This section will include descriptions of embossing, to include powders as well as stencils.


Embossing, for stampers, means giving a raised finish to your image. This can be either "wet" or "dry" embossing. "Wet" embossing is acheived by stamping with a particular type of ink, to which an embossing powder will adhere, then heating the powder to melt it into a raised finish. "Dry" embossing is acheived by using a simple tool called a stylus to trace around some sort of stencil from the back side of a piece of paper. That tracing pushes the back of the paper in, forcing the front surface of the paper itself to become raised in the outline of that stencil.


Wet embossing is probably the embossing technique most stampers use first since it involves using inks, so I will start with that. Wet embossing success is encumbent on a number of factors: ink or embossing medium, paper type, embossing powder, and heat...


There are a few different mediums that may be used for stamping images that will be embossed: embossing pads, pigment ink pads, and crafter's ink pads are probably the most widely used. The desired outcome will determine which medium you will want to use. These ink pads themselves are more fully discussed in Intro to Inkpads. When you decide to emboss an image, you first need to determine what color you would like that image to be. You may acheive that color either by using a pigment or crafter's ink of that color in conjunction with a clear embossing powder (which lets the color show through), OR you may use a plain embossing pad just to serve as your wet medium and choose an embossing powder whose color you would like to feature. Another option is to use a pigment or crafter's ink in the same color as the embossing powder you intend to use. With this method, if there are areas the powder does not adhere to very well, the matching ink will still be there to make the stamped image look complete.

You can also use a glue pen or embossing markers to embellish your creation without inking up a rubber image. Favorite techniques include running a glue pen along a deckled edge and embossing with a metallic powder, or using an embossing calligraphy pen to hand write a name or phrase, then embossing. There are also colored embossing markers on the market, which are not for use on a stamp, but rather for marking on the surface of your creation and heating after applying clear embossing powder. You may find these will give you lovely stained glass looking results after coloring and embossing separate areas of a stamped image in different colors.


Any of the above options you choose will use basically the same format for the end result: ink up the image, stamp it down, pour the powder over the stamped image, dump off the excess powder, then heat the powder that has stuck to the image to permanently set it with a raised effect. I'll now go step by step to demonstrate helpful hints for your wet embossing.

Inking an Image: When embossing a stamped image, you will notice the inks used are a bit thicker than for traditional stamping. Because of this, you will want to tap your stamp on the ink pad lightly, being careful not to squash the stamp into the pad. Many ink pads are smaller than the stamp so that you may need to turn your stamp over on its back and actually tap the pad on the image. What you want to avoid is having the ink 'creep up' the edges of the rubber image. Especially on open, fine-lined images, the ink will gather where lines come together and leave a blurred or splotched look if the ink is applied too thick. This also happens along the outside edge of a solid image or word stamps and will give a blurred look to the outline of the image. On the contrary, if you do not ink up your image well enough, there will not be enough of a wet medium to hold the embossing powder and you will get uneven or otherwise unsatisfactory coverage. This may sound tricky, but after a little practice you will easily be able to judge the sufficiency of your ink coverage. As an important side note, I tend to purchase refill ink for my embossing inks at the same time I originally purchase that color or type of pad. I mainly do this because it is Murphy's Stamping Law that you will sit down to emboss that lovely 25th wedding anniversary card the night before you intend to travel to the party and discover that your embossing pad is not wet enough to hold that shimmery silver embossing powder you bought especially for the occasion! This is quite unnerving to a stamp artiste, so I have learned to live the Boy Scout motto on this one and be prepared.

Paper Notes: When stamping or applying any other wet embossing mediums, you must make note of the paper or surface onto which you are embossing. A matte finish, or absorbent type of surface usually greatly decreases the amount of time your embossing medium is optimally wet. In these cases, I have my powder jar opened and ready to pour on the surface as soon as I have applied my wet medium or stamped my image. On a glossy paper or surface, the drying time can be almost infinite, so I don't rush myself in those cases.

