Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Let's Talk about Buying Stamps

Note: If you don't want to read my novel, please scroll down to the bottom to see a card.

Bahb asked an interesting question in the comments of my Stamp Storage post:

Did it take you long to determine which stamp brands were worthy of focus? I mean, do you have alot of stamps that don't yield a clean image or do you junk them as useless?

While her question is pretty specific, it got me thinking more generally about how my stamp buying has changed over time and how I ended up where I am today, with a bunch of drawers and CD cases full of stamps that, for the most part, I love, and which, for the most part, come from four companies.

For you stamping neophytes reading this, learn from my mistakes. You'll save money and be happier. I promise.

In my beginner's enthusiasm for rubber stamping, I made every mistake in the book when it came to purchasing stamps. I thought StampinUp sets and accessories were waaaayyyyyy too expensive,and while I did buy a few of them early on, I mainly bought loose stamps at Hobby Lobby during its half-price sales. This meant I bought a rather random assortment of stamps of varying quality, style, and usefulness.

Some brands were very high quality, such as Hero Arts, PSX, and Penny Black, and others were not. It quickly became obvious that when it came to rubber, deeply carved was definitely better. Shallowly carved stamps were cheap as dirt, but they stamped crappy and left ink from the flashing all over my projects. (Flashing is the part of the rubber that isn't supposed to stamp.) Those icky stamps ended up in my toddler's craft bin or the trash.

In those early days, I tried some clear stamps a friend had and was horrified at the poor quality of the images, vowing never to waste money on them.

While I quickly learned what brands at Hobby Lobby were good and what brands weren't, I was wash-out stupid about buying the good quality stamps. If I didn't have an image, I wanted it. Not a thought entered my head about how I would use it, of course. I just wanted it. After a few years, I had amassed hundreds of stamps (all bought half-price, of course...what a deal!), yet I was very unhappy with all the stuff I was making. And boy was I making stuff!

Please keep in mind that I had no idea what I was doing, so I relied on the books and magazines available to teach me. Most of these books were about artsy stamping: collage, vintage, brown. They were heavy on cool techniques, so I tried them all. I made paste paper, marbled paper, sponged paper, tea-dyed paper; I wove, distressed, punctured, tore, embossed, and smeared paper; I stamped on velvet, paper, canvas, walls, and wood. I pounded leaves and ferns and flowers into paper with a hammer, stamped with them, made collage pieces to hang in my house.

As my aviator husband would say, I was all speed and no vector. Frantically trying to teach myself everything about stamping without even a vague sense of purpose or taste or style resulted in a bunch of wasted time and money, not to mention storage space in my house.

Who was this person? Well, not me. She was a product of ignorance and the innocent and benign influence of a bunch of art stamping books and magazines. Virtually all those technique experiments either ended in failure or products that just didn't make me happy. It didn't help that I tried to save money by buying cheap products...cheap cardstock, cheap ink, cheap embellishments.

You see, I'd learned not to buy cheap stamps, but it took an embarrassing length of time for me to figure out that if you buy cheap stuff, the stuff you make with it will look cheap. Well, duh.

About this time, I discovered scrapbooking. The clean-and-simple style was right there in the scrapbooking magazines. Remember Simple Scrapbooks? Oh how I cried when that magazine went under. Well, I cried inside. Outside, I just whined about it to my husband. But still. Those scrapping magazines showed me a style that fit me, and gradually, it dawned on me that I could apply that style to my cards and perhaps, just perhaps, feel happier with what I was making.

Splitcoast Stampers helped, too, with members like JulieHRR showing me that cards didn't have to be collaged and distressed to death.

As I realized how much money I had wasted with impulse spending, I put my critical thinking skills to use. SU and Hero Arts both have huge, annual catalogs/inspiration books and both sell coordinating stamp sets and products. I figured if I studied their catalogs carefully, I could strategize purchases better and have an easier time coordinating stamps and product. So I resolved only to buy Hero Arts and StampinUp stamps.

It was the smartest thing I've ever done in relation to this obsessive hobby.

For several years, I ignored every other stamp company and stuck to Hero Arts and StampinUp. I learned how to coordinate stuff: colors, stamps, supplies. I settled into my style and started feeling so much happier about what I was making. Most of my stamp purchases made sense with my style and were easy for me to use. Of course, I still occasionally bought things I should not have, but honestly, I was wasting much less money than before.

I also started pruning down my stash. Stamps that obviously didn't work for my style went away, either given to friends or donated to our church preschool or Salvation Army.

