Getting Started

So, you want to make cards?  Tags for gifts?  Paper dolls for your daughter?  Magnetic play boards?  Gift boxes?

Well, I’m going to start with cards.  Why?  Because it’s the most obvious use of stamps.  Obviously, you can add them directly to scrapbook pages, but no one needs info on how to do that, right?

Let’s start with necessary supplies.

Means to cut paper-  Ok, there are many ways to cut paper into card bases (the main part of the card).  I’m going to highlight different ones and what I think it’d cost if you bought the supplies to do it.

  • Paper Trimmer-  This is just a cutter designed for cutting paper.  You need something that’ll cut up to 12″ so that you can use 12×12″ papers when convenient.  These little jobbies can range from 15 bucks at a place like Wal-Mart or Joann’s to a hundred dollars or more.  Do try to play with a couple before you buy to see what you like.  Read reviews.  Do a little research.  Does it cut accurately?  Is it a blade hog?  Will you have to replace healing bars/mats for it often?  For the record, I bought the Rock, Paper, Trimmer by Fiskars on half price clearance for about 40 dollars.  It was probably one of the best, if not THE best, purchases I’ve made to date.
  • Self-healing mat and rotary cutter.  If you’re a quilter (or were one in a past life and still have your tools), this is an excellent way to cut your paper.  You really don’t NEED anything else.  If you weren’t, a mat is going to cost you 20-60 dollars (depending on size and where you purchased, if you had a coupon, etc.) and a cutter can be under ten dollars.  An X-acto knife will work too, but it’s going to give your hand fits after a while.  I’d go with rotary myself.
  • Ruler and Scissors-  If you are patient, and precise, you can simply measure and hand cut all of your bases.  Frankly, unless you really don’t have the money OR really don’t know you want to do this, I don’t recommend it.  In fact, if you’re not sure you want to do this, find a friend with a cutter and use hers.  I guarantee most people will quickly learn to HATE paper crafting if they have to cut long, precise lines.  People are rarely pleased with the results.

Paper scissors-  I recommend the Cutterbee scissors.  If you have some other way to cut card stock into card bases, you don’t NEED these immediately, but you will WANT them.
Card stock-  You need a minimum weight of 80lb (not “cover weight”).  For bases, you need a good thick card stock.  My favorites are

  • Georgia Pacific
  • Gina K Pure Luxury  (Note:  Their white is 120 lb and I have a VERY hard time creasing it without the crease splitting.  It’s not my favorite but the colors are nice)
  • Neenah
  • Papertrey Ink  White paper is here.
  • Stampin’ Up!  (Click at the top right on “Shop now!” and go down to the paper.  I just do not recommend their “Whisper White”)

I recommend starting with a good white (Stampin’ Up’s is too flimsy in my opinion) paper.  A good white paper can be an excellent base for any card.  And, if you study cards that are marked CAS (clean and simple) or OLC (one layer card), you’ll find many cards that don’t require a lot of fussy stuff to create a beautiful look.  A great choice for beginners is Georgia Pacific 110 card stock available in large packages at Wal-Mart for under 5.00.  Use this to practice coloring techniques.  It’s inexpensive enough to throw away a LOT of paper, and yet nice enough to get a feel for how you’re doing and how this all works.

Stamps-  Obviously.  You’re going to need some stamps.  I highly recommend discovering early if you like to color or not.  It could make a very large difference in the kinds of stamps you choose to purchase.  If you do not like to color, you need to see how you feel about cutting.  One way to get a very nice “colored” look is to stamp your image for your card on the final piece you’re going to use.  Then stamp the different parts of the stamp on patterned paper.  You then cut out each piece and glue it to the image.  Called “paper piecing,” this is one way to have a nice colorful card without doing much or any coloring.  Obviously, if you despise cutting or find it hard to do, that isn’t going to be a good solution for you either.

The fact is that if you like stamping, you’re going to want a variety of stamps.  However, if you take your time and figure out your personal “style,” you’ll save yourself a lot of spending mistakes.  I’m very eclectic.  Sometimes I just want to stamp and move along.  Other times I want to color or do paper piecing. I like clean and simple cards and very fussy multi-layered cards.  I like it all.  When I first started stamping, I bought stamps that I liked.  While this wasn’t a BAD idea, I did end up with some things that I haven’t used much.  I’m determined to use them all eventually (or find new homes for them), but if I had known that just because I liked a card I made in a workshop didn’t mean I’d find similarly good uses for it at home, I would have saved a lot of hassle and even more money.  Also, don’t plan  to start by making all your Christmas cards.  You may discover, (after doing ten cards with another eighty to go), that you REALLY hate making the same card, over and over and over…

I really recommend starting with one image you LOVE (think of something you’ll color/stamp/cut OVER AND OVER) and one very generic sentiment.

