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Creative Uses of Embossing Powder For Miniatures and Scale Models

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What are Embossing or Thermographic Powders?
Assorted embossing powders and embossing ink

Assorted embossing powders and clear embossing ink.

Photo copyright 2010 Lesley Shepherd, Licensed to About.com Inc.

What are Embossing Powders?

Thermographic or embossing powders are fine powders made from plastic resins which swell and fuse when heated above 300 degrees Fahrenheit, creating a raised surface similar to raised embossing on paper made with pressure and an embossing tool. The powders come in an range of colors and finishes in several grain sizes, usually extra fine, fine, medium fine and coarse. The finer the powder, the finer a line of ink it will follow when melted.

How Do You Use Embossing Powders?

Embossing powders are generally set with heat and used to create fine raised lines on paper. The powders are sprinkled onto a thin layer of tacky glue or fixative, ink or paint to make an even surface of powder, then the excess powder is removed by taping the paper upside down over a collecting surface (a piece of waste paper) and the embossing powders are fused if required to produce an even raised surface. (Embossing powders are sometimes used for textural effects which do not require heat, see the following pages) Heat can be applied, to the back or front of regular weight paper to fuse the powders. Embossing powders will fuse on paper at roughly 275 - 300 degrees Fahrenheit. The safest and most effective way of fusing the embossing powders is to use an embossing heat tool or embossing heat gun, which applies hot air via a directed narrow stream across the surface of the embossing powder without blowing it off the paper or scorching the paper. Most embossing tools can reach a temperature of above 600 degrees Fahrenheit or 315 degrees Celsius.

Types of Embossing Powders

Embossing powders are available in a wide range of finishes including gloss, semi gloss, matte, pearl, metallic and other finishes. Matte embossing powders still have a sheen when fused. Embossing powders can be clear, opaque, metallic or glittered and come in a wide range of colors and blends. Choose your embossing powder based on the size of type or line you need the powder to follow. Detailed designs with many fine lines will need extra fine embossing powders which can be used on fine type down to roughly 6 pt.

Hints and Tips for Using Embossing Powders

  • Inks or glues need to stay 'tacky' to hold the thermographic powders until the powders are heat fused. Special pens, felt pens and ink pads containing clear or colored embossing inks can be used to draw or stamp designs.
  • Papers used for embossed designs must be dry, otherwise moisture will bubble out creating uneven or rippled embossing.
  • A range of special effects can be achieved by experimenting with blending colors.
  • Designs can be embossed in successive layers, effectively 'painting' with embossing powders. Lay down the background tacky surface with an embossing ink pad over a stampeded or drawn design for reference. Set the background color layer. Stamp or draw a design on the background layer and set the outline with a colored embossing powder. Heat set this design layer. Apply detailed embossing colors to areas of the design which do not touch, heat setting the colors before you add embossing to adjacent layers.
  • Embossing powders can be used with care on heat resistant acetates (acetates designed for overhead projectors or printers).
  • Use a fine brush or the edge of a sharp craft knife to clear excess or stray embossing powder away from areas of a design before heat setting the powder.
  • Clear embossing powders can be used as a resist for special effects.

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