Then I kept reading threads at SCS about how the new Papertrey Ink stamps were high-quality photopolymer, not the cheapo icky stuff I'd tried years before. At first, I bought one stamp set--Beautiful Blooms--to try them out. That was the last time I placed an order that didn't qualify for free shipping with Papertrey.

For a year or so, I seriously continued to limit my purchases to these three companies. but then Memory Box turned my idea for a WWII-era aviator penguin into a stamp, A Muse came out with their oval shadow stamps, and Clear and Simple Stamps released their Wii set. My horizons broadened a bit.

Then, Faith at Mark's Finest Papers asked me to be on their design team and started sending me their high-quality clear stamps. Oh my.

The thing is, I don't feel the need to go hog wild buying tons of stamps from tons of companies. I have so much now...and most of it useful and good for me...that I'm very picky about what I'll buy these days. When I see a cool stamp or set, I ask, "What do I have that's close to this?" If nothing, then I'll consider. But usually I can substitute something I already have. This is why I haven't bought PTI's new leaf set even though it's KILLING ME!!!!!

This whole wacky (and very expensive) journey has taught me some valuable lessons about our hobby.

1. Buy only top-quality products. Rely on reviews at SCS and blogs for guidance on this. If I'd started out buying top quality but LESS, I'd never have wasted so much money.

2. Coordinated product is worth the price. I'm much more confident about mixing and matching after 8 years of stamping, but it really has taken that long for me to feel like I really can take all those loose stamps and combine them to make stuff that I like.

3. You don't have to have every image out there to make wonderful stuff. I certainly have a lot of stamps, but I could throw two-thirds of them away and still have plenty of fun. I toy with the idea of getting rid of a bunch, and who knows, one day, I may act on that. But for now, I have the space and might as well keep the ones I like and that fit my style.

4. Trends are certainly fun, but if you buy a good image, it will last and be useable for years. Coonsider the following card:

How cute is this? Those snowflakes are from one of the first SU sets I bought called Lace Snowflakes. The sentiment is an old Hobby Lobby find (PSX I think). The border punch is a Martha Stewart one I bought this year.

If you made it this far, bless you. I hope all this makes sense and doesn't make me look too stupid or frivolous. I honestly feel it's been a useful learning experience and worth every penny. But perhaps now you understand why I don't have a Big Shot and Nesties and Copics. Self-control has been a hard-fought battle. I don't need any more temptation!

And Bahb, aren't you sorry you asked?


  1. I made the same mistakes for the first 2 years and thank God we don't have any stamp companies in India..and the exchange rate is way high..so I don't end up buying crap..I end up buying only what I need..though sometimes I do go the cheap way and wait for sales..but that is being frugal I guess..and then I found your blog..so I'm glad I found your blog to help me find my way in this obsessed world of heaving duty layering and distressing and over embellishing!

  2. Great post. It's going to be difficult but I'm not buying anything but adhesive for one year. And, like you, I'm much pickier now about which stamps I buy. (Or will buy in a year. I'm going to keep a list and then see if I REALLY need them.)

  3. Thanks for sharing, always great to read these fun things from you. But I do want a Big Shot and Nesties... and I'm starting to think I wont be able to resist... but I agree that good quality goes a long way. And I think I will also never order from PTI w/o getting the free shipping, chuckle chuckle.

  4. Wish you had written this 5 years ago! I agree completely -- buy quality, think about how you would use it, and plan your orders. I'm an SU demo and I still haven't ordered from the new catalog because I want to be sure that I really, really want the set. If you buy less, you spend less, and have less storage issues.

  5. Thank you Susan. All I can say is I'm grateful it only took me 3 years before I found your blog. I love the CAS style and your advice over the past couple of years has really helped me think carefully about what I buy. Thankfully I have managed to come to a similar conclusion more quickly thanks to your advice and examples.

    I am currently in the process of weeding out the 'cheap' stuff, either using it somehow (I struggle to throw stuff when I know how much I spent on it!)

    I hear you Erin, on the Big Shot - I can understand the need to resist however, I didn't! Personally it was one of the best purchases I made. I'm very low on storage space so the BS and nesties take up so much less room than all the punches I would need to replace them!

    I guess we all just prioritise our own needs.

  6. I needed this post, oh, 7-8 years ago. I may still frame it. LOL! Currently working on....do I *need* this, and what do I have that will work instead...

    Listen, folks, she's got wise words here!

  7. Sounds like most people travel this path in 1 form or another. You're so right about stamp choices now, before I hit that 'checkout' button I see what I may have that comes close and see how that goes. Thanks so much for the great read.

