Embossing metal

Here are some of my first experiments with embossing on thin metal sheet. I actually used an aluminium soda can.

I wanted to give it a try because there are no fancy tools needed to get started. You really do have everything you need lying around the house.

Firstly using kitchen scissors I cut the side of an aluminium drinks can out and flattened it. Sticking between the pages of a heavy book is not enough. You need to iron the aluminium to make it properly flat. About 2 and a half minutes at top heat should do it. Remember to protect the iron and board with a sheet or two of newspaper. Also remember not to touch the metal until it has cooled down. I burned my fingers first time I tried this. The aluminum does come out lovely and flat though.

If you are worried about sharp edges,once you have ironed it flat and let it cool down, a strip of masking tape around all four edges can make your aluminium sheet safer to handle.

Next I drew a design in reverse on what had been the exterior on the can. I chose my local boroughs coat of arms simply because I thought it might look good. Where the can’s original paint was thick it was hard to see my design so I scrubbed the old can paint back with wire wool for about 15 seconds and redrew.

Next I got 16 sheets of newspaper down on the table to act as a padded surface to work on. I drew over my design in ballpoint pen, pushing down enough to indent the aluminium sheet from the back.

first lines embossed into the back and turned over

Then I turned it over, moved off the newspaper padding and worked the front side gently on a hard surface with a wooden skewer, pushing the can back to flat around the raised areas that I had created with the ballpoint. Now I turned it over again (so I was back on the reverse side) moved back to the newspaper padding and re-scribed the ballpoint lines to deepen the embossing.

embossing in detail after 2 passes

I found that If you flip the piece about 4 times working one side with a ballpoint and the other with a soft wooden skewer you gradually build a clearly defined raised line on the front. When embossing, it is easy to push too hard, but go gently and keep flipping and moving from soft to hard surface. That is pretty much  all you need to know.

further refining required for this embossed image
embossed aluminium

When I was finished I painted the front in black and then rubbed back to reveal the raised design more fully.

A finished embossed metal coat of arms

I replaced the stack of newspapers with an old craft mat and this proved an even better surface to work the back with. I also discovered that you can buy embossing tools (basically smooth metal balls on handles) of various sizes.  The whole thing only took a couple of hours, was mess free and gave me a very pleasing finished result. I will definitely be taking this hobby to the next level.

Here is a video of the embossing process to give you a better idea of what is involved. I have since discovered that this process is also known as repousse.

If you want to do detailed embossing there is one other tip that has proved particularly useful to me. Here I am working on a new version of a crest, but with lettering added. The font is Times New Roman which was based on a font used by the ancient Romans for carved stonework, so it definitely lends itself to a three dimensional look.

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About the author

Loves to learn new things and make stuff...properly. Born and living in the Thames Valley west of London, England. I have an office job during the day, but evenings and weekends are all about making.