Would you like to add a bit of style to your finished prints? Find out how you can join the old masters and stamp your work for posterity.
vintage post office toy with two children

The power of stamping

Did you ever have a toy post office when you were a child? My brother and I did, and the satisfying ‘thump’ of an official stamp along with the finality of that authoritative action lives on in my memory.

A physical stamp marks a definite decision and signifies completion. I have happy memories of vigorously stamping everything and handing the neat pile over to the ‘postman’, (I am the big sister after all). I think this early post office experience may be behind my enthusiasm for printers chop marks and blind embosed stamps all these years later!

The mark of authenticity

Stamps and seals have been used for millennia, often pictorial or symbolic, sometimes with text, they are the official mark of quality and authenticity.

Blind embossed stamps and chop marks are traditionally added to a print edition by the print studo, but can also be added to original prints by the artist, or by a collector.

In this example a red chop mark has been added every time this very old piece changed hands. The chop marks have become an integral part of the art work over time, revealing its history.

Old Chinese image of a horse with many chop marks
display of Japanese Hanko stamps, similar to chop marks

Chops and Hankos

Official identity stamps have a particularly long history in China where they are called chop marks and are still used as proof of identity on official documents.

In Japan the signature stamps called Hanko are used in a similar way to sign art work and validate official documents.

Both chops and Hankos are usually relief printing blocks, pressed into ink and stamped on the surface of paper.

The chop mark completes the image

Traditionally the chop marks are printed with indelible red ink, and on art works the  mark frequently forms part of the design, as well as being a signature.

Imagine this monochrome work without the red chop marks – it would look quite different.

black and white painting with red chop marks

Chop marks have a beauty and language of their own

Here are some beautiful chop marks from Kinngait Studios. The igloo symbol appears on all these, and the other marks relate to individual prints and editions. The large collection of stamps illustrates how important the marking process is for the identity of this particular studio and its artists.

These images are from a fascinating blog about the Kinngait Press by William Britchie.

chop stamps from Kinngait Studios
two chop marks from Kinngait Studios

Blind embossed stamps

Blind stamping means embossing paper without any ink – have a look at the blog post on blind embossing to find out a bit more about this.

The fine art print trade is obviously very keen to ensure authenticity, and many print studios have a blind stamp to emboss the original prints and give them a provenance. (These embossed stamps are sometimes also called chop marks.) It is very difficult to forge a blind stamp, and as it is an integral part of the paper and the art work it cannot be removed. If the artist hasn’t signed the print the stamp can prove it is genuine.

print by Elizabeth Murray with ULAE embossed stamp
Picasso's stamped signature

Artists’ blind embossed stamps

It is not just the print studios who have their own stamps, individual artists do too. (guess who?)

If its good enough for Pablo its good enough for us curious printmakers as well!

Design your own embossed stamp

Your blind embossed stamp, or chop is all about your identity – it is your own physical mark on your work. You can base it on your initials or signature, or pick an image that represents something important for you. 

Inspiration from clay

Printmakers are not the only artists to stamp their work – Ceramicists have a range of beautiful and distinctive signature marks with both images and lettering. If you are designing your own stamp you could find inspiration from the potters.

clay pot with potters stamp on it
drawing of snail with an eye logo

I designed the snail logo, which originally had an eye in the middle, to suggest slowing down and noticing things. I eventually dropped the eye as it was a bit complicated and slightly weird, so now its just the snail. I thought this would make a great stamp, and decided to add the text so if anyone sees the stamp they can find their way to the website, or to me.

Make your own embossed stamp

I inherited an old letterhead stamp that belonged to my great aunt, and I hoped the local signwriter could swap her address for a metal stamp with my snail logo. In the end it turned out easier to start from scratch though.

There are lots of places on line where you can buy a blind embossing stamp made to your own design. I used Trodat and was very happy with it.

Once you have decided on your design you will need to turn it into a black and white image, this will be cut from plastic as a positive and negative and the two plates are fitted into the stamp machine. I guess they are either 3d printed or laser cut so if you have access to these facilities you could have a go at making your own.

If you go for a more traditional chop mark stamp there are many places on line that will convert your drawing into a stamp, and you can always carve your own of course.

antique embossing stamp
modern embossing stamp

Stamp and chop with style

Blind stamps are subtle, only showing in the right light, and the 3d texture and permanence of the stamped design is very satisfying. A stamp as well as a signature looks classy to me, and it seems to finish the print off nicely, as well as giving buyers extra reassurance that the print is really by you.

I know my prints will not change hands in the same places as Picasso’s but that won’t stop me enjoy the timeless fun of stamping my mark on my work.

the curious printmaker blind embossed stamp