Peter E. Taylor ©2004

The word 'embossing' has several meanings. Here I am using it to mean 'raising a design from the surface of a piece of paper by changing the shape of the paper itself' - rather than making a powder melt to produce a raised pattern, which is some people's definition.

If a picture looks good as a silhouette, it will look good as an embossing, but you have to be able to cut the design out of a sheet of card to make a template. You are aiming to create a piece of cardboard with a hole in it the shape of the design. The shapes that are cut out, get thrown away.

To produce the end result, the finished paper will get forced into this hole, and bent around its edge.

The card for the template should be dense and 'crisp' - not soft, like egg boxes. Its thickness should be about the same as 5 sheets of normal paper. The denser and harder the card, the longer it will last if you want to use the template several times.

If the card is too thick, the final paper will tear as it is bent around the edge - if it's too thin the embossing will not be raised enough to see easily. A little bit of 'trial and error' is needed.

If you like this technique, you will soon keep on the lookout for suitable template material and make a collection.

(Just for practice, cut simple shapes to start with - like leaf shapes.)

When cutting, I use a scalpel or very sharp craft-knife, drawing the blade towards the centre of my hand as I would use a pen to write a simple capital letter 'I'. The blade only moves in this direction for about ½cm (¼inch) at a time, and much less than that when cutting round tight curves. The design drawn on the template card is moved and swivelled underneath the blade so that, for each cut, the pencil line is lined up with the blade. (Make sure you have a good cutting mat under your work!)

For simple shapes , you can use the template as it is. For those where there are delicate thin straps of card left in the design, or when valuable cut out pieces need to be retained, for example the centre of a letter '0', the template is glued on to the thinnest paper that you can find, for support. I use graphic artists' 'layout-pad' paper - like the old 'bank' typing paper used for carbon copies. (That shows my age!) You will notice that I have glued the eyes of the fish and the Jabairu stork back on the design this way.

To do the embossing you put the template on something so that when you place the finished paper on top, you can see the cut-out shapes. You can use a window, a glass topped coffee-table with a table-lamp under it, or a professional or homemade light-box with a strip-light and frosted glass or white Perspex over it.

This photo shows the cut-out template, with its paper support, taped to my glass door. The thin paper goes against the glass.

The paper that will be embossed is taped over the top. The paper that you use has to be 'soft' - one with long fibres and a warm feel to it. For special jobs I use 300gsm (that's the thickness - the letters stand for grams per square metre) Arches watercolour paper. The design is easiest seen through white or cream papers - dark blue and many other colours are impossible to use. Other papers I have found good are cover-weight (about 216gsm) 'Teton' and 'Sundance', which are often obtainable from printers, and heavyweight Canson Ingres paper (Canson is the manufacturer) from art-shops.

Using a smooth, rounded instrument like a Guage 3 knitting needle, with light pressure, the paper is encouraged to bend into the hole in the template. The tip is drawn just inside the light, cut-out areas. There is no need to 'shade in' the middle. Having gone around the design once, more pressure can be used to force the paper against the edges of the template. After going around about another two or three times with fairly heavy pressure, the embossing is complete. Pushing the paper around the outside edges of the template results in a nice frame or plate-mark effect.

A folk-story will be written inside the plate-mark of this one.

No paint is used on or around the embossed areas. It makes them look flat.

This is a great technique for creating attractive greetings cards and cards in which to write competition entries. The excerpt from my book 'How to Win Competitions' will give you some more ideas.