Updated December 31, 2014
I will continue to add products to this page as I have time, so please check back if I haven't yet covered a product you're interested in!
I am not receiving compensation in any way for my endorsement of these products. Aside from the free stuff I occasionally receive from stamp companies, I pay for my stuff and buy what I love. My favorites are listed here to help newbies and experienced stampers alike...anyone who's looking to try something new. But please keep in mind that these are my subjective opinions, not objective facts, and individual results will vary!
Inks were the thing that confused me the most when I started stamping. Here are the two big discoveries I made in those early days: 1) there are a bunch of different kinds of inks that each do different things, and they are not interchangeable, and 2) never, ever buy off-brand, cheap ink.
Types of Ink
Regular Pigment: These are generally slow-drying inks suitable for heat embossing. Because they dry slowly (or in the case of metallics, never!), they will smear easily. BUT they are your go-to ink for heat embossing because they are sticky and will hold the embossing powder while you melt it. My brands of choice are ColorBox Pigment Ink and StampinUp Craft Ink. These inks are thick and dry (eventually) opaque. Keep in mind that they simply won't dry on coated papers like vellum or designer paper. You can heat set them, but I never had much patience for that, which is why I was so glad when fast-drying pigment inks came out.
Fast-Drying Pigment Ink: Some formulas of pigment ink are designed to dry quickly, which means they aren't suitable for heat embossing, but the colors are richer than dye inks, and they give nice opaque color. My favorites in this category are Brilliance, Memento Luxe, and Impress Fresh Ink. I highly recommend buying reinkers with the large Brilliance pads as they dry out quicker than the small dew-drop pads.
Water-resistant and Water-proof Dye Inks: I bought Ancient Page inks for my first inks, and then tried to watercolor with them. Doesn't work real well because they are waterproof, meaning that they dry quickly and once dry, they are not going anywhere no matter how much water you put on them. The colors are nice, though, and they are archival, so they are a great choice for scrapbooking. I also LOVE Memento inks, although the new colors have some issues with blotchiness. Hero Arts/Memories inks and Adirondack are also lovely. All of these dry translucent rather than opaque, so they give a very different look to your stamping than pigment inks. You generally won't get the crisp, clean image of pigment inks with water-resistant inks, and it can be frustrating to use on particularly detailed stamps as the detail can get lost in the runny-ness of the dye ink.
Standard Dye Inks: If you want to watercolor with dye ink, you can't beat StampinUp's classic ink. It's the BOMB for that. Just don't put some wet medium like Stickles over it. The ink will run unattractively and ruin your project.
Chalk Inks: These are dye inks but with the thick, opaque consistency of pigment. They look chalky/matte when dry. I have tried both VersaMagic and Colorbox Chalk inks, and they work pretty much the same. As with Brilliance inks, if you buy the full-size pads, get the reinkers at the same time. They dry out fast. The dew drops of VersaMagic seem to stay juicy much better than the cat's eye pads of Colorbox, at least in my experience. ColorBox chalk inks also stain photopolymer stamps...some of the colors stain badly!
Solvent Inks: StazOn is my go-to for stamping on slick surfaces such as transparencies or metal. It smells funny, but I like it.
VersaMark: This ink is colorless and can be used for heat embossing and resist techniques. If you stamp it on colored card stock, it will leave a watermark-type impression (tone on tone). It will also hold chalk really well, so you can stamp your image with VersaMark, daub chalk over it, and get a neat (if horribly out of style) look.
There are other types of ink, such as hybrid inks and distressing inks and inks for stamping on fabric. I don't use them and can't say much about them.
Types of Ink Pads
I used to think bigger was better and bought only full-sized pads. Then, I preferred the smaller pads. Not only are they easier to store but they seem to stay inked longer. I particularly love the dew-drop style pads (VersaMagic, Brilliance, Memento). The pointy end of the pad makes inking just part of a stamp so much easier. I don't like the little cubes, though. The lids aren't always tight. Lately, however, I've been moving back to the larger pads. There's no perfect answer...just use what you like.
How Many Colors Do You Need?
With so many different inks that do so many different things, it can become overwhelming to choose colors. If you like using colored card stock and matching inks, I definitely recommend sticking with a coordinated product line, such as StampinUp, Hero Arts, or A Muse.
If you're like me and prefer white card stock and solid block images, you really can't have too many colors. If you prefer to color images with Copics or watercolors or colored pencils, then you don't need many colored inks at all. Find a black ink that works for your medium (Memento works great with Copics/Bics/Sharpies), and you're set.
Bottom Line on Inks
Generally speaking, if you stick with name-brand inks and read the labels carefully to be sure what you're buying, you should be fine. Just make sure you get the ink that will do what you want it to do.
