based negative technology, photographic chemicals for producing negatives are now a thing of the past.
The first step in making polymer rubber stamps is to print your images, clips or text on Vellum, a nearly transparent film-like paper.
To produce quality printed artwork you must use a laser printer, inks from bubble printers are translucent allowing UV light to pass through where it shouldn’t. Water-based negatives wash off easily after being exposed for a few minutes in a UV exposure stamp machine.
The polymer contained in a bag is now replacing the old cumbersome method of using foam tape to create a dam and pouring rubber stamp polymers, the bags have also addressed the old problem of removing air bubbles from the poured polymer .
The negative of your artwork and polymer bags is placed between two sheets of glass spaced 2-3mm apart, which are then exposed in the machine for a few minutes. Once you’ve finished the exposure, it’s a simple process of cutting the pouch open and washing off the excess unexposed polymer before returning the stamp to the machine for a 10 minute dry. Once the prints have been cured, they can be individually cut. Polymer bags are available in a range of sizes up to A4 size.
Processing time is about 30 minutes for a batch of polymer stamps.
The cost of polymer stamp making machinery ranges from AUD$3,500 for an Australian-made unit specifically designed for stamp production to high-end imported units with computer-controlled washing for AUD$15,000.
Advantages – Lower capital investment, polymers make almost clear prints making them ideal for scrapbooking and card making. The relief of the knob can be easily controlled during the exposure.
Disadvantages – Early polymers did not accept inks as well as polymers available today, this along with new technology caused initial resistance to polymer prints.
Most major stamp manufacturers have a mix of the above equipment. Unmounted rubber stamps produced by any of these production methods can be cut and affixed to simple hand stamps, date stamps, or self-inking stamps. Craft stamps are usually placed on wooden blocks or in the case of polymer stamps attached to clear acrylic blocks with glue or an InstaGrip mounting mat. Various productions produce assemblies for stamps. Astron Industries in Australia manufactures the ‘Vuestamp’ clear hand stamp and also distributes the ideal range of self-ink mounts. Other brands of self-painting mounts are Trodat, Colop and Shiny.
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