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Here Art Metal Embossing

Let’s start with the metal itself. I used a sheet of medium-weight copper metal from Amaco ArtEmboss, which has a thickness of 5 mil, about 10 times thicker than the tin foil you have in your kitchen. It’s sturdy stuff, but also nicely malleable. You can cut it with scissors, but I wouldn’t use good fabric scissors (the ones your mom always yelled at you for using); any decent pair of scissors will work. You’ll need a paper stump and a couple of styluses, with tips in different sizes. I used a set meant for shaping paper, but there are also specific metal embossing tools available. You should also have two surfaces to work on, one hard and one soft; I used a glass cutting mat, and also a piece of thin craft foam. And you’ll need a plastic stencil, (preferably one that’s not too detailed), and some low-tack tape (I used washi tape). Optional and not pictured here are modeling paste and a palette knife.

The tools for metal embossing include metal, styluses, and some craft foam.

Decide what size piece you want to make, and cut the metal about 1″ larger in height and width. Tape the edges if they’re sharp or jagged, and tape the stencil to the metal, making sure it’s firmly in place. By the way, isn’t this a great way to extend the use of your stencils? And please note that at Cloth Paper Scissors Central, we do not clean our stencils.

Tape the stencil to the metal so it doesn’t shift while you’re working.

Place the piece stencil-side down on your hard surface, and burnish the design with the paper stump. Make sure you can see the entire design; while working, I flip the piece over to make sure I’m getting everything.

Burnishing the metal with a paper stump reveals the design.

With the stencil still in place, go over the design from the back with a small-tipped stylus. Outline each piece of the design, pushing the stylus right up to the edge and really defining the shape. If the stylus slips outside the lines, don’t worry—we’ll fix that later.

Outline the design with the small-tipped stylus.

Flip the piece over and you’ll see that the design is starting to become dimensional. But since you’ve been working on a hard surface, it’s flat on top.

The design has dimension, but it’s still flat on top.

Place the foam sheet on top of your hard surface and the metal piece on top, stencil-side down. Using a stylus with a larger tip, go over the designs again, pressing fairly hard. This process stretches the metal and rounds it. You don’t want to stretch it so much that it tears, but this metal is fairly heavy, so you can get some pretty good height. Note the difference in the four petals that have been embossed on the hard surface, versus on the foam.

By using a larger-tipped stylus on a foam surface, the details become more dimensional.

Work the entire design, then remove the stencil. The metal embossing should be pretty prominent at this stage, but the edges won’t be that sharp. To make them more defined, place the metal right-side up on the hard surface, and run the small-tipped stylus around the outline of each design element. This will create edges and also flatten the piece, which has probably become a little domed due to the embossing. To flatten the piece more, use the paper stump to gently push the metal down.

Working the design from the front helps create defined edges.

Note the difference below between the design on the left, which has defined edges, and the one on the right, which still looks a little blobby.

The motif on the left has been detailed; the one on the right has not, and is less defined.

As you continue work on the piece you’ll flip it from the right to the wrong side, and from the hard to the soft surface. When flattening and defining the piece, work on the hard surface. When embossing, use the foam. Take your time and refine the design, emphasizing the shapes, flattening, and edging. Use the paper stump to gently flatten any stray lines or marks. If your hand gets tired, take a break. The nice thing about metal embossing is that you don’t have to worry about anything drying out or not being workable after a certain point. You can leave it and go back to it anytime.

At this point you can add some details to the piece. I pressed the small-tipped stylus into the motifs, creating little dots. You can also create free-form swirls, lines, or add other designs. Keep in mind that since metal is shiny, sometimes it’s difficult to see details. Move the piece around to make sure you’re seeing all the hills and valleys accurately. Also, I usually cut a small piece of metal to practice on or try out designs.

Add your own design details to metal embossing.

Metal embossing is all about creating interest through texture, dimension, and color or patina. I didn’t want the entire piece to be smooth and shiny, so I marked off a border around the piece and between the motifs. Then I sanded that area, using 220-grit sandpaper, and wiped off the metal dust with a baby wipe. In addition to adding texture, sanding also helps camouflage any errant lines or mistakes. I used a permanent pen to mark the borders, and that can be removed with alcohol.

Sanding metal is one way to create texture.