Let's Talk: Choosing the Best Stamps for Copic Coloring

Choose the ideal type of stamp image for your Copic coloring | VanillaArts.com

10 things to look for when shopping for good coloring images

Whether you're strolling or scrolling through a craft supply shop, we've all had the same kind of magical moment...

You spot the cutest stamp...

You hear harp music and these fat little winged babies start fluttering around your head. You can feel your pulse in your eyeballs and darned if you aren't suddenly smelling fresh-baked cinnamon rolls...

I must have that stamp! I'll simply die without it!

But then you hear your father's voice and you can just tell he's rolling his eyes.

Sure kid, but what'cha gonna do with it? Because it's not cheap and at that price, it better not just sit around gathering dust...

Oh no, dad. This is a good one! I can make a card for Jean with it, I'll make a card for Aunt Judy, and I'll make gift tags, and use it in my journal, and it could be in at least a dozen scrapbook layouts...

So you fork out the bucks and cart the thing home and it sits on your craft table for months, first as a source of inspiration, later as a reminder that you simply must make time for it, and finally you tuck it away so that you can't hear your father tsk-tsking at you.

Yeah, not all stamps are golden.

Even worse are the ones that you really think would color up well with Copics and yet... somehow... not sure why... but... meh

For my classes, I look for a very specific style of stamp image. 

Not every stamp image works well for Copics.

And the ones that do? Well, they sometimes look a little strange.

Like this month's free digi image.

Father and daughter? | VanillaArts.com
November's Free Digi Club image, fully colored | VanillaArts.com

Uh yeah, the similarities are not lost on me...

But there's a reason I didn't draw the whole nose for you.

And it's not because she's the heir of Slytherin.

I didn't draw nose so that you could shade the nose more realistically than I could ever draw it. Same with her lips.

Noses and lips don't have outlines in real life and if I draw them for you, I limit your coloring potential.


In general, the more a stamp artist draws for you, the less realism you'll get out of the stamp.

What do I mean by that?

I know it's counter-intuitive, but the more lines, texture, detail, shading, hatchings, cross-hatchings, scumbling, hair, fur, motion lines, dust dots, fru-fru, or miscellaneous doo-dahs the artist puts into a stamp, the more completely useless the stamp becomes for realistic coloring.

Simply put: if the stamp artist gets too artistic, there's no room left for YOU to be artistic.

Let's call it the Lichtenstein Effect- all the stuff that makes for a great looking stamp on the store shelf limits your potential creativity. Especially when that detail is on a face or on flower petals.

Unfortunately, really good coloring stamps are hard to come by. Trust me. I go through catalogs weekly in a never ending quest for teachable stamps for all my various classes. I can't use 90% of the stamps I see. For my most advanced classes, the ones where the students are the most artistic? I'm now drawing stamps for them because the pickin's are so slim.

What makes a good stamp for realistic Copic coloring?

Keep in mind, this is what I do with stamps:

Beginner through Advanced level realistic coloring classes | VanillaArts.com

And I teach these methods even with beginners. In fact for my purposes, an advanced stamp isn't much different than a beginner stamp and I'll often teach both types of classes with the same stamp.

signs of A good coloring stamp:


1. Goldilocks sized. Small stamps are hard to color with a Copic brush nib. Large stamps require too much ink to get a good blend.

Not too big, not too small. Find the stamp size that's just right.


2. Wide open real estate. The individual shapes that make up the stamp image are large enough to allow space for blending or texture.





3. As few details as possible. A good stamp artist doesn't micromanage the final outcome of the project. We all know that sheep have curly hair; a good artist will let you decide how curly to color it.




4. Only basic facial features included. I'm sure the tire tracks on her forehead seemed like a good idea at the time...

And only Jenny from the Block wears black lip liner.

This is what I meant by the Lichtenstein Effect, if an artist adds as many big black details as Lichtenstein and then they pile texture marks on top, then that artist doesn't trust you to color it yourself. And if they don't trust you, don't give them your money.

10 qualities to look for in a good stamp for realistic coloring | VanillaArts.com

5. Few (if any) solid-fills. I'm coloring. Let me color it myself.

Again with the Lichtenstein effect. Let the colorer decide if the eyebrows match the drapes...

Finding good stamps for realistic coloring | VanillaArts.com

6. No shadow indications. You wouldn't believe the number of stamps that I eliminate based on this one feature alone. I hate those little hatch marks that stamp artists throw in to indicate shadows. It limits what I can do with the stamp!

Worst of all is when the shadows are inconsistently placed.

10 things to look for in a good stamp for realistic coloring | VanillaArts.com

7. No drawn highlights. This is a big pet peeve of mine!

Highlights are bright spots of light being reflected off an object. Highlights = light.

So why would I want someone to outline my light with a big black line?

You can search the whole world over and never find a real life object with outlined highlights. It simply doesn't occur in nature.

And here's the kicker... what if I want to color the handle on that stamp a very light color? If I color it black or navy blue, I can hide the outline on the highlight... but what if it's baby pink? There's no way to hide that freak of nature outline and I'm stuck with it forever.

No thanks. My rule is simple, drawn on highlights = no sale.

Find good stamps for realistic coloring | VanillaArts.com

8. Shapes are complete. I see this with hair quite frequently. Long flowing locks that lead... uhm... where?

Now I'm not talking about the artistic skips and stutters that you can get with a nice dip pen. I'm a big fan of interesting line quality.

But there are a lot of stamps on the market that have missing information.

Ruffles on clothing are a major offender. It looks great on the shelf but once you sit down to color, you find you're not sure where the edge lies. And halfway into the shape is a lousy time to find out that you need to pull out a multiliner pen to fix the image.

A coloring image lives or dies by the information provided by the artist. Let's say it's an ice cream cone, and cones are triangles, right? But if the artist only gives 2 of the three lines that make up the triangle... sure it looks fancy and artistic on the stamp but it's really darned hard to color. Especially for colorers that are afraid to draw. How to you color something that is missing a boundary line?

10 things to look for a in a good stamp for realistic coloring | VanillaArts.com

9. Shapes are understandable. Okay, what is that oval there? Is it the morning sun rising up behind the stamp? Is it the edge of someone's thumb? Is it part of the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval?

How am I supposed to color things I don't understand?

I taught a class once where we debated if we were coloring a moose, a reindeer, or a dog with antlers. And you know what? All three sides of that argument had some pretty good points.

A stamp needs to make sense.

10 things to look for in a stamp for realistic coloring | VanillaArts.com

10. No extra anatomy.

Sadly, I'm not kidding about this.

I find extra stuff all the time.

Mermaids with three thumbs.

Mystery arms or legs that don't seem to belong to anyone.

Extra stems on flowers. Or flower heads with no stem...

It's kind of creepy.

Happy Birthday, here's hoping all your birthdays have extraneous disembodied limbs!

I'd like to say the problem is getting better...

It certainly seems like the more people who color, the more incentive stamp companies have to churn out lots of good quality images especially designed for realistic colorers.

But it also means lots of let's-make-a quick-buck stamps flooding the market.

When you find a good company, a good artist, a good line of stamp images- spread the word. We're all on the lookout for great new images!

Plus, your financial support tells companies to make more colorable images and to dump the stuff that will never color up well.

Do you have a favorite company or artist making great stamps for marker colorers? Leave a comment below and share the love!