People ask about clear vs. rubber.  Well, I have opinions on both, but I really recommend starting with a rubber stamp.  See if you like it before you invest in clear blocks and all that stuff.

Ink-  You obviously cannot stamp without ink.  I started out with Stampin’ Up! ink pads and I still use them primarily for all my colors.  I don’t know if that’ll stay the same or not.  We’ll see. I’ve heard great things about A|muse’s ink pads, and I LOVE the little bitty spot I have from Unity.  However, to get started, I’d buy a Memento pad in Tuxedo Black.  I thought it was a crazy thing when I first read about using different inks for different things and such.  Well, let’s just say that now when someone asks what ink to buy first, I say Memento Tuxedo Black.  It works well on both clear and rubber, and you can color with it using an aqua pen, water color pen, marker, or colored pencils– no worries.  You can even buy Memento in other colors later if you like.  Or, if you like the pre-matched things, you can buy Stampin’ Up!’s ink pads, markers, and matching paper, buttons, and ribbons.  Those aren’t necessary right now.  Just start small.

Ok, with a way to cut paper, card stock, ink, and a stamp or two, you can technically start stamping.  You cannot do layers, you cannot color, you cannot make anything but black and white cards at this point.  However, with things you might have around the house, my guess is you can still create a pretty cute card.  Your kids or grandkids likely have markers, coloring pencils, crayons, or watercolors.  You can start with that if you want color.  You can grab buttons off old clothes, ribbons from gift bags or your kids’ hair bow collection, or even silk flowers from that old arrangement you were going to toss and stick a button in the middle.  There are a million ways to accent a card– nearly free.  However, most people are going to want a few more things.

Before I list my “almost necessities,” I want to point out something.  In order to avoid throwing money at something we may not enjoy for long, we are often what the Brits used to call “Penny wise and pound foolish.”  Don’t try to save five dollars here and be disappointed later.  When choosing stuff from this list, give the items a fair shake.  A lot of this stuff has reasonable resale value, so you would get a significant portion of your investment back in the right circles.

Ok, my “ALMOST Must Haves-

Adhesive-  Ok, most card makers use layers.  Whether it’s flat layers on top of each other to look matted (think pictures in a picture frame) or popped up with thicker things to give it dimension (Hence why Stampin’ Up! calls them “dimensionals”), you’re going to need (and fairly quickly) something to stick paper to paper.  I recommend getting a tape runner from a place like Wal-Mart.  Now, if you really start to love doing this, invest in something that holds a lot more tape– like an ATG gun.  Trust me, you’ll save a BUNDLE with one of those things.  However, until you know if you even like it, be a little “pound foolish” and buy the little thing.  You can get “repositionable” refills that will let you pick your pieces up and down, which will come in handy later, making it not really wasteful at all unless you hate card making and quit.  I would even consider getting some “pop dots” (thick glue dots), SU Dimensionals (foam with adhesive on each side of it), or something like that for adding dimension (but it’s not necessary– adhesive is– thicker is just nice… and pretty cheap).

Coloring-  Ok, most people end up coloring at some point.  There are several popular coloring methods.

  • Colored Pencils-  I started with Martha Stewart Coloring Pencils.  They’re great.  However, there’s no reason not to get a similar set of Prismacolors.  With a Michael’s or JoAnn’s 40/50% off coupon, you can get a modest sized set for around 20 dollars or so.  These are a good choice because they do have a decent resale value.  Youtube is full of tutorials on how to color, shade, and smooth with different products.  FREE.
  • Markers-  There are dozens of marker options.  I even know of a woman who gets Copic marker results with Crayola markers.  You can buy SU markers and use a watercolor pen or aqua painter with them to get lovely results.  Copic markers (I’ve found that depending on what country you live in, and even what part of the country, they are pronounced “COE-pic” and in others it is “CAH-pic”) are great (and terribly expensive) because you can color over and over without waiting for it to dry– and no lines!  However, unless you’re committed to the hobby, I wouldn’t start there.  Buy a set of markers at the store and play around.  See if you like it.
  • Chalks-  These are a lot of fun to use, but I don’t recommend them to start with.
  • Watercolor Crayons-  I have some and have used them once.  They’re easy enough to use, but I’d go with markers or pencils to start with unless you already own some for some reason.