Powder Preparations: Before pouring embossing powder over an item to be embossed, I always lay an extra sheet of paper under the item. A scrap piece of computer paper or an unwanted junk mail letter is great to hang onto for this. Fold it in half to give it a crease, then open it back up and lay it down under your object. This will enable you to more easily pour the excess powder that falls on it back into the jar. Some stampers prefer to store their embossing powders in large shallow containers such as resealable sandwich keepers. They keep a plastic spoon in the container and spoon the powder over the wet areas of an item, holding the item over the container and allowing the extra powder to fall right back into the storage container itself. If you like this idea, that's great. I don't do it myself for a couple of reasons. Number one, it is hard to spoon the powder out onto the item unless you have a bit of the powder in the container--usually more than just one jar of embossing powder is needed to accomplish this and I am not willing to go to that expense PLUS the cost of the sandwich container. Number two, I can more easily store the small 1/2 or 1 ounce jars of my 36 powders than I can 36 sandwich containers. each his own!

Ooooh, That Cling: Static electricity can be a frustrating problem when embossing. Embossing powder is very fine and will cling to paper readily in dry conditions, such as our climate in Colorful Colorado! For this reason I like to have dryer sheets available around my workspace. I can wipe the surface I am embossing, wipe the surface of my sheet of paper that catches the extra embossing powder, and even wipe all around the outside of the embossing powder jar before I open it in order to reduce the cling. Another reason for unwanted cling can be body oils or lotions that have transferred from your hands onto your embossing surface, so you may want to have a paper towel available, on which you may wipe your hands. A third option is to buy a nifty little bag of powder, made specifically for wet embossing, which you can use to "dust" your embossing surface prior to inking. This not only takes away the static, it also covers any moist spots! If after all that, you still get specks of powder clinging to places you don't want, take a dry, small-tipped watercolor brush and lightly touch the areas close to the specks. The brush will act like a small dust mop and grab the speck off the surface. Be careful not to touch the embossing powder that ended up in the right place, however, because before you heat the powder it is not set on the surface and it will brush right off also. In some cases you may be able to pour powder over the surface again to re-cover the area you accidentally wiped off, but many times the medium is either no longer wet enough to hold the powder in that area, or the medium may have smeared also when you touched the area, leaving an unwanted smudge.

Heat it Up!: Once you get your area sufficiently covered with powder, all that remains is to heat set the powder. Different heat sources may be used with varying results, but let me say that you will probably not find success with a hair dryer. This is a commonly asked question, but a hair dryer usually does not get hot enough without a force of air that will blow your powder away from the wet medium. Some stampers like to hold their creations over the heat of a toaster, iron, stovetop burner, or in the case of the crafty Amish--over the heat of an oil lamp. I must caution you at this point NOT to put an item *inside* a toaster, toaster oven, regular oven, etc. as this will at least scorch your item if not catch it fully on fire. The tool most likely to give you a fast, efficient result when embossing is a heat gun. There are many brands available and I will not get into a marketing war but I will emphatically state that it is my opinion that you get what you pay for with heat guns.

**PROPER USE** Many times I see heat guns used improperly, even by seasoned stampers. I cannot be responsible for relating all manufacturers' suggestions, but there are some that are fairly universal. First, when you take your heat gun to an item, do not hold the nozzle square down on top of that item. You do NOT want the hot air from that heat gun to deflect straight back into the heat gun nozzle. While heat guns are made to expel very hot air, they are not made to endure the persistent backblast of that heat. Hold your airgun a few inches from your item, and at an angle so that the heat is deflected in a direction other than back up the heat gun's barrel. Second, you must place your hands strategically when holding your heat gun to help ensure a lengthy lifespan. There are air intake vents on heat guns that, if blocked by something such as your hand, cannot pull in enough cool air and as a result will soon burn out the circuits and make the heat gun unusable or possibly even dangerous.

**SAFETY** When heating embossing powder, be sure to keep your fingers away from the air of your heat gun. These guns commonly run at least 300 degrees and just the air can give you a bit of a burn. The nozzles usually come to a narrow end, allowing the air to remain in a relatively small area so that by holding a card at the opposite side of where you are heating, you should be okay, but please use care and be alert. A great helper to this situation and also to the overall heating of a paper object you intend to emboss is a clipboard covered with foil to hold your item on while heating. A piece of sturdy cardboard covered with foil and a clothespin to secure the item works as well. The foil under the item reflects the heat up through the back of the item while you are heating the front. Your fingers are also free from the heat in the area. Another caution--watch out for the hot metal parts of a clipboard or a clothespin when removing your item. And watch out for those metal parts of the heat gun itself, which can cause serious burns if touched before the gun has cooled down. Even the embossing powder itself needs a few seconds to cool...I know cuz I have burned a fingertip more than once from touching it too soon when I was in a hurry! Finally, I will caution you to UNPLUG your heat gun when you are not using it. I have heard quite a few stories of tots flipping the switch while mommy is in the shower or otherwise occupied, or even the kitty stepping on the switch and turning the gun on while the stamper was not home.


