Making a Hanko (Stamp) Tutorial

When I taught in Japan, one of my students gave me two handmade hanko 判子 (on the left). Hanko is a general term used to refer to stamps and seals. One of her hanko was based on my cat drawing. To thank her, I made her a hanko in return (on the right). It was my first time using the supplies, and I immediately gained a lot of respect for her ability to make such clean, thin lines. The rabbit is supposed to be saying “Awesome”, but it’s nowhere near as clear as the “Thank you” in her stamp.

Hanko

This student had an entire sketchbook full of stamp prints, but she had given almost all the original stamps away to friends and teachers. Last week, I talked about the strong stamp life at schools in Japan. They are kind of like a currency, so these gifts were really treasured. These are such a unique gift and can be used in many crafting activities on both paper and fabric (greeting cards, business cards, scrapbooks, gift bags, placemats, hand towels, and more).

1. Your supplies
Rubber block, small blade and holder (like X-acto), cutting mat, pencil, eraser, sketchbook,tracing paper, back up blades, inspiration or reference material (and coffee!)

Stamp-making Supplies

Note about rubber blocks: The pink block featured in this photograph came from a hanko kit I got in Japan. It’s really nice because as you carve away your design, the area that receives ink stays pink so you can clearly see your design. (Don’t worry if you aren’t sure what I mean, it will become clear in later pictures.) However, a different-colored top layer isn’t necessary. You can find the pink rubber Speedy-Carve at most art supply stores or online. I also used a left-over piece of Speedy-Cut in this tutorial (the white block above the pink one).

2. Research
I bought these books in Japan, but you should be able to find some good images on Pinterest. Something to keep in mind if you’re a beginner carver is to keep the level of intricacy low. Any white space in the stamp has been carved away, so a good beginner stamp would be a simple silhouette shape. A very difficult stamp would be like the butterfly stamp below or anything with letters as those require a lot of delicate cuts.

Stamp Books

3. Brainstorm & Sketch
I’ve had an obsession with raccoons lately, hence the yay stamp. I shaded in the parts of the designs with a colored pencil so I could see how the sketch might look as a stamp. The white is what I’ll have to carve away, so the raccoon stamp could be tricky. The bird silhouette or a simple star will be easier to make. Curves are always harder than straight lines, so a star might be an ideal way to start.

Sketchbook

4. Trace Your Favorite Designs

Trace

5. Wipe down your rubber block
There might be dirt or small shreds of rubber. You want as even a surface as you can have before you begin tracing and then carving.

Clean the Block

6. Transfer your drawing onto your block

Trace 2

Now that your designs are on the block, it’s time to start carving.

Trace 3

7. Cut
First, I cut the stamp away from the block so I could more easily turn it and understand the total area I’d need to cut away. Then, for silhouettes, I go around the exact outline with my blade, cutting about an 1/8″ deep. See step 11 for how to cut linear stamps.

Cutting into Bird Stamp

8. Cut a line about an 1/8″ off of the original cut and then dip your blade under that small piece to lift it out. By the end you’ll have lots of chunks cut away from around your shape, but the original incision made around the outline will preserve the shape of your stamp.

Cutting into Bird Stamp 2

Unfortunately, I took a break between these two steps, and when I got back to cutting, I got so into the flow of it, I forgot to take more pictures of the progress of cutting small bits away. But…ta-da, here’s a bird silhouette stamp (with a tiny eye)!

Bird Stamp Cut Away

9.  Ink up!
You can use a stamp pad, or if it’s a bigger stamp, you can spread block printing ink with a breyer in an even layer over the stamp. For some reason, I only have a golden stamp pad. I need to expand my collection at some point. I’m really interested in getting these gradient stamp pads.

10. Stamp it!

DSC_0756

11. For linear stamps, make an incision a little less than 1/8″ off the original traced line (or more than 1/8″ depending on how big you want your line to appear). Go all around the drawing. You can kind of see the incision around the raccoon in the picture below.

IMG_3395

Then go ahead and make another incision another 1/8″ off that line and dip your blade under to cut out small chunks around your outline (on the inside and outside of the shape).

Raccoon Stamp Cut

12. Refine
If there are areas of your stamp that are getting ink on them and printing that you don’t want to print (for example, you’ll see some stray marks above and below YAY and above the raccoon’s tail), cut away more from those areas. It may take a few tries, but you’ll eventually get it!

Raccoon Stamp

Star2

Here’s how the star stamp turned out. I decided it was getting too late, so you’ll have to wait for another post to see the little house! You can see how it’s a little harder to tell the area that will print right away without the pink upper layer the other block had. Luckily, it’s not too hard to tell when you’re working up close.

Stars Stamp

A stamp like this is fun because you can repeat it and get a border around a page. The variation of how it stamps differently every time is fun to see.

Stars

BirdThat element of repetition is one of the best parts of stamps. Also that you can have them in your desk at any time for reuse. They’re really satisfying. If you make basic shapes, you can combine them in really fun ways (as can be seen in the book below).

Stamp Book

Hoping you have the most fun making hankos! Comment if you have any questions/(concerns about the invasion of yay raccoons in this webspace).

Raccoons2

Note: This post contains affiliate links. If you choose to purchase the item through that link, the cost is the same for you, but I receive a small commission (and this blog and yay raccoons are supported through you endeavor!).

4 thoughts on “Making a Hanko (Stamp) Tutorial”

  1. Yay Racoon is so cute! I can imagine it must be very meditative to carve away the stamps – and satisfying, as you said, to see your creation in action. Such a cool piece of Japan you took with you!

    1. Thank you! I do kind of go into a trance when I start in on a stamp, and it’s so fulfilling to see it in action. If you ever search the #hanko tag on IG, you can see some really talented crafters who specialize in them! I know you use stamps a lot in your business. Have you ever thought of making some for your stationery?

  2. I never have thought of that but it’s a fun idea! I guess I’d be nervous about them looking rough and juvenile with first attempts…but that shouldn’t keep me away from trying. There’s a first for everything, right?!

    1. Yes! Also, I kind of love when some simple stamps look really rough and obviously hand-made. It helps to start out with more basic shapes, but you can get the hang of it pretty easily (and once you do, you’ll understand a lot more about printmaking and compositions too, in terms of thinking of cutting away negative space). So then, if you ever try a woodblock printing class, you’ll be all set!

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