I admit it. When I first started card making 15 years ago, I was totally clueless. I had no idea what I was doing. And this led to me buying a whole bunch of things that I didn’t need and never used. And sadly, ultimately ended up in my garage sale bin.
What a waste!
When I think back to those days, I still feel bad.
Which is exactly why I decided to write this post.
In this post, I am going to want to walk you step-by-step, through what I consider to be the most essential card making tools and supplies.
The Best Work Surfaces for Card Makers
Let’s start by talking about your work surface. There are two things that I have been using for years.
A.) A Self-Healing Mat
This is by far, my favorite surface to work on. It’s firm, flat, and smooth. These properties are really important when it comes to the quality of your handmade card. An uneven work surface will lead to unevenly stamped and/or colored images.
A self-healing mat also offers a built-in ruler and gridlines. This really helps when it comes to making sure everything is straight and even.
And of course, a self-healing mat can be used for cutting or trimming both paper and cardstock.
Now self-healing mats come in different sizes. The size I most commonly use is 18″ x 24.” If you find that too big, however, then I would recommend the 18″ x 12″ size (shown in the picture above).
B.) Grid Paper
Although grid paper could also act as a “work surface,” that’s not the way I usually use it.
My preferred way of using grid paper is as an all-purpose “scratch paper.” I always place a sheet of grid paper on top of my self-healing mat when I’m working. And I use it for a lot of different things.
For example, I use it to sketch out card designs. I test my stamps and ink colors. It absorbs the extra ink when I stamp over the edge of my cardstock, or when I am sponging ink onto my card.
It’s also great for catching glue spills, or glitter and embossing powder spills. And it keeps all the little scraps and other card making bits and pieces contained. When I’m done creating, I simply fold it up and toss it out.
I typically buy my grid paper from Stampin’ Up! It comes on a pad with 100 sheets. And it’s 11″ x 17″ – the perfect size to fit on top of your self-healing mat.
Cutting, Scoring And Folding Tools
The next category of essential card making supplies that we are going to be talking about are those used for cutting, scoring, and folding.
C.) Paper Cutter
A paper cutter, or a paper trimmer (as it’s sometimes called), can either be your best friend, or your worst enemy. There is nothing more frustrating than discovering that your carefully cut card components are crooked!
When it comes to choosing a good paper cutter, surprisingly, it has nothing to do with price. In fact, I have tried some of the most expensive paper cutters on the market (as in close to $400 USD) – and have STILL had crooked cuts.
After trying well over a dozen different paper cutters over the last 15 years, the one I keep going back to over and over again is Stampin’ Up!’s Paper Trimmer. I’ll go into why in more detail in an upcoming post. However, in a nutshell: it’s portable, easy to use, and my cuts are straight and smooth.
Plus it comes with a scoring blade. A scoring blade is a “blade” which creates a straight line in the paper that guides the fold. This is referred to as “scoring” your paper. And it’s essential for making sure your card folds are perfectly even and smooth.
D.) Bone Folder
Funnily enough, a bone folder is not something I often see show up on blog posts covering “essential card making supplies.” And yet, it’s a tool I use with every single card I make.
A bone folder is a long, dull-edged tool with a point at the end. It is used to crease and fold paper.
If your paper cutter does not come with a scoring blade, you can use the tip of your bone folder, along with a ruler, to score your paper.
Then, when folding your cardstock in half to create your card, you run the long flat edge of the bone folder along the crease. This creates a flat, smooth fold.
E.) Small Scissors With a Fine Tip
Small scissors have a totally different purpose than your paper cutter.
A paper cutter is used to cut the paper and cardstock you need to create your card and all its layers.
Small scissors with a fine tip are used for detail work. For example, I often cut out stamped images or elements from my patterned paper which I then incorporate into my cards. I’ll also use my scissors when I need to trim ribbon, thread, or other fiber embellishments I plan on using in my cards.
F.) X-Acto Knife
An X-Acto knife is a sharp, fine, lightweight, hand-held knife. It’s great for getting into those areas your scissors just can’t reach. I also use it, along with a ruler, when I need to make straight cuts on small pieces of paper.