I recommend picking ONE of these ideas and getting “good” with it before determining if you like doing it or not.  It’s very easy to say you don’t like coloring with pencils or markers before you get a good result.  Once you’ve achieved a result that you like, then if you decide you hate coloring, well then that makes sense!

Paper-  This is where it gets tricky– and a bit dangerous.  You see, there’s always going to be paper– lots of it.  If you’re familiar with quilting or sewing, think of it like new fabric.  New releases all the time, gorgeous things you’re itching to get your fingers on… the works.  The nice thing about paper crafting is that it takes a lot less money to get variety and to create a project than it does when using fabric even though the actual “per yard” costs are pretty similar.  Whereas it is nearly impossible to get a variety of fabric smaller than a fat quarter (at a quarter yard cost of around 2.00 a piece), you can easily get a pad of paper with a dozen different options and two or more sheets of each for under ten dollars.  First, choose an assortment of card stock solid colors.  Stampin’ Up!, A|muse, Papertrey Ink, Gina K and others all have color assortments.  Pick one that has colors you like and try it.  You can easily layer cards with solids only and have a lovely look.  However, while you’re at one of those places, it’d make a lot of sense to buy an assortment of prints too.  Places like Stampin’ Up! are nice because their paper is double sided– printed on both sides.  This gives you more variety for a little less money (not much less, but usually you like one side so you’re not stuck with a package of paper with a few sheets you don’t like.)  With this, your card making options grow exponentially.  Just be careful.  It is very easy to choose a bunch of paper that looks fun without having anything to use with it.  Patterns of things like gingham (highly recommend getting the assortment from A|muse), polkadots, stripes, plaids, and possibly florals will give you the most versatile options to begin with.

Embellishments-  Ok, this is where it gets tricky– and where I probably overwhelm you.  I’m actually going to try to do that.  You see, there are a huge number of options in the embellishment department.  Brads, eyelets, buttons, ribbons, twine, lace, “bloomers” (rolled roses on a string), charms, photo turns, pins, stickles, pearls, rhinestones, doilies, felt, paper flowers, smooch spray, flower soft… and that large but generic category– “hardware.”  There are so many options that you fill a craft room and still discover more.  The fact is, you don’t need most of it to create absolutely stunning cards.  Sure, lots of it is fun, but don’t overspend before you know what you like.  I was SURE I’d love paper flowers.  I rarely use them.  There’s nothing wrong with that, but man I’m glad I only bought a couple of small tins of them.  The embellishments I’d buy first are (and probably in this order)

  • Ribbon- choose colors that match paper you already have and things like Ivory, white, brown.  Nearly everyone uses ribbon.
  • Twine/string-  Baker’s twine is adorable and I love it, but I’d get white, natural, and tan first.  You’ll likely use those more.
  • Buttons-  At Wal-mart and craft stores, they sell little baggies of assorted button colors.  For a couple of dollars, you have a lot of options.  I LOVE Papertrey’s buttons, but that’s a lot more buttons of just a single color or “family” for more money.  But, if you’re already ordering from them, it can’t hurt to try.
  • Brads-  These little things are so versatile and make a big impact for such a tiny little thing.
  • Stickles-  if you like glitter or are making things that it makes sense to have glitter for (Christmas cards, little girl birthday cards, etc.) then probably a bottle of “Diamond” or something would be a good addition but not totally necessary.

Stamps-  Ok, you will need more than two stamps if you’re buying this other stuff.  One stamp image and one sentiment aren’t going to cut it.  There are many stamp styles out there.  Not just clear vs. rubber, but cute children, sassy adult ladies, florals, pictures, vintage reprints– the works.  Again, you’ll need to figure out what you want to DO with your cards.  Are you giving them away as gifts?  Then you’re probably going to need generic things so the recipient can use it for anything from sending a note to Aunt Matilda, to popping a check in the mail to a friend they owe money to.  Do you want to send birthday cards to shut-ins?  Well, then trendy/funky gals with a lot of “bling” aren’t likely to be a good choice.  You’ll want flowers, birds, or even sassy older women.  I started out buying whatever tickled my fancy.  There’s nothing wrong with that, but if you want to buy wisely, do some thinking first.  Keep track of what you buy so that you don’t duplicate or buy something so similar it’s nearly duplication.

It might be a good idea to look at “sets.”  These usually have several similarly related stamps with matching sentiments.  If you love most (preferably ALL) the images/sentiments in a set and can envision sending a card with those on it, then you usually get more “bang for your buck” with it.  Again, take your time and think about things before you buy them.

