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Embossing Tools - How Do You Use Them on Metal Foils, Leather and Paper?


Embossing tools used for paper, metal, leather and modelling, including miniatures and dolls houses.

Double ended metal embossing outliner or refiner and spoon tool, (green handle) next to several styles of ball ended embossing or paper lace tools.

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Question: Embossing Tools - How Do You Use Them on Metal Foils, Leather and Paper?

Embossing tools, sometimes called paper embossers or lace tools, are a range of specially shaped metal ended tools used to create raised or tooled lines in metal, leather and paper. They are an essential tool for shaping lines in paper, metal or leather, used for shaping tiny petals for miniature flowers, or by polymer clay and doll artists to shape eye sockets, nostrils, and other tiny indentations in clay. They are used to create lines and dimensional shapes in sheet metal and on leather to 'tool' it.


Types of Embossing Tools

  • Single or Double Ended Ball Stylus Tools - These tools have a wooden handle and metal ball ends and are the most commonly used paper embossing tool for shaping and curving paper. Similar tools are sold for leather tooling in various sizes and as 'sphere ended tools' for metal work. The most useful ball ended tools have two different sizes of ball on one tool. Very fine ball ended tools are best for thicker metals, leather and smooth yet tough paper such as vellum. Some ball ended tools are available which fit into a multiple use handle as different tips. Think about how you will use the tool before you buy one of these. It may be much more frustrating to have to change tips for six different ball ends, than to store three inexpensive double ended wooden tools.
  • Outliners or Refiners - Useful for all types of embossing, outliners are most often sold for metal or leather embossing. An outliner or refiner is a fine tapering needle with a rounded end, which is finished with a curved tip. It can be dragged over a design to create carved effects on flat sheets of thin copper or brass, or heavy aluminum foil, and works well to create curving lines on paper or leather.
  • Spoon Ended Tools - Embossing tools with rounded cupped ends are most often found in metal embossing and leather tooling catalogues. Spoon tools can create large smooth indented surfaces on leather and can create large indented or raised surfaces on metal foils.
  • Cup and Ball Tools - Cup and ball tools are used mainly for metal tooling and embossing, to create a perfectly outlined circle and a corresponding domed sphere inset into the circle. Most are sold with the cup on one end of the handle and the ball on the other end.
  • Texture embossing plates - Texture embossing plates can be used with paper, metal, leather or polymer clay. The plates can be made of metal or plastic, and you can use a brayer to press dampened paper or leather, or sheets of polymer clay down on to the textured sheet to create a particular pattern.
  • Specialized Leather Embossing Tools - Outliners, refiners, and spoons used for metal and paper embossing are also use for flat leather tooling or embossing. In addition leather crafting uses special stamping tools driven into the leather surface with a mallet to create textures and outlines.

How Do You Use Embossing Tools?

Embossing tools are always used over a soft pad of paper, fabric, leather or foam, to allow you to press down into the material you are shaping. The pad material makes a difference. Metal embossing is most often done on suede or foam sheets, like a mousepad. Mouspads and foam sheets work for paper embossing as well, but firmer surfaces, like white art erasers, or material for stamp carving, work well for papers which require a lot of shaping like flower petals.

With the paper or metal on a soft pad, the design outlines are transferred with a thin ball stylus or outliner, and the raised areas are worked with a larger ball stylus or spoon. For metal embossing, you transfer your design to the metal by tracing over a paper version and marking the lines onto the metal lightly. You then decide how you will 'tool' your metal, will you outline areas only, have raised outlines curving up, outlines which bend down into the surface, or outlines which bend down and in to the metal, then shape the spaces between your design by creating rounded or textured surfaces from the reverse side of the metal?

Leather embossing is done slightly differently. A pad is not necessary as the leather itself offers resistance to the tools. 'Tooling' Leather is dampened on the surface before embossing tools are used. When the leather dries, the pattern will remain as it was embossed.

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