If you’re itching to start a new craft and have already worked with fabrics, paper, and wood, you might want to venture into the world of metal embossing.
With metal embossing, you get to work with a new material and try things you probably never have before. You can use stencils or draw your designs freehand, leaving you plenty of room to play around with your artistic skills.
So, what is metal embossing? Metal embossing is the art of creating patterns or designs in metal using a stylus or other tool. You can either engrave your designs, or work on the back side of the metal sheet to give your design a raised look.
Metal embossing may look and sound complicated, but it’s as simple as drawing or tracing a design on paper. You’re just using a little more finesse with some different tools to create your design.
In this article, we’ll dive deep into the world of metal embossing. You’ll learn what metal embossing is, what projects you can make, what tools and supplies you’ll need, and how to practice the art of metal embossing.
What Is Metal Embossing?
Metal embossing is an art form where you create designs on metal. There are several tools you can use to make your designs, though stylus sets are most common. There are also different types of metals you can use, but we’ll get into that in another section below.
With metal embossing, it’s important to know that there are three main types of embossing: low-relief, high-relief, and engraving.
Low-relief metal embossing involves creating designs from single raised lines. You work on the back side of the metal sheet, using your stylus to press the lines into the metal.
When you turn the metal over, you have a design made entirely of raised lines. These are typically more simple designs, so you wouldn’t see large raised areas.
There’s also high-relief metal embossing, and that’s where you’d find larger raised areas. Instead of just tracing lines, you’re using your tools to press the metal in wider expanses to create more detailed patterns.
You can see high-relief metal embossing often with floral work. If the petals of the flower are all raised, then that’s considered high-relief metal embossing. High-relief also requires that you use some beeswax to give it support.
When you have a large surface area of pressed metal, you want to fill it in from the back. Otherwise, it can be dented or pushed in with the touch of a finger.
The final type of metal embossing is called engraving. This is when you work on the front side of the metal sheet, using your stylus or other tools to create indented lines.
Rather than the raised lines look of low-relief, you’ll be creating concave lines that sink into the metal. The raised side will be on the back.
Most metal embossing uses a combination of low-relief, high-relief, and engraving. Some pieces can be made with just one type, but it’s very common to do a combination of two or all three of them for one art piece.
What Can You Make With Metal Embossing?
Many of the examples of metal embossing you’ll find online are decorative squares of metal. This can lead you to think that you’re confined to just making simple squares to hang up on your wall, but this is far from the case.
You can use metal embossing to create frames as well. Instead of framing your metal embossing artwork, you can frame your other artwork in a frame made with embossed metal.
You will likely have to adhere the metal to a plastic or wooden frame, so make sure you measure the existing frame correctly to make your design on the right size sheet of metal.
Another fun project for metal embossing is jewelry. The sheet metal used for metal embossing is thin enough that you can cut it, so why not cut it into a shape other than a square?
Cut out an oval or teardrop shape of metal and create a fun design for earrings. You could also cut out multiple shapes and string them together to create a bracelet or necklace.
If you already work with jewelry, you may be able to incorporate some of your existing jewelry supplies into your metal embossing. Try adding a turquoise stone into some metal embossed earrings.
What Materials Can You Emboss?
In general, the type of material you want to emboss should be an alloy, which is made of a metallic element combined with something else.
A prime example is aluminum. You’re probably used to using aluminum foil in your kitchen, but did you realize you can purchase sheets of aluminum to use for metal embossing?
Aluminum is the most popular and common type of alloy used for metal embossing in the United States because it’s cheaper than most other options and it’s easy to get your hands on.
You can also use a copper alloy, such as brass or bronze. These work well and have a unique color, but they can be more expensive and difficult to find.
Another common material for metal embossing is pewter. Pewter is the predominant material used for this art in the UK. It’s an alloy predominantly made of tin, with some antimony and copper mixed in.
Although it’s the first choice for many Europeans, it can be hard to find in rolls or sheets in the United States.
For more information on types of metals you can emboss, check out the video below from Ninette Kruger Metal Embossing Academy. She goes in depth about the different metal options for embossing.
Metal Embossing Tools
If you’re interested in joining the world of metal embossing, you’ll need to pick up some tools first.
1. Metal Sheets
It goes without saying, but one of the first things you want to buy before you get started is metal. You can buy your metal sheets in rolls or in pre-cut sheets. The rolls are more typical and economical in the long run.