Now that you have your image embossed, you can add some color. One of the nice features of wet embossing is that it creates a raised edge that can help you stay within the lines when you are coloring in images. This is especially handy when coloring in areas of an image that has been embossed on a matte finish, or absorbent, paper. When using markers on this type of paper, the color generally bleeds, but embossing an open image can allow you to color in even close areas with no problem because of the barrier the embossing sets up for you! Another interesting fact about embossing is that you can ink over an embossed image with dye ink and the embossing will resist that ink--pooling it up so that you can wipe it off. This resist technique is great fun to play with using a Brayer. Some other ways to play with wet embossing: heat up the embossed image to melting again, quickly pour more of the same embossing powder over it and reheat to get a "double embossed" image; mix your embossing powders to get different shades and color combinations.


As I said way back there at the top of the page, dry embossing is acheived by using a simple tool called a stylus to trace around some sort of stencil from the back side of a piece of paper. That tracing pushes the back of the paper in, forcing the front surface of the paper itself to become raised in the outline of that stencil. This is a very simple technique that can give your stamped item a very subtle depth.

First you need to get yourself a stylus. It is an inexpensive tool with a little round ball at one or both ends. Many times a stylus will have two ends, each with a different size ball. I recommend this kind since the type of paper you are embossing will determine what size ball you will want to use. If you are just curious how this works and don't have a stylus, a ball point pen that has run out of ink can give you a good idea of how the technique works.

The next piece of equipment you will need is a lightbox so that you can see through to the front of your paper. However, if you are working during daylight hours and you have a sliding glass door or a window with large enough working space, that may do.

To make the embossed shape, you may choose detailed brass stencils or just a plain plastic sheet of stencils (for example: hearts, boxes, circles, ovals). I go for the fast, easy and cheap designs so I will start with the simple stencils.

Take your piece of paper or cardstock and decorate with stamps as you would like. For explanatory purposes, let's say I am going to stamp a single rose standing up straight in the center of my card. Now I would like to create an oval dry embossed edge to frame this rose. I will first tape my stencil down on my backlit work surface (lightbox or window). Then I will place my card FACE DOWN on top of this stencil and using the light shining through the stencil, I will line up my card where I want the oval to appear around the rose. I'll tape the card in place. You can use special tape made especially for this purpose, or just take masking tape and stick & unstick it to your clothes a couple times first so the adhesive is not incredibly tacky and won't rip your paper. Then all I need to do is take my stylus and trace around the outline of that oval. When I take my card off and look at it from the front, I can now see an oval that has been pushed out of the cardstock framing the rose! It is a very elegant look.

For the detailed brass stencils, the procedure is pretty much the same. There are some areas that can get very small and tight in the detailed stencils, and for those you use the small end of your stylus. Also, when you have a detailed stencil design, you can take your stencil after you are done tracing, and lay it over the raised image. This will allow you to apply soft color to different raised areas with sponge daubers and inks or chalks. (See Tips, Tricks and Tools of the Trade for more details on these and other embellishing options.)


Sometimes when dry embossing, the stylus does not glide over the paper smoothly. One way to help remedy that is to rub the ball of the stylus on waxed paper to help lubricate it. Another way to accomplish the same thing is to place a piece of waxed paper over the card stock and trace right through it. Also experiment with the different ends of the stylus on different weights of paper. The small end of a stylus tends to be more likely to puncture lighter or more delicate paper, rather than just leave an impression. There are also double stencils on the market which allow you to dispense with the backlighting. These open up like a folder, you place your item to be embossed inside, close it, center your item by looking through the front, then you simply turn over the whole folder with the card inside and emboss from the back. You can make your own double stencils by purchasing two of the same stencil pages, lining up the same shapes on top of each other and taping the two pages together along the top, forming a hinge that will allow you to place your stamped item inside to be embossed.

Now you are ready for 'Mission Embossible'!
(sorry, I couldn't resist...)