Rubber Stamp Tutorial

Replicating the look of a rubber stamp or other grunge effect in Photoshop is something that’s been done to death on the internet.

Rubber stamp tutorial

Unfortunately the results of existing tutorials are often very amateur and in no way actually reminiscent of an actual rubber stamp. So having had a few occasions where I’ve needed to experiment with this technique, I thought it’d be good to share my methods here.

The main difficulty is trying to mimic the randomness and unpredictability involved: the nicks in the rubber, the texture and density of the ink, the pressure with which the stamp is placed on the page, the little areas that the ink doesn’t reach, and the parts where the ink is slightly too heavy and fills in. In truth there’s a lot of trial and error involved, and some specific manual editing for the most accurate replication. But playing with a few settings and layer modes you can actually achieve a fairly realistic effect. Here’s one technique which is by no means perfect, but certainly gives a good basis.

Note. These steps are demonstrated in Adobe CS4 and assume a certain level of knowledge of Photoshop & Illustrator usage.


Step 1.

Rubber stamp tutorial 1

Create your graphic in Illustrator in single colour. Make sure that all white areas are punched out of the dark parts so the graphic is all one colour.

Step 2.

Rubber stamp tutorial 2

If you want to add a small amount of uneven texture to the lines at this stage you can use the Roughen effect (Effect – Distort & Transform – Roughen…) but be careful to keep the size very small and the detail very high (I’ve used 0.3% for size and 90% for detail).

Step 3.

Rubber stamp tutorial 3

Open a new greyscale document in Photoshop as big as you want the final stamp to appear and paste the graphic in as pixels on a new layer.

Step 4.

Rubber stamp tutorial 4

Give your stamp a Gaussian blur of around 2-3 pixels…

Step 5.

Rubber stamp tutorial 5

… and then use Unsharp Mask (Filter – Sharpen – Unsharp Mask) to give it hard edges again. This helps replicate the pressure applied to the stamp on the page; reducing the sharp edges and filling in and out slightly.

Step 6.

Rubber stamp tutorial 6

Find or take a decent resolution photo of a stone or concrete texture. The texture should be relatively fine, but preferably with some slightly larger imperfections as well. Paste this as a new layer over your stamp layer in Photoshop.

Step 7.

Rubber stamp tutorial 7

Use the stamp graphic to mask the stone texture by holding Command and clicking the thumbnail of the graphic, clicking the stone layer and selecting the ‘Add Layer Mask’ button on the bottom of the layer palette.

Step 8.

Rubber stamp tutorial 8

Duplicate this stone layer and hide the top version, then adjust the levels of the original to drastically boost the contrast. Pull the dark slider inwards to 130, leave the midtone slider at 1 and pull the light in to 200. This layer will form the outside edges of the stamp. Ctrl click the mask and select Apply Layer Mask.

Step 9.

Rubber stamp tutorial 9

Make the hidden stone layer visible: this will provide the detail inside the stamp where perhaps the ink was not in such close contact with the paper.
Command click the mask to select it, contract the selection by about 8-9 pixels and feather by about 4-5 pixels. Invert this new selection and fill with black on the mask.

Step 10.

Rubber stamp tutorial 10

Again using the Levels palette (or curves if you prefer), boost the contrast but a bit less than on the previous layer as we want more white areas here. I’ve pulled the darks in to 70 and the lights in to 220 which does the job quite nicely. Play around with the settings to achieve an effect you’re happy with and merge this layer with the duplicate beneath.

Now you can see the basis of the stamp effect. You could use duplicate this layer to a colour image, amend the colour as desired and set to Multiply on the layer mode. But to complete the job and give more control over the colouring I like to produce it as a mask on a solid colour layer as follows.

Step 11.

Rubber stamp tutorial 11

With the new merged layer active, click Select – Colour Range. Click the cursor on the darkest area of the stamp graphic, make ‘Fuzziness’ around 175-180 and hit OK.

Step 12.

Rubber stamp tutorial 12
Click the ‘Create New Fill or Adjustment Layer’ button on the Layers palette and select Solid Colour. Make the colour black, hit ok and hide all other layers (including background) and you’ll see that the white areas are now transparent and the stamp is set as a mask. Transfer this layer to another document as required and hey presto – your stamp is complete.

As I mentioned before, there is a lot of trial and error required to get this looking right. From the levels to the settings on the effects and the detail of the applied texture; if one thing isn’t working, try it differently! Another way to roughen the edges is, once the first Gaussian Blur is applied, to convert the image to bitmap then back to greyscale and apply a lighter blur to soften the dots before using Unsharp Mask to straighten the edges out. However, this technique involves flattening the graphic to the background, making selecting it difficult in future stages.

Here are some examples of stamps I’ve created for a couple of different jobs to show a variety of different, realistic effects that can be achieved. This includes work for Rayner Opticians which was completed while working for Mutual Ideas, by whom all rights are reserved.