This aluminum roll from St. Louis Crafts is a good place to start. It’s a cheap price for 10 feet of aluminum that you can play around with while you get the hang of things.
If you’re looking for something more dynamic looking than the plain silver of aluminum, you can also get a copper-colored aluminum roll.
It is still made of aluminum, but it has the color of copper on one side. The other side still has the classic silver color of aluminum, so you could even use this product on the front or back.
As we mentioned, you can also buy pre-cut sheets of metal like this set of 3.9” x 3.9” sheets of aluminum from PH PandaHall.
The pre-cut sheets of metal would work great for those looking to make small jewelry that want a smaller surface area to work with.
2. Embossing Styluses
Aside from the metal itself, the next important tool to get is a set of styluses. Metal embossing styluses are the primary tool you’ll use to create your designs. You can use other items, such as a pencil or wheel tool, but the styluses are a must have.
You can get a simple set of ball styluses, though keep in mind this will be limited in the designs you can do. You’ll primarily only be able to make single lines or dots with these.
You can also get a set of styluses that are usually used for other projects like clay or nail art. These have metal ball points as well as rubber tips in different shapes.
Our favorite, and the set that we recommend, is a set of styluses specifically made for metal embossing.
In this set, you can expect to find tips that work to create many different designs. You can make straight lines, dots, wheel patterns, or even use the brass brush to sweep against the metal and give it a brushed, matte look.
While paper stumps aren’t technically styluses, we also recommend you get a pack of these. Paper stumps are used like styluses, except instead of being the primary tool to create your design, you’ll use them to enhance it.
If you’re working on the back side of the metal and have made a raised line, you’ll use a paper stump on the front of the metal to smooth down each side of the raised line. This will make your art look cleaner.
3. Surface Pads
When working on your metal embossing project, you’ll want to ensure you have a proper surface underneath. Depending on the type of metal embossing you’re doing, you may need a hard or a soft surface.
Both your hard and your soft surfaces should be smooth and free of any bumps, cracks, scratches, or debris.
Since you need a totally clean surface, it’s best to use an actual pad for metal embossing. Your kitchen table or desk will likely have crumbs, dust, pet hair, scratches, dents, or other imperfections that will come up on your metal.
We recommend getting this set of a silicone rubber and impressions pad from Sizzix. This set is intended to be used with their die-cut machine, but you can also just use the pads on your own when working by hand.
Test out your metal and tools on a hard and soft surface to get a feel of the results you’ll get from each. Both of them work well for different types of metal embossing, so it’s best to try it out and see what works for you.
4. Lacquer Spray
After you’ve done your metal embossing, it’s important that you seal your project with a clear lacquer spray.
Whether you’ve added color or not, sealing your metal is important. It can help preserve your metal and keep it looking its best long term.
Different types of metal react differently to oxidization or exposure to moisture, chemicals, etc. A good way to prevent these reactions from ruining your artwork is by sealing it.
Optional Metal Embossing Tools
The tools we’ve listed above are necessary for metal embossing, but there are some optional tools too.
- Beeswax: When practicing high-relief metal embossing, you’ll need to fill in the back with beeswax to prevent it from getting dented. Simply melt a few beads of beeswax and pour it into the divots on the back side of your work, then allow to cool and dry.
- Scissors: Whether you work with sheets of metal or a roll of metal, you’ll likely need to cut out your design. Invest in a good quality pair of scissors that can cut through the metal smoothly.
- Stencils: For those who don’t feel like they have great artistic talent for freehand drawing, stencils can come in handy to create beautiful designs in your metal.
- Tape: If you decide to work with stencils, then you’ll need to tape them in place on your metal to prevent the stencil from becoming misaligned.
- Markers: To help you keep track of the right and wrong side of your metal, you can use a water-based permanent marker to write a “B” on the back side of your work. You can also use them to add color just in the indentations of your design and wipe away the rest. Regular permanent markers are ideal for adding color to raised areas of your design. You can also use paint, but markers are cleaner and easier to work with.
- Rubber roller: A rubber roller can be used to smooth down your metal if it’s starting to curl or bend in a funky way. This shouldn’t ruin your embossed work as long as you press lightly as you roll it across the metal.
- Machine: Creating by hand is extremely satisfying, but if you want to create lots of metal embossing pieces in a short amount of time, you can use a machine to emboss the metal for you.
