Stamped concrete is one of my favorite options for concrete finishes because of the ridiculous amount of color variations and patterns you can create.
It’s always fun for us to get a stamped concrete job because it is a challenge that brings incredible pride when you see the end product.
In this post I will take you step by step through how to stamp concrete. If you are doing this on your own, be as prepared as humanly possible because stamping concrete is extremely time sensitive and you most have all the materials on hand before pouring concrete.
Every stamp job is different but here is a list of core must-haves for pouring stamped concrete:
- Hand tamper
- Pattern pads
- Medical gloves
- Safety glasses
- Texture skins
- Bull float
- Straight edge for striking off
- Tape measure
- String line
- Power washer
- Leaf blower
- Stamp patterns
Step 1 Frame Boards and Install Reinforcement
Before beginning any project where you are pouring concrete, you MUST frame up your desired concrete slab. If you were going to pour yourself a bowl of soup, you would pour it into a bowl and not on the table where nothing is holding it in place. Kind of silly but trust me, people do it.
There is a guy in the Chicagoland area who ordered an entire truck of concrete, about 9 yards, and dumped all of the concrete in one spot in his yard and he was planning on finishing the concrete by himself, with no forms, and no finishing tools.
So please frame up your location and use quality lumber and stakes, it’s just easier that way. Also, almost always use rebar reinforcement, whether it’s wired mesh or bars of rebar tied together. Rebar reinforcement makes your concrete stronger and holds it together forever.
Need help framing your concrete slab? Read my post on framing to get a better idea on what and how to frame.
Step 2 Add Color to Concrete and Pour
The second step on your way to beautiful stamped concrete is to actually pour and “strike off” your concrete. Read my article on the details of pouring concrete to be trained on how to pour concrete correctly.
For stamped concrete, in 98% of cases, you will be adding bags of color to the concrete mix in this step.
When the concrete truck arrives at the job, you should have your desired bags of color ready to throw into the concrete drum. We add one bag of color for every one yard of concrete (3 cy of concrete = 3 bags of color).
The concrete drum needs to mix the color into the concrete for at least 10 minutes so there is an even distribution of color in the concrete. If you do not mix the color in well enough, you will get dark and light spots in your concrete.
PRO TIP: let the concrete company know you will be adding color to the truck when they get there so they do not charge you an insane amount extra. Adding color is an extra charge because it takes extra cleaning for the truck. If you do not notify them and they send a new truck, they will charge you big bucks for throwing color in the mix.
Step 3 First Finishing Pass
After the color is mixed in thoroughly and you have poured and graded your concrete, it is now time to run your first pass of finishing tools.
I always say “run ‘em early and run ‘em often”, referring to the finishing tools of course. If you wait too long to run your first pass of bull float and edge, you will make your job exponentially more difficult later on.
Bull floating early keeps the concrete flat, removing any humps or valleys, and edging early moves all the big rocks out of the way so it is easier to finish when the concrete gets hard and more difficult to manipulate.
Step 4 Second Finishing Pass
Your concrete is now setting up and becoming more difficult to manipulate. It is time to break out the smaller bull floats, fresno’s, and trowels, whichever you like working with best, and make your flat concrete surface nice and smooth.
First pass of finishing is all about getting the concrete flat and removing any imperfections. The second pass is to prepare for final finish and to “liven up” the juice in the concrete for easier finishing.
Step 5 Apply Colored Release
now the concrete has a nice smooth finish and is in a prime zone of not wet but not hard, it is time to apply the colored release you purchased before pouring the concrete. Usually the color that goes into the concrete and the release that is applied on top are purchased from the same supplier.
WARNING: once you apply the release on top of the concrete you can no longer do any more passes of finishing tools. The only thing you can do next is apply the stamps. So make sure you are happy with your concrete before you are ready to apply stamps.
Applying the release is a little tricky. You want to give a gentle touch, almost like you are skipping rocks on a river. If you drop the release on the concrete, you’ll have too much in one place and you will run out of release and the stamp wont make its way into the actual concrete.
