I've been getting some questions lately from ladies that are still having some difficulty in various aspects of the stamping process. I have also noticed that many people are searching for information because their stamper won't work or it won't pick up an image. So in this article I am going to discuss every troubleshooting step I perform, plus a few other thoughts that popped into my head. As with the other posts in my "Stamping 101" series, this is lengthy. I recommend bookmarking it for a time when you have 15+ minutes to read it.
In my opinion everyone that stamps, no matter how long they've been doing so, will run into one problem or another at some point. For me it happens most often when I switch something, be it a new plate brand, stamper, scraper or stamping polish. The products in my "known good arsenal" (the stamper, scraper and polish that have worked consistently time after time) just won't work and that is where many of my tips come from.
Troubleshooting a stamping problem is going to be the most difficult for those of you just starting out that don't yet have anything in your "known good arsenal". And you may end up surprised to learn that although your stamper won't pick up the image the stamper is not at fault. If you haven't already done so you may want to review the 1st article in this series, Know THIS Before You Spend $1 on Stamping, just to ensure you've purchased some good products to aid in a successful stamping experience.
The best way I know of to solve a problem is to work through a list of troubleshooting steps CHANGING JUST ONE THING AT A TIME and trying again after each change so you can get to the true cause. OK, let's get to it!
Symptom: Your stamper picks up odd blobs of polish or nothing at all
Potential Cause: The Protective film
I've mentioned this in previous posts but it never hurts to repeat it. Most stamping plates will arrive covered in a blue plastic film that is meant to protect it in transit, although I have seen some arrive in a sneaky clear film, which makes it so much less noticeable. You'll need to check for the presence of this film and remove it for the plate to work. I typically use tweezers to get the peeling started in one of the corners, peel the film completely off and then clean my plate with pure acetone to remove any goo it may have left behind. ** Use caution holding plates with exposed metal edges when you're removing the film. They can be very sharp and I nearly needed stitches once. **
Symptom: Your stamper won't pick up the image at all, only partially or it is not crisp
Potential Cause: There are several causes for this issue as you'll see below. I highly recommend reading the article and watching the videos in Struggling with Stamping? Here's 4 Tips to Make it Work! where these techniques are discussed/demonstrated.
Please note that I have written these steps in the order that I would do them. Some of them may not be applicable to you, or you may decide to make slight adjustments to the order of things, such as swapping 3 and 4. There are multiple ways to do EVERYTHING when it comes to stamping and this is no exception! :)
- Prime Your Stamper - If your "primable" stamper head appears shiny use the Magic Eraser (or similar foam pad) or the nail file method to prime it. If you've already primed your stamper and it was working better at some point then making a swipe or 2 with the Magic Eraser or file could help.
Please note that many of the stampers on the market today DO NOT NEED TO BE PRIMED, and SHOULD NOT BE PRIMED. Doing so could damage the stamper or render it completely useless. You can try washing them with dish detergent and water, but do not use a Magic Eraser or nail files. I have included some examples in this photo of stampers you cannot prime, but please err on the side of caution and check with the manufacturer if you are unsure.
Clockwise from noon: MoYou London XL Marshmallow Sticky Transparent, UberChic Beauty The XL Non-Sticky Stamper: Chic Black Matte, Clear Jelly Stamper The Big Bling
- Clean the stamping plate and stamper - Use pure acetone on a cotton ball to clean your stamping plate and use a lint roller or packing tape to clean your stamper. For best results I clean the image I am using with pure acetone and roll my stamper across the lint roller in between each stamp. Please note that pure acetone, acetone and nail polish removers can damage many different types of stamping heads. Sticky tape or a lint roller work better in my opinion with no worry of doing any damage.
- Adjust your scraping/Try a different scraper - Try scraping (a) more gently (b) at more of an angle than the recommended 45° (c) in a different direction and finally (d) with a scraper that differs by being more or less flexible. Repeat (a), (b) and (c) with the alternate scraper if necessary. Please remember that the goal is not
to scrape the hell out of the plateto get every extra bit of polish off of the plate. If you are making more than 2-3 passes you are overdoing it.
- Adjust your image pickup technique/pressure - Try rolling across the image instead of pressing straight down, or vice versa. Many stampers, and especially the new clear stampers, are also sensitive to the amount of pressure you apply. Too much pressure is often the problem so try rolling or pressing down lightly.
