What is Embossing?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Embossing is an artistic technique that creates a pattern on a material such as paper, metal, fabric, leather, or wood. The pattern can be raised or in relief, depending on how it is embossed. Many consumers interact with such items on a regular basis, ranging from book covers to notarized documents. As an artistic technique, embossing has been around for hundreds of years, with numerous artifacts from tooled leather belts to metal ornaments showing signs of these patterns.

Officials such as notaries public use hand-held embossing stamps.
Officials such as notaries public use hand-held embossing stamps.

There are a number of ways to emboss something. Some artists do it by hand, using hand held tools to stamp out a pattern in the material being embossed. This technique will create unique raised designs that cannot be replicated. This style is often used for customized art projects, or when ordering an embossing die would seem impractical. Both dry and heat embossing techniques are used for such projects, depending on how the artist wants the finished piece to look.

The other type uses a die or roller. Rollers are used for continuous embossing, such as manufacturing leather with a uniform pattern. A die embosses a single piece of material at a time, but it can be used again and again. With both dies and rollers, the pattern is carved in reverse, so that when the die is pressed against the material, the desired pattern will show up in the correct form. Typically, a die is designed to be mounted into a press, and is not hand-held. Both dies and rollers also may use heat in order to be more effective.

In printing, embossing can add a great deal to printing costs. It represents a separate run through the press, usually, unless a die is designed to be inked. More commonly, printed materials are “blind embossed,” meaning that it is done without the use of ink. When this technique is used, it is important to ensure that the die is properly registered, so that it will mesh with the inked patterns that were produced first. Embossing may also be used in paper making to distinctively stamp individual sheets of paper so that they will be identifiable to consumers.

Notaries public and other officials use hand held embossing stamps to mark documents from their offices. Such a pattern can be difficult to forge, ensuring that the document is official and distinctive. Hand held embossing stamps can be ordered from numerous specialty supply companies, and they are extremely easy to use. They are also handy for marking personal possessions such as books.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


@artlover-- A really simple way is to just stencil your design on the card, then use a blunt embossing tool to press the image outwards. There are a lot of articles on the web that go into more specifics, but if you're just looking for basic technique, you can get pretty good results with this.


Is this easy to learn? My girlfriend and I make home-made cards and I was wanting to incorporate embossing into them. Thanks for your help.

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