Today's crafty comparison will list the positives and negatives of the three common formats in which you can purchase rubber stamps: unmounted, wood mounted or mounted on cling film.
Unmounted rubber stamps are sold just as the name implies: the rubber is not backed with or mounted to anything: no cushion, no wood, nothing. All of the stamp images are on floppy thin rubber, as seen in the picture below:
The advantage of buying unmounted rubber stamps (abbreviated as "UM" if you're shopping online), is that they are the cheapest way to purchase rubber stamps (when compared to wood or cling mounted). Depending on where you're shopping and the size of the stamp you're buying, they're up to $8 cheaper, per image, than the other formats.
The disadvantage is that you have to put some labor into these to get them ready for stamping. You'll usually have to trim around the image, then glue it to a piece of rubber cushion and a wood block, or mount it onto cling film (cushioning is part of the cling film) and trim around it. So what you save in price, you make up for with manual labor.
If you're in a pinch or are lazy like me and haven't prepped all of your UM stamps yet, you can get away with sticking them onto a block or flat surface with double sided tape and making them work, but it's not an ideal scenario and it only works temporarily.
Wood mounted rubber stamps are perhaps the most common type of rubber stamp format, as seen below:
I have many friends who are diehard wood mount stamp fans and wouldn't change their ways for anything. The advantages of wood mount stamps are that they're pretty to look at or display and the wood provides a sturdy handhold when you're pressing down your image. They're also ready to go without you having to do a thing. Additionally, it's quick and easy to see what your image is.
One disadvantage of wood mount stamps is that they take up a lot of storage space if you have a ton of them. Another disadvantage is that it can sometimes be tricky to stamp your image exactly where you want it, or to stamp the image straight, because you can't see through or around the wood block.
Mounted on Cling Film
Over the past few years, a third rubber stamp option has been made available: images that come mounted on cling film. What is cling film? It's a cushioned piece of foam that allows you to adhere the image to a clear acrylic block. It's not technically "sticky," but it's more like vinyl or kitchen saran wrap (a.k.a cling film). It sticks great to acrylic blocks, but it wouldn't stick to wood or painted surfaces or your head.
Below is a picture of the front (gray) and the back (red) of a cling film stamp set. The stamps come on a clear piece of plastic cardstock. I put a patterned piece of paper underneath it for photo purposes:
To use the cling mounted stamps, you pull the stamp off the clear page and stick it onto an acrylic block. The gray side is the "sticky" side:
Stamp your image, clean off the rubber as you usually do and stick the image back on your plastic sheet.
The advantages of stamps mounted on cling film is that they are cheaper than wood mounted rubber stamps, but since they're still made from rubber, you don't lose any image quality like you sometimes do with clear stamps (photopolymer). Another advantage is that you can see through your block, which makes image placement easier and more accurate. Another plus is that because they're flat, they take up less space than wood mount stamps. You can buy specially-made plastic sheets that cling film attaches to and then store them in binders on a shelf. I like to put stamp images next to the rubber stamp for easy browsing.
Many people buy UM stamps, then attach the stamps to cling film themselves to save money (EZ Mount is the most common brand of cling film and works great. It runs between $4-$5 for an 8 1/2" x 11" sheet). Here's a video of how to attach UM rubber stamps to cling film, if you're interested:
And if you do want to give this process a whirl, the cheapest EZ mount cling film I've found online is at Artistic Outpost. They sell it for $3.99/sheet or $10.99/pack of 3 sheets. They also sell the binder pages mentioned earlier. Here's a link to the "mounting supplies" section of their website: http://artisticoutpost.com/mounting-supplies.html
Personally, I am a huge fan of the cling mount format because it seems to combine the best of both worlds: quality deep-etched rubber images, yet without the bulk of wood mounts and with the added bonus of easier-to-see placement when used on the acrylic blocks. One disadvantage is that craft stores usually don't have a huge selection of these, though they're gaining in popularity. Another disadvantage is that if you mount the stamps to cling film yourself, as described above, you won't be able to see the image on the back. Some companies also sell them without the image printed on. For example, in the picture below, the set on the left has the image printed on the back, which is nice, but the stamps on the right don't have the image printed on the back. One is blank (homemade cling film job) and the other has a company logo on it. You have to flip those over and look at the other side, the etched rubber stamp side, to see what the design is. Even so, when you store them, they're stored stamp side up anyway, so this isn't a big deal to me. Some people just like to be able to see the image on both sides, as with wood mount stamps.
Whichever format you like best, it's nice to have options. Many online stores have a drop-down arrow that lets you select which format you'd like to buy the stamp in, and as you've read, there are plenty of advantages to all three formats! At the end of the day, go with the image you love and you'll never grow wrong.