I look for two things in stamps: high-quality materials and images I love and will use.
For high-quality wood-mounted rubber stamps, I look for deeply-etched rubber with a nice mounting foam. The rubber needs to be closely trimmed to avoid problems with ink on the flashing (the part of the rubber that isn't supposed to stamp). Brands I use and love include StampinUp, Hero Arts, Memory Box, Stampabilities, PSX (out of business but still available on ebay), and A Muse (though they no longer make wood-mounted stamps).
For unmounted rubber stamps, I look for deeply-etched, closely-trimmed rubber with a nice cling foam that sticks well to the acrylic block. I've only tried two brands of unmounted rubber: StampinUp clear mount and Hero Arts clings. I prefer Hero Arts. I do not like StampinUp's cling stickers, though the foam without the sticker (which you have to put on yourself anyway) works fine. Still, I'd rather pay for SU's wood-mounted stamps. I'm eager to try A Muse's unmounted stamps to see how well they cling.
UPDATE: Now that I've tried them, A Muse stamps do stick to the acrylic block, but not quite as well as the Hero Arts ones. The foam they use is less dense (more squishy), so the stamping experience is a little different. I've just placed a second big order for A Muse, so they definitely make my recommended list!
Still, if there's a wood-mount option for rubber, I prefer that.
For clear stamps, only high-quality photopolymer stamps are allowed in my craft room. Photopolymer stamps take most types of ink well, whereas the cheaper silicon stamps have issues with inks pooling on them and stamping poor images. Clear stamp brands I use and love include Papertrey Ink, Hero Arts, Clear and Simple Stamps, Clearly Besotted, CASual Fridays, Uniko, Avery Elle, Mama Elephant, Dare 2B Artsy, and Simon Says Stamp.
Photopolymer stamps have a distinctive chemical odor, while the cheaper silicon stamps don't. If in doubt at the store and the package doesn't specifiy photopolymer, sniff.
Favorite Card Stock
Once a stamper has a stamp, she (or he) needs something to stamp ON, and that's usually card stock. I have very strong feelings about card stock. VERY strong. Because there's one rule of clean-and-simple stamping that I learned the hard way: if you buy cheap card stock, your cards will look cheap. Seriously.
As with so many things in stamping, just one card stock won't do. You need lots of different card stocks for different purposes (just like inks). Listed here are my favorite card stocks that I use regularly. There are other wonderful papers out there that I've never had opportunity to use, so don't be afraid to try something new and different. You can always donate it to a school art classroom, preschool, or church if you don't like it. The kids don't care!
White Card Stock
White card stock is a staple of my paper stash because very often it's the base of my card. That means it must be sturdy and stable and take ink well. My go-to white cardstock is Papertrey Stampers Select white. I break out in hives if I get down to only one pack of it. It's heavy and feels rich because the surface has a bit of tooth to it...it's not smooth like StampinUp's whisper white (which is nice but far too light-weight to be a card base). I love that StampinUp real red ink (well, pretty much any ink) dries quickly on Papertrey's white card stock. Also, it makes awesome single-panel note cards.
A second white card stock that is essential for my stash is Gina K Deluxe white. This is ultra-smooth, super-thick card stock that you can color with Bic/Sharpie/Copic markers without bleed-through. If you want to make one-layer cards with marker-colored images, Gina K Deluxe is DA BOMB. The slick surface doesn't absorbe ink like PTI's does, so your markers should last longer, too. Just don't stamp SU real red on it. It will never dry.
Colored Card Stock
On a personal note.... For my 40th birthday, I bought most of the StampinUp inks and papers. Almost immediately, I realized that my style really requires a whole lotta white card and not much color. This has made me much more cautious about investing in colored card stock since it lasts so very long for me!
I prefer solid-core, heavy card stock for color. Two brands that provide consistent high quality are Papertrey and StampinUp. I don't really notice a difference between the two and use them together and interchangeably. Both companies offer coordinating inks.
One advantage to Papertrey (at least for me) is that you can buy smaller quantities of card stock. With SU, you either buy the assortments or 24-sheet packs. PTI sells assortments as well, but I prefer the 12-sheet packs. Much more manageable for my style of stamping.
Some stampers prefer white-on-one-side card stocks such as the ones offered by Hero Arts and A Muse. You can fold cards with these papers and have a white inside on which to write. This is MUCH more convenient than lining a dark card stock with a white panel, not to mention lighter to mail.
I've never used the A Muse papers, but the Hero Arts ones are smooth and what I would call medium-weight. (At least, they are lighter than Papertrey and StampinUp.) Both Hero Arts and A Muse have coordinated color lines with inks and papers. I can recommend the Hero Arts products, having used them all myself.
Information coming soon!
Information coming soon!