How Stamped Concrete Works

Stamped Concrete Sidewalk
Stamped Concrete Sidewalk

­Even if you've never had the chance to leave your ha­ndprint or carve your initials into freshly smoothed concrete, you've certainly seen where other people have. In school sidewalks or playground walkways across the nation, children's handprints greet you from concrete surfaces. For Mother's or Father's Day, handprints pressed into concrete are always popular gifts. Our society even honors Hollywood's biggest stars by making molds of their hands and feet. This is the most basic idea behind stamped concrete -- altering the drab natural form of standard concrete into something more exciting.

Concrete has been a longtime go-to surfacing material. Today, with advances in construction and landscaping, there are more available possibilities than ever before. Stamped concrete is one of these possibilities.


­Stamped co­ncrete, sometimes referred to as patterned or imprinted concrete, is concrete that is dyed, altered and shaped to resemble a number of other construction materials -- like brick, flagstone, tile and wood. You can do the same thing with asphalt, stone or precast pavers, but stamped concrete now has more patterns and color options. It also allows for customization at an affordable price. If you have a specific look in mind for a pathway or patio, there's a good chance stamped concrete can deliver it.

The concrete used in this process is a bit thinner than normal concrete. Standard concrete usually has some large stones in it, but for proper stamping, the concrete is filtered to be much smoother. Consistency is an ever-important factor with concrete of all shapes and sizes. Stiff concrete isn't soft enough to mold, but weak concrete doesn't hold its shape [source: Concrete Network]. But when it's mixed and cured correctly, stamped concrete is a relatively simple and inexpensive way to get new surfaces around your home.

On the next page, we'll walk you through the basics of pouring concrete and stamping it. Then, you can round off your education by reading about the different designs available. Check out the next page.


Pouring Stamped Concrete

­Before you do anything, you need to decide on a stamped-concrete design and order the stamps. Once you've done this, you can prepare the site.

After deciding where you'd like to place your concrete, mark the area with corner stakes. These will act as the initial outline while you plan. Make sure to measure and plan your space according to the dimensions of the stamps you'll be using. Doing as little of the design work by hand as possible is best [source: Concrete Network].


Eventually, these stakes will be nailed into the outside of the forming boards, so place them where they will be roughly 6 inches (15 cm) from the end of each board. Within the framed area, dig out about half a foot (15 cm). Pack down the dug out area and spread gravel and sand throughout about 2 inches (5 cm) deep. This layer will need to be compacted as well.

Now you're ready to secure your forming boards into place, but you must lay the concrete with a downward slope of a quarter-inch drop for every foot of length (.6 cm for every 30 cm of length). Start by securing the forming board at the highest level of your area and installing them accordingly down the slope. Coat the boards with cooking oil to prevent the concrete from sticking. Line the bottom of the hole with 6 mil plastic. Place wire mesh within the entire area of the site, propped up on small blocks so that it's even with the top of the frame [source: Lowes].

Begin pouring in the center and then spread the concrete throughout the form. Screed the concrete by dragging a 2-by-4 along the top, smoothing the surface. After it's smooth you can place the stamps on top of the wet concrete (coat the stamp with oil to keep it from sticking). Apply even pressure by walking on the stamps or pressing them with a large mallet [source: Carter].

Now that you know the process, you're ready to make an informed decision. Head over to the next page to see what options you have for the design of your stamped concrete.


Stamped Concrete Designs

It seems like the sky is the limit as far as design choices for stamped concrete. There are ­more than 100 patterns to choose from, before you even consider the color options. Talk to your local hardware store or contractor for samples and further information.

Color is the broadest category of design because it can be specified to the exact preference of the buyer. The concrete can be ordered already colored, or you can dye it at home to save a little money and allow for approval. To dye the concrete, you simply sprinkle color pigment over the wet concrete and mix it in with a trowel. The only problem with this is that the color won't go very deep past the surface. If your concrete chips or cracks (which is one of the biggest downfalls of concrete) the original gray will show [source: Carter].


To decide on a pattern, your best bet is to look around at other properties and figure out what you like. With the help of an experienced professional, almost all surfaces can be imitated with the proper dye and stamp. Keep your natural surroundings and existing landscape in mind so you pick the most cohesive design. A designer or contractor should be able to help you and direct you to local expositions and exhibits.

Now you have the inside scoop on stamped concrete. If you're interested in learning more, contact a local contractor or head over to your nearest hardware store.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles


  • Balogh, Anne. "Stamped Concrete." Concrete Network. (Accessed 12/14/2008).
  • Carter, Tim. "Stamped Concrete." Ask the (Accessed 12/14/2008).
  • Concrete Network. "How to Hire a Contractor." (Accessed 12/14/2008).
  • Concrete Network. "Stamped Concrete." (Accessed 12/14/2008).
  • Concrete Network. "Stamped Concrete Versus Other Paving Materials." (Accessed 12/14/2008).
  • Concrete Network. "Tips and Techniques for Proper Concrete Stamping." (Accessed 12/14/2008).
  • Concrete Network. "Where to Get Design Ideas." (Accessed 12/14/2008).
  • Lowes. "Pouring a Concrete Pad." (Accessed 12/17/2008).