For example, I like to create small banner-like sentiments. So a sentiment stamped onto a strip of cardstock. Because the piece is so small, it’s virtually impossible to trim with a paper cutter. That’s where my X-Acto knife and ruler come in.
Of course, that’s another reason for having a self-healing cutting mat (A) – that is the surface I work on when I am using my knife.
G.) Plastic Quilting Grid Ruler
While not technically necessary, I have included this on my list of essential card making supplies because it makes life a whole lot easier.
My size of choice is the 3″ x 12″ ruler. I use it when I am trimming small pieces of paper or cardstock and I need to make sure the lines are straight and even. I also use it to help me make sure everything is straight when I’m creating and assembling my cards.
Adhesives for Card Making
There is a huge array of adhesives available to card makers. Which to choose depends on what you are planning on using it for.
H.) Liquid Glue
If you had to choose only ONE adhesive to start, I would recommend a liquid glue. And my liquid glue of choice is Tombow Mono Multi Liquid Glue.
It has a broad tip on one end, which you can use when applying glue to a large surface area. The other end has a fine tip which is perfect for adding the tiniest dab of glue that you could possibly need to glue down small pieces.
What I love about this particular glue is that it is repositionable. If you apply the glue and stick your pieces of paper together while the glue is still wet – the bond is permanent. But, if you apply the glue to a piece of paper and then let it dry. It becomes tacky. In other words repositionable.
Why does that matter? Let’s say you want to test out the placement of some cut-out elements before actually sticking them down. Add some glue, let it dry and it becomes tacky enough to stay on your card while you arrange and re-arrange your pieces.
This glue is also very easy to clean from unwanted areas. For example, let’s say you accidentally smear a bit of glue onto the front of your card. No sweat! Let it dry and then use an adhesive remover (J) to take it off.
The only downside to this glue is that it will only stick paper to paper. If you want to be able to add dimensional elements like buttons, ribbons or charms to your card, then you need something stronger.
I.) Foam Adhesive
A foam adhesive is simply foam that has adhesive on both the top and bottom of the piece. Whereas liquid glue will stick the paper down flat, a foam adhesive will give you some dimension.
Foam adhesives come in many different shapes and sizes. The one I reach for most often are Stampin’ Up!’s and they are called Stampin’ Dimensionals. They are a hexagon shape and are approximately 1/4″ in diameter and about 1/16″ thick. They provide just the right amount of “pop” when you want to create dimension on your card.
J.) Glue and Residue Eraser
A glue and residue eraser is used to remove stray bits of glue or other adhesives that end up in undesirable places. You gently rub the edge of the eraser over the adhesive, and the adhesive comes off like magic (most of the time).
I have used the glue and residue eraser with Tombow Mono Multi Liquid Glue and it works beautifully. There have been a few cases, with other adhesives that it hasn’t worked as well (full disclosure).
As you can imagine, the adhesives that I have listed here are not the ONLY types of adhesive on the market. Chances are, you will eventually need other ones.
However, exactly which other ones you need depends on what you will be using it for.
So I will cover that in a separate post.
Cardstock and Paper
When it comes to paper for making cards, the number of available options can be overwhelming. You’ll find cardstock, patterned paper, acetate, and vellum (with and without patterns), to name a few.
The only one that I am going to focus on in this post is cardstock. Simply because it is the one type of paper that is an absolute must-have. Other paper types fall into the category of “nice to have.” Rest assured though, I will talk about other paper types in an upcoming post.
Cardstock is a paper that is thicker and more durable than regular printer paper (or the various decorative papers you see at craft stores). However, it’s thinner, smoother, and more flexible than cardboard.
Without getting too technical here, the thickness of cardstock used in card making and other papercrafts is typically measured in pounds (lbs). With the most common weight being 80 lbs.
Cardstock for paper crafting will usually come in one of two sizes. The first is 8.5″ x 11″ (in North America) OR A4 in the rest of the world. The second is 12″ x 12″ (worldwide).
Crafters who are exclusively or primarily cardmakers generally tend towards 8.5″ x 11″ or A4 cardstock (depending on where they live).