  8. Dude, Susan -- whenever you do posts like this one, I become more convinced that we must be related somehow! Cheap stamp mistakes: check. Cheap supply mistakes: check. "Brown" period: check. Simple Scrapbooks revelation: check!
    You, however, definitely have more restraint than I do. That's a "check" I'm working on. Thanks for the reminder!

  9. I've also become much more selective in my purchases over the last year or so. I still do buy stray stamps now and then, but I mainly buy SU!, PTI, Hero Arts, and W9Plus Design Studio. For a while, my SU! purchases lessened, but I bought a lot from the new catalog (I refuse to call it a "catty"), and I'll be placing a healthy order from the upcoming Holiday Mini. I'm purchasing the clear-mount over wood whenever possible.

    For a while I was caught up in the whole "release frenzy" at PTI and bought stuff that I really didn't use. I've sold some of it, and I think I have a much better sense of what I'll truly use. I like the Leaf set, too, but it's just too much like other stamps I already have.

    Great post!

  10. Hi Susan! I just started getting your blog recently but how it could have helped me at the beginning of my hobby-err obsession or whatever you want to call it! I know I could get rid of a lot that I don't need or have ever used but...... Anyway , thank you for the advise that I so desperately needed! Now, I will start thinking about it before I jump the gun and start buying! Maybe I should print it off and keep with me when I get the urge to buy something!

  11. A well written, informed piece. I must say - I think we all fall in to this trap - we want it all. I am slowly but surely trying to teach myself this same lesson.

  12. Are you sure we aren't sisters or cousins or something??? We both have been stamping about the same number of years, made some of the same mistakes (and attitudes) and arrived at some of the same conclusions. The only difference would be that I love my Cuttlebug and use it often. I also still use a lot of my brass stencils for dry embossing with a light box and enjoy it for the process as well as the results. After buying a few Copic markers, and not having an appreciation for their advantage, I sold them to someone who enjoys them. I share your conclusion that quality is better than quantity, which means I use the stamps and tools that I buy for more than one card! As I tell my friends, stamping doesn't save you money on cards, but it IS cheaper than therapy!

  13. Susan, thanks for sharing the reminder about quality products - quality is as quality does!! I made the same mistakes -- maybe everyone does... LOVE your work, LOVE your insight, LOVE your generosity.
    thanks for sharing!

  14. There is definitely a learning curve. When I started buying rubber stamps I remember thinking "why do these stampers own so many stamps?"...hahaha..now I know...it is addictive when you love stamping.

    I began my purchasing of individual stamps with a theme in mind. Proceeded to buying clear stamps because they came in sets.

    Once I learned the difference in quality, how/what to buy, and how to make even the bad stuff work, I tend to buy mostly clear, though I do still buy rubber stamps if I see something that delights me.

    I so love rubber stamping that I get almost giddy when I go shopping for stuff. I've never ordered online from Hero Arts, but they have several stamp sets I'm dying to have.

  15. yet again...brilliant info...friend showed me how to eliminate the "flashing" that leaves unwanted ink that I forgot to wipe off before I stamped. Mark in pencil all four sides of the stamp giving yourself "register marks" so that you can reattach the stamp lined up with the image on the top of the block. Put the stamp(wooden block stamp only) into the microwave YES REALLY for 10 seconds. This loosens the adhesive enough to gently (I do mean gently so you don't tear the image from the backing ASK ME HOW I KNOW!!!) I use my CutterBee snips (you recommended these and they are one of my best buys) cut really close to image and reattach to wood block. I am so much happier without the flashing and ruin so much less paper. AH the little things that make me happy
    patti moffett

  16. Omygosh, Susan, what a wonderful post! I thought I was one of few who stumbled around in the beginning, and also bought too much of the cheap stuff. Thank you for taking us through your voyage to Simplicity. I am so glad to read you didn't start out as creatively smart as you are (although OCD!) now. Thanks for your honesty and advice; lots of us will benefit from it. I DO have enough stamps now, but that doesn't stop me drooling at every catalog or release. I'm trying to hold back, but I WANT PTI's Everyday Button Bits, even though I dislike the button part, just for all the sayings in the set. I'm trying to hold out. Oh, and Susan, really gorgeous card!!! Who would think of a pink Christmas card? It's beautiful, and so eye-catching --- totally untraditional and guaranteed to make the recipient Oooooooh!