Now would be a good time to play with clear and rubber both.  Talk to friends, find a scrap store that sells stamps, or call a Stampin’ Up! and Close to My Heart demonstrator and talk to them.  See what they offer and how they work.  Tell them what you’re doing and listen to their opinions and advice, but remember; their job is to sell you their products.  They already think their items are superior– that’s why they sell that brand.  Listen, consider their opinions, but make your own decision as to which you prefer– if you even have a preference.  I do have a preference, but after finding a lot of good clear stamps, I’ve narrowed the “preference level” for rubber over clear.  There are some great clear companies out there, and as long as they hold up to the test of time, I’ll be fine.  🙂

Ink-  At this point, I’d add in at least one brown ink pad.  My “go to” ink pad is this tiny square I got from Unity when I joined their Kit of the Month club.  They don’t seem to sell those little cubes or the stamp pads anymore, but I did find out that they are made by Palette Ink and you can purchase them HERE.

Tools-  Well, this gets tricky.  Everyone has their opinions.  You don’t NEED much more than a trimmer and a good pair of scissors, but there are several things you should consider once you know you like stamping.  I’m putting those here in order of my preference.

  • Stamp-a-ma-jig-  If you want to stamp your sentiments straight or if you hate things “off center,” you’ll want this.  You CAN make your own with some long Duplo blocks, but I like the positioner.  When you get it, slide the plastic thing up into the L shape (to the left if you’re right handed and reversed if you’re right handed) and get your stamp.  Stamp your stamp exactly in that L.  Now you have a template.  Lay that over your card, put it where you want it , then move that positioner into place.  Stamp.  Voila.  Perfect placement.  If you’re using a wood-mounted rubber stamp, use a sheet of vellum to stamp on first.  Then you’ll have a template for next time and can skip a step.
  • Paper Piercer and Mat Pack-  No idea what the official names of these things are.  I bought my from Stampin’ Up! and I think these are the names for them.  You need the sharp tool used for piercing paper.  But, you don’t want to ruin your table, so you need the mat pack.  The one from Stampin’ Up! has a self-healing mat, a foam thing, and a template for all kinds of hole punching.  ALWAYS have your mat down.  Then put your foam on top.  You can use the template or not as you like.  I use the piercer for making holes for brads, for visual interest– the works.
  • Punches-  I highly recommend getting the inverted corner rounder or “ticket punch.”  Of all the ones I own, I use this one the most.  I rarely use my regular corner rounder.  I thought I’d use it often, but I don’t.
  • Scoreboard-  I recommend the Martha Stewart one.  All of the lines on it are equidistant and it’s half the price of the competition– even less if you have a Michael’s/JoAnn’s coupon.  This is perfect for making perfect fold lines in the middle of your card, for adding score lines to “Frame” things or give visual interest.  It is absolutely NOT essential.  However, I don’t make a card without it.

Now, there are a lot of resources out there for stampers, but first, go over to Split Coast Stampers and start reading, going through the gallery, and learning.  That place is a huge resource.  It is overwhelming at first– I had no idea of where to begin.  This site has information on techniques, organization, the works.  I have opinions on things like storage, inventory, etc.  Things I was sure I wouldn’t find important I now do and visa versa.  These ladies (and a few men) are veritable encyclopedias of ideas and information.  They have programs for recognizing birthdays, sharing images, and having challenges.

One of the BEST decisions I made was to do every one of the Sketch Challenges.  It’s been over a year of working on them reasonably consistently, and I’m over half done.  THAT is a great feeling.  The sketches taught me to look at a card as both pieces of a whole and the whole.  It taught me how to separate elements and then combine them into one unified piece.  It’s an excellent way to start “thinking” like a card maker.

There are a million other things you could do, but this would get you started.  Have fun!

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3 thoughts on “Getting Started

  1. WOW! What a Fabulous Article. I have just joined your Blog through a link from Ellen Hutson. I can’t believe my luck. You have many Beautiful Projects on your Blog, but this comprehensive guide to Stamping is something I’ve been searching for for many a Year. I have many Stamps both Rubber sets mainly SU and single. I also have many clear stamps as well. Most have been Impulse buys but not all and now that I’ve read your Article I’m very keen to get started and really see which stamps are Must Haves and how many I really didn’t need. Many Thanks. I have Subscribed to your Blog and will look forward to each edition.
    Kind Regards,
    Beverley……….

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