How To Emboss Metal
With all the right tools in place, you’re now ready to start embossing metal. There are different types of metal embossing to try and different designs you can make, so the steps will vary.
For a beginner’s purposes, we’ve given some basic steps below:
- Cut your sheet of metal to the size you want to work with.
- If using a stencil, tape your stencil to your metal. Try to keep the stencil to the same size as your metal.
- If using a stencil, trace the lines of the stencil onto your metal with a stylus, using a light touch.
- After tracing your stencil, or if working freehand, begin to press your stylus into your metal to create your design. You may be working on the front or the back side of the metal, depending on the type of metal embossing you’re doing. (Engraving will be done on the front, while high- and low-relief will be done on the back).
- With your initial design embossed in the metal, you can now go back and sharpen up your lines. Use your paper stump and trace on both sides of any single lines. If you are doing high-relief metal embossing, only use the paper stump on the outside of your shape’s lines.
- Once your design is complete, you can choose to add color. This is optional and can be done with markers or paint.
- Seal your work with your clear lacquer spray.
When the sealing spray has dried, your metal embossing art piece is now complete! You can frame it and hang it up, or attach it to other components to create jewelry.
Tips For Metal Embossing
Now that you have the basics of metal embossing down, here are some tips that can help you make the best art pieces possible.
The best thing to do when starting a new art is to practice. Try out small and simple designs and see how you like it. Try working on the back and on the front, testing the different types of metal embossing.
You may find that you prefer engraving to low- or high-relief work, or vice versa. The only way to know is to try!
Another great tip is to try different types of coloring with your metal embossing. We recommend using markers because it gives a cleaner look and is easier to work with, but some people enjoy working with paint as well.
Painting your metal embossing will add more vibrant colors, but the finer detail work of your design may not shine as much. Use paint for projects that have large high-relief areas, like a flower or a pumpkin.
We mentioned this before, but it’s also a good idea to refine both sides of your raised lines to create a clean look. This would be done primarily with low-relief metal embossing, designs that are made with single lines.
You want to keep those single lines looking crisp and sharp by flipping your work over to the front and running your smallest ball stylus, or even a pinpoint stylus, along both sides of the raised line.
This will press down the metal just along the line to make it stand out and keep it from looking puffy. If you’re a visual learner, you may find it useful to watch someone do some metal embossing in action.
The video below from Elitia Hart is just over 26 minutes long, showing you several different techniques for metal embossing.
You’ll be able to watch her use all of her tools in various ways to create multiple designs. She’ll give you a good idea of how each different stylus tip works and the effects you can achieve when working with metal embossing.
How Do You Fill Metal Embossing?
We mentioned above that we recommend filling in high-relief metal embossing with beeswax. This will support those large raised areas and prevent them from becoming dented.
An alternative to beeswax is to fill it with embossed metal backing paste. This is specifically made to be applied to the back of your embossed metal to provide support.
The only issue with using embossed metal backing paste instead of beeswax is that it’s harder to find. You can get your hands on beeswax fairly easily, but this special paste can be a bit more difficult to grab.
To fill the back of your embossed metal, simply melt some of your beeswax and pour it into the back area. Try using a syringe to control the flow of your beeswax and prevent it from spilling everywhere.
If using embossed metal backing paste, simply point the nozzle in the correct area and squeeze the bottle. Be sure to follow package directions regarding dry times.
How Do You Paint Metal Embossing?
If you’ve chosen to use paint instead of markers to add color to your embossed metal, you’ll need to prepare for a few extra steps.
After you’ve finished your design work on the metal, you’ll need to wash it. Grab some dish soap and scrub your embossed metal clean, then dry it completely.
Use some etching primer to prepare your embossed metal to take the paint. If you don’t use a primer, the paint won’t stick properly and you may end up with a mess on your hands or thin looking paint.
Once the etching primer has cured, you’re ready to paint! Grab your paintbrushes and acrylic latex paint and get started. After you’ve painted your embossed metal and have it exactly as you want it, leave it to dry.
Don’t forget to seal your work once the paint has dried. Use your clear lacquer spray to protect your metal and your paint from any damage.
Does Embossed Metal Rust?
When sealed properly, your embossed metal should not rust. The types of metal sheets you’ll be purchasing for metal embossing are already treated and made in a way that should prevent rust.
However, with your layer of clear lacquer spray applied, your embossed metal should be protected from any moisture and therefore should not rust.