  17. What a wonderfully concise description of what so many, many of us have gone through along our stamping journey. Thank you so much for putting it all out there and stating things so clearly and simply for us. We all need to re-examine our purchasing from time to time and focus on what is really important to us in our crafting adventures. You made this so much easier and I thank you for that. ~chris

  18. Great post!! I can relate to everything you mentioned...and am much happier with less these days. Only difference being, I do own a BigShot (paid $30...such a deal) and love it....especially being able to use it with embossing folders.

  19. aaaaaah, where was this post when I was first starting out?????? :-)

  20. Great well written and thoughtful post, Susan! I have also made some
    purchasing mistakes along the way.
    I now try to buy what fits my style
    and to limit purchasing something if what I already have can be utilized.
    It does take a lot of self control.
    Ultimately, I feel best when I create and make the most of what I
    already have. I think knowing what
    your style is and what techniques
    you most like to do, also helps to
    limit purchases to what you will
    really use.

  21. Hi Susan,
    I bought some CTMH stamps a few years ago and could never really figure out how to use them creatively. They were demonstrated to me for scrapbook use. I've been surfing the net during a terribly slow period at work and found your wonderful blog. I LOVE your style and totally agree with it. I started purchasing a few new stamps in the last month or two. Thank you for your words of wisdom. I've been trying to get a feel for what I want; I've used my hobby lobby coupons to buy a few things. I have been disappointed with the quality of some of the stamps. Money is tight right now, but I definitely want to look at Papertrey when my budget frees up. I do use my local scrapbook store's coupon to buy one Hero Arts Stamp a month. I have enough now to create with; and with all the comments here will really think about what I NEED. Thanks!

  22. There is no way you could sound stupid or frivolous! You've described a journey many of us have taken in this craft! And many of us are still ON that journey.

    I'm still trying to find my style; and I can still get caught up in the "lust" for the newest, hottest products. Copics come to mind. I have spent about $225 on them so far and I'm still not sure if they suit me enough to be worth the money. I've opened my mind to the idea that they just might not be for me and if I sold them I could buy other things I like better.

    I love your cards. Not only are they a joy to look at but I also feel they are things that I could duplicate! And ENJOY doing!!

    I know for sure I don't care for a lot of embellishments and layers. I appreciate the work that goes into them but it's not for me.

    I love looking at Tim Holtz's stuff; but I don't seem to have it in me to "create" in that grunge style. But I'm currently holding off a desire to buy some Distress Inks and a stamp set or two of his and give it a go! :-)

    Thanks for the reminder that good paper and quality stamps are worth it. I do like buying sets because it does give me a starting off point with coordination; even if I begin to mix and match stamps from other sets down the road!

    Thank you for sharing yourself with us; and for your lovely creations!

  23. Sorry I asked? More like THRILLED I asked, because now I have sanction to rid my life of the multitude of stamps, dyes, brayers, adhesives, solvents, fibers, odd-sized envelopes, dirt-cheap whimpy cardstock, pens that cough and sputter, ink pads spoiled because I used craft reinkers on dye ink pads, miles of gold cord I couldn't use up in a lifetime, dumb wax-seal equipment and supplies, and billions of eyelets and brads(whatever was I thinking?). And that's just for Starters.

    Thank you Susan for taking the time to write gems that EVERY day make my day a better one.

    And thank you Patti Moffett for the tip to nuke my stamps to straighten them and remove the flashing.

  24. Boy, can I relate to your story. When I first started, I bought everything I could get my hands on - BUT only on sale, with a coupon, on clearance or at yard sales or thrift stores. And I have amassed a large amount of STUFF! So much so that I'll never, ever use it all. I have stuff that is still in the packaging...now, that's sad - and a waste! I also have stuff in my basement for other crafts - for when I have time...guess what? I never have time!! And with this economy, who knows when I'll get to retire and have some free time..it ain't lookin' good. But, I digress. I LOVE your simplicity, I love your writing, and I look forward to your posts every day. BTW, is there a Stuff-aholics group out there anywhere?

  25. What a wonderful post full of great advice! I recently branched out and tried the Clear Dollar Stamps and was so very pleased with their quality! Love both of your cards!