- Try working faster - Yes, I know everyone hates to hear this. But until you get a feel for how much time you have before your genuine stamping polish dries, have everything close by so you can complete the process quickly, aim for 30 seconds or less. Don't pause to clean the plate or close the polish bottle, just quickly apply the polish, scrape, pickup the image and get it on your nail. Just to be clear, I define genuine stamping polish as highly pigmented polish that is marketed as a stamping polish and cannot also be used to polish your nails. If they can do both I consider them a highly pigmented regular polish.
- If you're working with regular polish - I recommend that everyone have at least one bottle of genuine stamping polish, if for nothing else than to troubleshoot problems. However, if you are only able to work with regular polish it should be (a) on the thick side (leave the bottle open overnight to thicken if necessary) and (b) fully opaque in a single coat.
I mostly use stamping polishes these days, but when I started in 2014 I had success using Sinful Colors black and white from Walgreen's and Sally Hansen Insta-Dri in Silver Sweep. If you are outside the US perhaps check in with some of your local bloggers for info on "known good" regular polishes from your beauty stores. Remember that regular polishes dry much faster than genuine stamping polish so you will have to work fast to prevent your polish from drying in the image or on your stamper head.
- Try a different stamper - Some plates work great with squishy stampers while others will only work with a firm stamper, possibly even a firm hard rubber stamper like those made by Konad. For this reason I recommend that everyone have multiple stampers in their collection ranging from firm to squishy, including hard rubber, silicone and a clear head.
While we are talking about Clear Jelly Stampers I want to tell you that I don't think that they are the best stamper to start off with. Yes, I know they look like the obvious choice since you can actually see what you're doing and, of course, every blogger is going nuts over them. But keep in mind that they are experienced stampers. Since the only prep they can handle is a soap and water bath and a swipe of rubbing alcohol, any problems you have with them will come down to technique and quality products. Remember that I am trying to help you learn and/or troubleshoot problems here and, for now, the Non-Sticky Squishy Silicone stamper like the one I showed above from UberChic would be a far better starter choice in my opinion.
By the way, you can try this step earlier if you wish, but I personally prefer to try my hardest to get my "Go To" favorite stamper of the moment to work. Honestly it
kind of pisses me offupsets me when I have to reach into my bag for a firmer stamper.
- Try a different image - Try picking up a different image from the same plate. It's not uncommon for some images to be etched better than others, even on the same plate. In Know This Before You Spend $1 On Stamping I told you that certain types of images are easier to use (place on your nail) than others. The same holds true for image pickup in my opinion. "Reverse" designs, also called "negative space designs", that require the use of lots of polish in the image can make it more challenging to get a good, complete pickup than a design made up of thinner lines, especially when you are just starting out.
An example of a design made up of thinner lines and the same design shown in "reverse" or "negative space".
- Try a different plate - Try working with a different stamping plate altogether; from the same brand if you have one. Unfortunately it is possible that the plate you received is defective. If you cannot pickup multiple images from the same plate you could try to contact the manufacturer for a replacement.
Symptom: You can't transfer the image to your nail
Potential Cause: Polish is Drying on the Stamper - This is more likely to happen with regular polish but could happen with genuine stamping polish if you are taking your time. Since you've been able to get the image onto the stamper it may just be a matter of practice to resolve this problem. Definitely try working faster and, if that doesn't help, try a different polish.
Here's a few other things that came to mind, but didn't really fit elsewhere.
- While you should be working in a open, well ventilated space due to the fumes, you don't want to work where there is a lot of air circulation. For example, sitting under your ceiling fan or next to the register for your heating/cooling system isn't ideal. We've talked a lot about polish drying too fast and working in the example situations will absolutely cause this problem.
- This may sound silly, but take weather/climate changes into account. It may be more of an extreme issue for me than others because I live in the damn desert with zero humidity and everything dries at lightening speed here. But humidity changes to some degree everywhere when the seasons change and the lower your humidity the faster your polish will dry. Just something to keep in mind before you crank up the AC or heat before you sit down to stamp.
- The final tip comes from a great friend who mentioned that oily nails could also prohibit you from transferring the image to your nail. Whether it be from cuticle oil, a base or topcoat, or if you are just known to have oily nails a quick wipe with an alcohol pad can remedy this problem.
I am very excited and hopeful that something I've written has resolved your current problem. And I don't want to burst your bubble when you just got the process to work, but you'll very likely find yourself troubleshooting more then once as you continue on with nail stamping. That's just the way it is. But over time you will build your own "known good arsenal" and you'll fly through this process like it's second nature.
Best of luck to you! I will do my best to reply to all comments and questions quickly.