How to Dry Emboss by Hand

What Is Dry Embossing?

embossed paper
Rita Shehan

Are you a crafter who wants to incorporate some embossing into one of your designs, but you do not want to spend a lot of money purchasing an embossing machine for a one-time project? Hand embossing might be your next step. You can get surprising results just by using a stencil and stylus that will 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 stunning, raised pattern on the object you are embossing.

It is wise to remember that hand embossing should only be used for a small project. If you get bitten by the embossing bug, you might want to consider purchasing an embossing machine for future use. You will be able to quickly crank out many beautiful embossed papers with the help of a machine.

Gather Materials

tools needed for dry embossing
Rita Shehan

To dry emboss by hand, you will need a few materials: 

  • Cardboard, plastic, or brass stencil
  • Masking tape or painter's tape
  • Card stock or another type of heavy paper
  • Embossing stylus
  • Lightbox (optional)

Secure Your Stencil to a Window or Lightbox

brass stencil on window
Rita Shehan

Select any stencil with deeper grooves such as one made out of brass, plastic, or cardboard. Using masking tape or blue painter's tape, secure the stencil to the center of your lightbox.

If you do not have a lightbox, there is no need to purchase one for relief embossing. Instead of a lightbox, you can tape your stencil to a bright window. Another hack for a lightbox is to place a lamp under a glass-topped coffee or end table and tape your stencil onto the glass surface. You now have an instant DIY lightbox that works every bit as well as a high-priced lightbox purchased from the art supply store.

When taping down your stencil, remember the side of the stencil you want facing up should be the reverse of what your finished design will have. This is especially important when dry embossing any lettering.

If you want to make a complicated dry relief embossing, you can use two or more stencils to produce interesting designs. Just plan out your design and use one stencil at a time. You are only limited by the extent of your imagination.

Secure Your Paper

paper over stencil on window
Rita Shehan

Place the paper over the stencil and position as desired. Carefully tape the corners or edges with masking tape. You may want to test your tape first to make sure it will remove cleanly. Painter's tape works exceptionally well for this type of project. Your paper should lie flat over the stencil and not move when you begin embossing.

Card stock or any heavier paper will work best; thin sheets of paper rip easily. Vellum—although it is a thinner paper—also works well. To help your stylus glide over the paper more comfortably and reduce the risks of tears, gently rub the wax paper over your paper surface before you begin embossing.

Tracing Your Design With a Stylus

hand holding embossing stylus
Rita Shehan

Turn on your lightbox or stand in front of the window and carefully trace around the edges of the stencil design with your stylus. A stylus has two ends, each a different size. Use the size that best fits the size of the design. Press firmly, but be careful not to rip the paper. The center of the traced design will automatically raise. You can gently emboss the center of the stencil if you wish to add more depth to the embossed shape.

Admire Your Finished Design

embossed paper
Rita Shehan

When you have traced the entire design, carefully lift the paper off the light source. Turn it over and admire the raised design. You can leave your embossed design as is or you can color or embellish it. It can be painted with acrylics, dusted with chalk, or highlighted with glitter. Explore your possibilities.

If you are interested in taking your embossing skills to the next level, you might want to experiment with heat embossing

You will find that embossing a paper project is easy to do with fabulous results. You will be amazed that even a first-time project can have a professional look.