If you throw the release at the concrete too hard, you will make indentations that may not look good with the stamp you chose.
So grab your fishing hat, get low to just above the level of the concrete, and skip rocks. this will give the release a nice gentle spread all over the concrete and not damage the finish.
Apply release until there is no more shimmer showing in the concrete. every surface of concrete must be covered or the stamp will damage the concrete exposing the rocks. NO BUENO.
PRO TIP: bring the release with you as you stamp your concrete so you can apply more when needed.
Step 6 Find Starting Point and Lay Out Stamps
here’s where the fun starts. some stamps, like cobble stone, can be done with less concern on direction and placement, however, stamps like brick, wood planks, any sort of slate look, must be thought about and planned out before stamping.
You do not want to start stamping from anywhere and your design ends up being on an angle or in opposite directions as you stamp. Focus and planning are key here and the margin for error is small.
Step 7 Tamp Stamps into Concrete
We always lay out at least 4 or 5 stamps to make sure everything aligns and that the stamps will be straight for as long as we need them to be straight. After we are confident with the stamps, we take our hand tamper and tamp the stamps into the concrete.
PRO TIP: if you step on the stamp and it moves or slides, THE CONCRETE IS TOO WET. If you tamp the stamp and the stamp does not move, THE CONCRETE IS TOO HARD, its time to move fast and pound REALLY HARD to make the indentation.
You want to find the sweet spot where you give good pressure on the stamp and it make an indentation but does not spray concrete or move the other stamps around.
Step 8 Move Stamps to Cover Concrete
As you continue to stamp the concrete you will need to pick up the stamps you have tamped into the concrete and move them to the next location where you are going to have your pattern.
Be careful when you pick up the stamp, you do not want to damage the designed area. It is important to take your time and make sure the stamp does not slide when removing it from the concrete.
Look at the concrete that is stamped and make sure you do not see any exposed concrete or “splashing”. If need be, apply more colored release to the exposed concrete and move on to the next location.
Step 9 Blow off Excess Release ( not necessary but nice touch)
You have successfully covered your entire concrete slab with the designed stamps and have removed all stamps off concrete leaving a preview of what your finished product will look like.
At this point, the concrete should be still too soft to touch or walk on, it is now time to let the concrete fully cure and harden. As the concrete cures, we like to take a leaf blower and gently blow off any excess release.
We add this step in the process to help making the cleaning step easier and cleaner. The release is made out of animal fat and is supposedly okay to breathe in, I don’t buy it so I always wear a mask when working with the release.
Step 10 Power Wash
It is a couple days later and your stamped concrete is hard, ready to walk on, and power wash.
Before you start power washing your stamped concrete, create a picture in your mind of how you want your color blend to look. The release is usually a different color than the color of the concrete so there will be a nice blend of two colors.
The more release you wash off, the more color of the concrete will show. So determine which color you want more of and what kind of blend you are looking for.
PRO TIP: My first time cleaning a stamped concrete patio, I was 15 and no one told me it was possible to wash off all of the release. So when I was told to go clean the patio, I cleaned off ALL of the release and there was only very little color variation left. Thank God it is exactly what the customer was looking for, but I very quickly learned my lesson that washing the release is an art and not actually “cleaning”.
Step 11 Apply Topical Sealer (topical not tropical)
Your stamped concrete is looking gorgeous and the color blend is exactly what you are looking for. It is now time to apply the topical sealer to give it that nice shiny finish you are looking for.
Let the concrete COMPLETELY DRY before applying sealer.
PRO TIP: You want to spray on the sealer in a circular motion so no thick lines of sealer are noticeable. I also like to follow up with a paint roller and roll the sealer on after I have sprayed it on.
A light even coverage is important when sealing. If you apply too much, the sealer can get cloudy and leave a bad finish.
Step 12 Enjoy
Stamped concrete is a great investment and is a beautiful piece of art. Enjoy it and don’t be afraid to use it!
Show us your stamped concrete project in the comments below. What is your favorite pattern and color scheme.