Stamp example - Mutley Baptist Welcome Card
Stamp example - Rayner Over 60s and Half Price
Stamp example - Rayner Jai Kudo and Kids

I hope this is of some use – if you have another way of doing it I’d be very keen to hear!

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  • Owen Jones

    Cheers Sarah, glad it’s been useful. To make it a colour cmd+click (or right click on pc) on the masked colour layer you’ve created and duplicate it to a new document in RGB or CMYK format. You should then be able to click the colour layer and change it to whatever colour you want.

  • LLBK

    Completely stuck on Step 7. Your instructions here are incredibly vague. Please do not assume that people referring to your tutorials already have an expert grasp in Illustrator and/or Photoshop (..otherwise why would they need a tutorial?).

  • Owen Jones

    Sorry you think that LLBK but I’m pretty happy with the level of explanation and there’s a lot of people here on the comments that seem to have been able to understand it. Which part in particular is catching you out? You need to cmd+click the graphic layer which adds the ‘marching ants’ and selects the shape of the graphic. Then click on the texture layer and click the ‘add layer mask’ button at the bottom of the layers palette.

  • Octopus Creative Design

    Great tutorial Owen, I had no problems following these steps in Photoshop. I can’t imagine relative new comers would struggle, you seem to have defined the steps clearly.

  • Daryl Simpson

    I’m having trouble with step 8. You seem to have made a levels adjustment for layer 2, but it seems to have disappeared in step 9. I can’t tell if you merged it somehow into layer 2 because the thumbnail looks darker. If you could just be more detailed in step 8, it would help alot, thank you.

  • Owen Jones

    Hiya Octopus (sorry, don’t know your real name!), thanks for the feedback – much appreciated.

  • Owen Jones

    Hi Daryl, thanks for the comment.
    Yep I applied the mask to the layer – see the last line of step 8 to see how to do that.

  • Octopus Creative Design

    Matt Price…no worries!

  • Monique

    Nice tutorial, although I guess it requires a bit more practice on my part… one question: that final transparant mask/layer: I copy it and paste it into Illustrator. There I can choose whatever colour I want but: it comes with a white background. Or do I change the color in Photoshop and than import it in illustrator?


  • Bob Falfa

    He does say that you need a reasonably strong knowledge of the programme… and as he’s done this voluntarily… its fine for him to assume what he likes. Maybe you need to go and learn more of the basics first… I have completed this tutorial with little hassle and it is most helpful.

    Well done Owen. Don’t mind the haters

  • tomjones

    I can’t find the controls for step 8. Lost me there. But otherwise it was smooth sailing up to that point. In CC PS.

  • Adam Vodopivec

    Hi Owen great tutorial, i just seem to be struggling at step 8 applying the layer mask. When I hold command and click the graphic, then the thumbnail of the texture the button down the bottom of the layer palette for ‘Apply Layer Mask’ disappears…..I’m sure its something I’m doing wrong…can you offer any guidance on what that could be?

  • sean

    I agree with LLBK, the instructions presume the user knows what each stage involves – if we did, we wouldn’t be here! I gave up as I hadn’t the time to try to figure it all out. More detail in the instruction please.

  • Owen Jones

    Hey Sean, thanks for your comment. Sorry you can’t follow it all. As I said to LLBK, I’m happy with the level of explanation – I did say in the intro that it assumes a certain level of Photoshop knowledge and different kinds of tutorials apply to different levels of experience.

  • Owen Jones

    Hey Adam, if you make sure the mask is selected (not the layer thumbnail) and cmd click it you should have a little menu that pops up. Apply Layer Mask should be there?

  • Owen Jones

    Hiya, yep, it can take lots of experimenting to get it how you want it – stick at it though, it’s quite fun experimenting! To get it into Illustrator as a fully editable graphic you are best ‘selecting all’ and ‘copying all layers’, pasting that into Illustrator and playing with the live trace options to get the effect you want. In the Live Trace palette there’s an option to ‘ignore white’ – that should mean the only parts vectorised are the black bits. Hit ‘Expand’ and you should be able to select the black bits and recolour, there shouldn’t be a background colour. Hope that helps.

  • Sheila

    This was a little tough – it turns out really cool though! You’re right – needs a lot of playing with and patience. Thanks!

  • Owen Jones

    Thanks Sheila, play away! Glad you managed to work through any problems!

  • Gavin Williams

    Great effect Owen – it will be very useful for me – thanks for spending your time to share. I tried a few times but it just looks like concrete. I tried many images but can’t seem to get it like yours. One question if it’s no trouble: what size/scale did you use to create yours? Perhaps I made mine too big/small and the pixel adjustments are not right.

    Great website too, I look forward to getting some time to have a good look through everything. And great to see you are from Plymouth.

  • Owen Jones

    Thanks Gavin. It generally works best when it’s fairly big – maybe 2000px wide or something? Worth experimenting though. Good luck!

  • Gavin Williams

    Thanks for the quick reply. Keep up the inspiring work!