Buying clear stamps from China…my experience

Hello stamping friends.  A couple of weeks ago I posted my experiences in purchasing metal cutting dies directly from China.  I ended up happy and have since purchased even more.  You can read my full blog post here.

While making those purchases I ended up looking at other craft supplies, including clear stamps.  I noticed that in the description of the stamps they were all made with silicone.  Even though I have had no luck with silicone stamps in the past the prices were very good and I saw a few sets that I liked.

So, I took the plunge and ordered several sets to compare against some of my favorite clear polymer stamps that I use regularly.

Here are my thoughts on the purchases and my ratings on these stamps.

Ease of purchase:

I had the same experience with stamps as I did with dies.  Using the Aliexpress site takes time and patience.  The stamp set names are either two generic or don’t make sense.  There are many sellers selling the same thing at widely different prices so it is best to shop around for the best prices.  Checking the sizes is also important. There are a range of styles and I did recognize a few sets as those I have seen in JoAnn’s or Michael’s as well as a few KaiserCraft sets.

Shipping:  With the metal dies I was able to get free shipping.  With stamps I ended up paying a small shipping fee.  I purchased duplicates of some stamps to give to friends and I noticed that once I changed my quantity from 1 to 2 a shipping charge was added.  In the end the cost not too bad.    Shipping time took between 2 – 3 weeks.  I ended up buying 8 stamp sets in a variety of styles.  Some simple line drawing, sentiments, some with a little detail and some with solid images.

What you really want to know is……how do they stamp??? How do they measure up against the high quality polymer stamps?

I’ll tell you right off the bat that I am a  bit biased when it comes to clear stamps.  I can deal with cheap paper, dies, and embellishments but when it comes to clear stamps I prefer those made with polymer.  I’ve been stamping for almost 20 years and have had my share of poor quality clear stamps (and rubber as well) and don’t want to hassle with a stamp. In the past 10 years 90% of my stamping has been done with polymer stamps. I consider myself an experienced stamper and know all the techniques to get a good image.  I’ve also used just  about every type of ink around – not every brand but every type.

Here is my rating criteria for these stamps and how they fared:

-Packaging – I don’t need a lot of fancy packaging but the set must have either an image sheet or have the images printed on the plastic sheet they are packed in.

-Ease of removal from the package.  Many of us have purchased stamps that  are next to impossible to remove from the sheet.  I’ve had a real workout on some of them.  There is no reason for this.  The stamps should cling to the sheet but be able to be removed with little effort.

-How do the stamps ‘feel” – are they thin or thick?

-How well do they hold ink and is the image crisp and clean?

I will be comparing the China stamps with the polymer stamps I currently own  I have  over 150 polymer stamp sets that work beautifully.  They are from a variety of companies like Power Poppy, Papertrey, Technique Tuesday, Waltzingmouse, Lawn Fawn and others.

My results:

Packaging – All  8  stamp sets I purchased came undamaged and in good shape.  All had the stamp image printed on the plastic sheet.  Rating:  Pass

Ease of removal from the package.     3 out of 8 stamp sets were hard – extremely hard – to remove from the package.  I ended up ripping one stamp, breaking a fingernail, bending a mini spatula and ended up with very sore fingers.  Once the stamps were off the sheet many of them did not lay flat on the acrylic block  And after all the work trying to get them off the plastic sheet, when I was finished stamping I placed them back on the sheet but many of them did not stick well.   Rating:  on the fence.  You can’t tell which stamps sets will be those that are hard to remove.  Frankly, this alone would deter me from making another purchase.    I just don’t want to work that hard to get a stamp.

How do the stamps “feel”?  For all 8 sets  the stamps are definitely thinner than my polymer ones.  Some were downright flimsy. And if they were the one that were hard to remove from the package the flimsiness only contributed to he problem of not lying flat on the block.   The larger the stamp is the more pronounced this is.  Smaller stamps seemed to be ok.    Rating:  Pass (just barely – mainly because the price point is so low).

How well do they hold ink and is the image crisp and clean?

This is the big test.  For polymer stamps, with the proper ink, I can take them out of the package and stamp without any conditioning.  And that’s the way it should be.  A stamp is supposed to hold the ink and transfer a clean image to another surface.  If you have to do extra prep work to get a stamp to ink up then I consider it a fail.  The type of ink is very important as well.  Not all inks are formulated to work with clear stamps – even the best polymer stamps will have trouble with some inks.  I will base my rating on the inks I own because I have no intention of buying a whole new line of inks just for these stamps. I made sure all my ink pads were freshly inked.

Inks that do not work well with either polymer or china stamps are:  Stampin Up, Marvy Markers, Distress inks.   The result is splotchy, uneven coverage and fuzzy.  A note on Stampin Up Inks (because I don’t want a bunch of SU demos on my case!)  – my SU inks are about 15 years old and still work great on rubber.  I understand that SU recently started offering clear stamps.  If they changed their ink formula to work with clear stamps then that may be an option.  However the SU inks I have do not work on any of my clear stamps.    If you are an SU demo please do not try and convince me otherwise.  I’ve tried too many times and the inks just don’t work to my satisfaction.

Inks that worked well on both polymer and china stamps are:  Memento and Palette brands.  Pigment inks work well but they tend to be slippery and will smudge easily and take very long to dry.    I personally don’t use pigment inks unless I am embossing.

Quality of image: Knowing a little about the process of making a stamp I know that it all starts with a high resolution image.  If the image is high resolution it is half the battle in the making of a good stamp. Sometimes images with a lot of detail do not translate well into a stamp without a good graphic designer cleaning up the image for processing.

I did no pre conditioning of the china stamps – you should not have to.

  I got the best results on images that were simple line drawings using the Memento or Palette inks and with pigment inks..  Those stamps with more detail ended up being a bit fuzzy and not crisp.  In looking at the detail of these stamps is was hard to tell if it was a problem with the resolution of the original image or in issue with manufacturing.

Sentiments – I’m picky about how I want my sentiments to look.  I want them crisp and clean.  The sentiment set I purchased had both simple line fonts and a few solid block words.  The simple line fonts worked fine but the solid block words were splotchy.

Solid image stamps – did not work well, again a splotchy result.  I will admit that some of my polymer stamps that are solid have the same problem. You really need to get a heavy coat of ink on solid images for it to look right.  The one exception to this are those multi-step stamp sets.  Since you are applying 3 layers of ink the splotchy-ness may not be noticeable.  And those sets tend to have a softer or watercolored look to them so you are not necessarily looking for a crisp clean impression.

Out of the 8 stamp sets I purchased, the inking went well with 4 of them.  2 sets were just too fuzzy for my taste and 2 sets had mixed results because of the type  of image. Rating:  half pass/half fail.

My conclusion?  Would I buy silicone stamps again direct from China?  My issue is that there is a lack of consistency in the product.  I know with all the polymer stamps I have purchased they will stamp well.  For silicone you cannot be sure.  My suggestions would be to limit yourself to simple line images and text as these have worked best for me.  You are still taking a chance on getting a stamp that does not work well, but the price point may be so low that you can live with it.