Cardstock is really the only paper you truly need to making cards. For myself, I tend to use white cardstock the most. I like a 100 lb white cardstock for my card base and 80 lb white cardstock for my main card panel (the one that I stamp on and embellish).
While you could get away with only purchasing white cardstock, there’s nothing like a little color to spice things up. That’s why I would recommend having white cardstock, black cardstock and then cardstock in a variety of colors (that coordinate with your ink colors).
Rubber and Photopolymer Stamps
Up until now, everything that you’ve seen in this list of essential supplies for card making are…well…essential. Pretty much all card makers will have either most or all of these supplies (or some variation of them).
The next two categories of supplies are going to totally depend on your personal card making style. I have them listed as essential – because they are essential to me.
However, if you don’t like stamping, then they may not be essential to you. If this describes you, I’ll talk about other ways to make cards in a future post.
So let’s talk about stamps.
As with the paper, there are a lot of different options. So I’ll just be covering the basics.
There are two main types of stamps used by card makers. Rubber stamps and photopolymer (clear) stamps.
Rubber stamps are sold mounted or unmounted.
Rubber stamps that are mounted are attached to a wooden block.
Unmounted rubber stamps and photopolymer (clear) stamps are not. These stamps require an acrylic block to use them. You can see an example of both, mounted on a clear acrylic block, in the picture above.
Photopolymer (clear) stamps, will cling to an acrylic block on their own. Unmounted rubber stamps are generally sold attached to cling foam, which will help them stick to an acrylic block.
Most unmounted rubber stamps will come attached to cling foam. Others consist of just the plain rubber
The type of stamp you choose – photopolymer or rubber – is totally a matter of personal preference. I use both photopolymer and unmounted rubber stamps.
Although you can buy stamps individually, I prefer to buy them in sets as it gives you more card design options.
There is a HUGE variety of stamp sets. They can consist of either all images, all greetings, or a combination of both.
Which you choose is going to again be a matter of personal preference. If you are a first-time stamper, however, I would recommend choosing a set with both images and greetings. And base the greetings on what types of cards you think you’ll make most often.
One of the things that you will notice when you start looking at stamp sets is that the images will either be solid or outline. With solid image stamps, the color of your stamped image comes from the ink you use to stamp that image (I talk about ink in the next section).
With outline stamps, you can add color in a variety of different ways. For example, blender pens and ink, dye based markers, alcohol markers, watercolor, etc.
If you are just getting started with stamping, I would encourage you to look for stamps that are predominantly solid image stamps.
As I mentioned above, if you choose to use either photopolymer or cling rubber stamps, then you are going to need something to mount them on.
That is where acrylic blocks come in. Both photopolymer and cling rubber stamps will stick right to an acrylic block – you don’t have to do anything special.
Because they are clear it’s easy to see through them to the paper below (which helps when it comes to positioning your stamps).
Acrylic blocks come in different sizes and thicknesses. I really like Stampin’ Up!’s acrylic blocs because they are on the thicker side and have a grooved edge making them easy to grip.
When it comes to choosing the size of your acrylic blocks – look for ones that are as close in size to your stamps as you can. Personally, I own one of each size that Stampin’ Up! offers.
In order to actually stamp the images and greetings in your stamp sets, you are going to need ink. As with paper and stamps – there are a huge variety of inks on the market, each with a different purpose and function.
In this post, I am only going to go over the essential inks you will need if you follow my suggestions and buy solid image stamps. I’ll cover other inks in an upcoming post.
The first ink I recommend is a good black ink. My ink of choice? Memento Tuxedo Black ink. It’s a dye-based ink that gives you dark, crisp images when you stamp.
I pretty much always use my black ink when I stamp greetings.
The other type of ink that you can see in the picture above is colored dye-based ink. I use these inks to add color to my solid image stamps.
If you have the budget, I would recommend buying a set of ink pads. That will give you a good variety of colors to choose from. My personal go-to set is Stampin’ Up!’s Brights Classic Ink Pad set. Otherwise, you can choose a few colors based on whatever season you are in, whatever occasion you want to create cards for, or simply based on your favorite colors.
There you have it friends! The card making supplies I have outline above are what I consider to be essential. Buy these, and you’ll have everything you need to get started card making. From there, you simply add products as you go.