How to Dry Emboss by Hand

embossed paper

The Spruce / Rita Shehan

Project Overview
  • Total Time: 1 hr
  • Skill Level: Beginner

If you want to incorporate embossing into your designs but don't want to purchase an embossing machine, hand embossing is a helpful skill to have. The results you can get by hand often rival the look of embossing from a pricey craft machine. Dry embossing, also called relief embossing, is done by tracing a stencil with a special tool called a stylus. The result is a raised pattern on the object you are embossing.

This project is easy, even if you're new to embossing. And it's fairly quick, as long as you select a relatively simple stencil. Hand embossing is ideal only for small projects, such as a greeting card or place cards for a single table setting. If you plan to emboss on a larger scale, such as invitations for dozens of people, then you might want to consider purchasing an embossing machine to get the project done much faster. Either way, embossing is excellent for adding custom touches to cards, scrapbook pages, and more.

tools needed for dry embossing
The Spruce / Rita Shehan

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Cardboard, plastic, or brass stencil
  • Masking tape or painter's tape
  • Window or lightbox
  • Wax paper (optional)
  • Embossing stylus


  • 1 sheet Cardstock or another type of heavy paper


  1. Secure Your Stencil to a Window or Lightbox

    Using masking tape or painter's tape, secure your stencil to the center of a window or lightbox. The side of the stencil that's facing up should be the reverse of what you want to emboss. (This is especially important when embossing lettering.) If your embossing project involves using two or more stencils, only tape up one stencil at a time. Fully emboss that stencil before repeating the process for the next one.


    If you want to create a makeshift lightbox, place a light under a glass-top table. Then, tape your stencil onto the glass surface. This faux lightbox should work just as well as the real versions you can find at craft stores.

    brass stencil on window
    The Spruce / Rita Shehan
  2. Secure Your Paper

    Place your cardstock or other paper over the stencil, and position it as desired. Carefully tape the edges of the paper, so it lies flat over the stencil and won't move once you begin embossing. You might want to test your tape first on the paper to make sure it will remove cleanly and without tears.

    To help your stylus glide smoothly and to reduce the risk of tears, you can gently rub wax paper over the paper before you begin embossing, though this is not absolutely essential.

    paper over stencil on window
    The Spruce / Rita Shehan
  3. Trace Your Design With the Stylus

    Turn on your lightbox or stand in front of the window, and carefully trace around the edges of the stencil design with your stylus. Press firmly, but be careful not to rip the paper. You can shade in solid parts of the design if you wish or just leave them outlined.

    A stylus has two ends, each a different size. Use the size that best fits the scale of the design—i.e., the larger stylus side for thicker lines and the smaller side for detailed parts of the stencil.

    hand holding embossing stylus
    The Spruce / Rita Shehan
  4. Admire Your Finished Design

    When you have traced the entire design, carefully lift the paper off the light source. Remove the tape, turn the paper over, and admire the raised design.

    You can leave your embossed design as is or embellish it. It can be painted with acrylics, dusted with chalk, highlighted with glitter, and more. Let your imagination and creativity run wild with this project.

    embossed paper
    The Spruce / Rita Shehan