  26. I’m a relatively new stamper (~1.5 years), and while I was lucky enough to have Hero Arts and Penny Black images catch my eye early on, I do have a pile of poor quality stamps and inks pads on my desk. I find this especially annoying because I am constantly reminded that I could have spent that money on other, better supplies. Hopefully I’ll have the good sense to act on your advice and put down the cute but crappy stamp the next time I’m in Michael’s and perhaps even free some space on my desk by donating some items to a local school. Thanks for your candour.
    Sharon D. from Canada

  27. As someone who's only a few years into this hobby, I realize I'm currently going through the exact journey you described!! I will learn some lessons from you immediately and stop buying the cheap stamps just because I like (or think I need) the image. I already know I need to cull the stamps I've bought as some don't work for me. And I'll stop trying to make myself learn to do styles that don't suit me (just yesterday I posted a card on SCS where I tried to do "distressed" - some people do it brilliantly but I sure don't as it doesn't come naturally). I've had the same problem with buying lots of dp because the pattern of it really appeals to me but then I'm no good at making cards with lots of dp - so may need to cull that too. Expensive lessons to learn!

  28. I love this post! I have been stamping for two years, and am slowly overcoming the urge to "collect". I will be moving to a much smaller place in a few months, so your advice is most helpful! Thank you.

  29. I, too, started with the urge to buy everything in sight. *sigh* But my biggest problem is that I just didn't really know my own style - I'm still trying to get rid of a lot of the 'cute' stuff that came home with me! It's a tough hobby to start... everything just looks so delicious! :)

  30. Loved your novel. Perfectly said, as usual. Some of the advices still strikes a little to close to home even after all these years; it made me wince. I still can't resist a sale, but I'm homing in on my style at least.

  31. Your story is EXACTLY like mine - except to substitute AC Moore and Michaels for the Hobby Lobby part. Nice to know I'm not the only one.

  32. Well, I'M not sorry Bahb asked! This is sucha thoughtful and thought-provoking post. I'll be reading it over a few more times, then may just haul my stamps out and reappraise. Thanks, Susan!

  33. Oh Susan...this is a great post... You're the greatest in telling us the TRUTH of this hobby.. My DH also told me once that this is an expensive hobby of mine. I've started sorting out what I'm going to buy since early this year. I have to. TFS, Susan. God bless you.

  34. LOL I am glad Bahb asked. We are all so similiar in so many ways of our Journey.Things have really come a long way in the last couple of years too. I've collected stamps from all kinds of places,even some my kids made in art. I'm a "sale" aholoic.LOL Couldn't stamp worth a darn. I trim ALL of my rubber stamps with an exacto knife,because I have a heavy hand while stamping! I may try the microwave technique. I'm a total die cutting nut,but I've discovered I'm a good collector, then I don't really know what to do with stuff. Stumbled onto some SU utube vidoes and leared how to liven up my die cuts and fell in love with SU stuff and joined a local card class and love it, we have so much fun and learn how to put things together. I'm a clutter bug and it really reflects on my cards when I create alone, and I reach the point of over-do many times. I have a CB,BS Express. I only have very few Nesties but love the little ridge you get around the perimeter w/emossing, I prefer Sizzix Originals and Bigz dies so I can cut multiples at one time,this allows me to do several for gifts or just future use. I love your CAS style and I'd prefer to make that kind of card and not work on it forever. Thank you for your inspiration to not clutter. LOL And for your honest explanations and solutions of your journey. =D

    thanks for your honest insights and helpful advice. it is always such a joy to read your prose. you are a master!

  36. Excellent post, Susan! Everything you said is sooo right! I finally learned about the "over-buying" stamps thing about 2 years ago...but that was already 6 years in to collecting sooo much unused stuff! I have narrowed my field to about 2 companies that I regularly buy from and 2 that I dabble in. It has made me a much happier stamper! I am slowly clearing out my old stash little by little. I have stopped buying pre-made stickers and die cuts that I hate (no offense stickers and die cuts!). I only buy dp about once or twice a year, and it has to be a line that I LOVE, and cardstock from 1 company. I thought a long post needed a long comment :)

  37. Great advise! I'm doing the same, sticking to only a couple of companies (PTI, SU,and Hero Arts). Right now my budget is really tight and haven't been able to purchase anything. I could buy things at Michaels but I know I would be waisting my money!! I bought the Big Shot a couple of months ago but I only have a couple of dies. I'm sticking with those for now also.
    Love your blog :)

  38. WOW! Thank you for sharing your stamping journey. It makes SO much sense now! I just love the elegant simplicity of your cards. They are truly beautiful. This is my first time to your blog (via Crooked Stamper), but it definitely won't be my last.

  39. Pink wouldn't be my first option for a Christmas card, but this one is beautiful. Thanks for inspiring me to think outside the box. :)

  40. Hi Susan! Happy Ironman-ing this week! :)

    Fantastic post. I think your journey was typical. I think we all buy so much random junk in the beginning. The best thing a newbie can do is, like you said, start with SU! or Hero and *slowly* start building supplies.


Thank you so much for taking time to comment!