Introduction: Debossing (embossing / Letterpress)

Picture of Debossing (embossing / Letterpress)

A short instructable on how to do own debossing die and how to deboss into paper and other materials.

Done at Edinburgh Hacklab - time needed - about 4 hours (including trial and error).

Equipment, software, ect. needed: 

- CNC Milling Machine + software + milling tools
- Piece of material for the die (plexiglass/hardwood/aluminium...)
- Press or vice
- piece of paper, journal or paper notebook for embossing
- tape
- Dremel (optional)

Step 1: Creating a Die Template

Picture of Creating a Die Template

The die will be cut using CNC milling machine

I have downloaded the bitmap logo of Edinburgh Hacklab, imported into SolidWorks and made a new part where the logo was cut into a piece of solid body - exactly as it would look like on a final product. Now, to make the die, the template has to be mirrored. 
This is easy with SolidWorks - use Cavity function from Mold functions. This will create a perfectly mirrored part which you can use to generate G code for milling machine. 

To generate the G code I have used Cut3D - it is very simple and absolutely appropriate for this type of work. And is cheap!

Generate the G code and save into file - to be loaded into CNC control software.

Step 2: Mill the Die Out

Picture of Mill the Die Out

Load the G code into your CNC milling software and set up the milling machine. You can use almost any material which can stand a bit of pressure - like hardwood, plexiglass or metals. I have used 5mm plexiglass and my model was 40x40mm in size.

The CNC milling machine at Edinburgh Hacklab is controlled by EMC2 (LinuxCNC) runnig on Ubuntu (RT).

Step 3: Finish the Die for Embossing

Picture of Finish the Die for Embossing

Finish the die so it does not contain any borders and can be easily pushed against the paper in the press.

I have used Dremel to remove the rest of the material.

Step 4: Embossing

Picture of Embossing

Use vice or press to press the die against the material you want to emboss. Mind the position of the die - transparent die is great because you can check whether the final design will be properly embossed onto the final material.

You will have to experiment here. Use different materials to emboss, however make sure the material is always laid onto a soft(er) base so the die can actually push the material into the soft foundation to make a nice emboss.

Step 5: Final Product

Picture of Final Product

Enjoy your products.


JustinB3 (author)2014-09-06

Can you tell me what kind of vice/press that is. I am having trouble finding one that size but it looks like the size I would need for my project?

kuangmk11 (author)JustinB32015-07-24

That's a woodworkers vice mounted vertically.

AlexDima (author)2015-04-10

Interesting, but I have a question, is it possible to use the dye with heat for embossing with gold hot foil!? thanks!

Lethrwolf (author)2013-05-18

very nice... but where would the average person get a milling machine and use it enough to be worth the price. On another note, it has already been said that this is a 'deboss'. Just to let those that do not know the difference; a debossed image is pressed into the material with one die and an embossed image has two dies, a raised image die on the bottom and a mirrored inset image on the top (male and female, if you will), when pressed, the raised image on the bottom presses the material into the recessed image on the top creating a raised image on the surface of the material, instead of a recessed image as shown in these pics..... just a little leg wetting fact you can pass on to your grandchildren....

maco22 (author)Lethrwolf2013-05-23

I have build my own CNC machine several years ago and using the one in hacklab just because I moved my house recently - it is a great machining / DIY / electronics / 3D modelling experience - you learn a lot by building your own CNC and you can do that for a relatively low price ($1000 or so)

Lethrwolf (author)maco222013-05-23

cool... will give it a look... thanx

DavidKaine (author)Lethrwolf2013-05-22

Hackerspaces often have small CNC equipment available... you can ask someone to cut your project or even better, work with them on learning how to program/operate it. It's a whole lot of fun. If you don't have a hackerspace in your area, you may be able to find a machine shop that will mill your piece(s) for you, though you might end up paying a bit more for their time. At the very least, you can find someone on the internet with the equipment and have them cut your piece and mail it to you.

Lethrwolf (author)DavidKaine2013-05-23

looked them up and thee are only 2 in AZ .. both quite a distance from me. I have had dies made from a place here in phoenix that cuts them, but they are fairly expensive... can you use those two words together? $60 for a 4 x 5 or less. when I have a die made I usually do several to make it worth while. Thanx

togo1919 (author)2013-05-16


An inspiring project for business cards - I am considering something similar in acrylic that can be rastered/etched with a laser.

maco22 (author)togo19192013-05-17

Im not sure if using laser would be good enough. You need sharp edges on the die to make nice-looking emboss and also would probably take ages to do at least 1mm laser cut into acrylic with laser. But maybe you can completely cut the logo/letter out from acrylic and then glue it onto a base for debossing.

togo1919 (author)maco222013-05-17

That would be the technique. For example, I can cut the design shapes from 1/4" acrylic and set them into a stencil block of the same shapes. The block could be of 1/8" acrylic. I could glue these onto a thicker base of wood or acrylic.

maco22 (author)togo19192013-05-17

maybe place those two acrylics on top of each other and try to cut the 1/4 acrylic so you cut through it and at the same melt the 1/4 to the 1/8 block. really depends on the design.

togo1919 (author)maco222013-05-17

That would be the technique. For example, I can cut the design shapes from 1/4" acrylic and set them into a stencil block of the same shapes. The block could be of 1/8" acrylic. I could glue these onto a thicker base of wood or acrylic.

ckevinb2001 (author)2013-05-16

Very nice. I wonder if you could 3D print the die. (Sorry can't make myself stop... that's debossing in the pic).

maco22 (author)ckevinb20012013-05-17

Thanks for the correction! Let me know how that went with 3D print - i believe if you use ABS plastic and an industrial 3D printer this could work. The issue is, that the edges will probably be not sharp enough to make a nice edges on the deboss. You really want to focus on the edges on the die as they make the most of the work.

Wazzupdoc (author)2013-05-16

The "letterpress" moniker is a bit misleading as that is a specific type of "ink,paper,steel" printing press. That said, good job on the embosser!

maco22 (author)Wazzupdoc2013-05-17

As ckevinb2001 mentioned - it is actually a debossing technique. For me the letterpress is actually any technique which changes/touches the paper with intentions to make letters visible on it - either printing (historically the proper letterpress) or embossing/debossing. The world is changing and to sustain the techniques we need to sacrifice a bit of a tradition. There is no way this article would be so popular if i did not name it the way I did and much less people would start to be interested in the actual methodology.

bfk (author)2013-05-16

Nice work... Now, I want to know about that desktop CNC mill!!!

maco22 (author)bfk2013-05-17

Its a cheap desktop mill converted into CNC mill. Simple and cheap.

booga007 (author)2013-05-17

Very cool, thanks for the ideas :)

Orngrimm (author)2013-05-15

How long do you have keep the pressure up for embossing on leather? Only a short presss wont make it, right?
Does it help to wet the leather a bit beforehand?

However, thats a very cool 'ible and nice guide! :)

maco22 (author)Orngrimm2013-05-16

Hi Orngrimm,
its just a few seconds - there is not much difference whether you keep it under pressure for hours or just a few seconds. The one I made was in the press for no longer than 10 seconds. Nota bene, this is not a real leather, but leather would probably react the same way! I believe wetting the leather is really not a good approach - real leather behaves very unpredictably when drying without proper (archival) treatment.

Orngrimm (author)maco222013-05-16

Ah... Thanks for the insight! :)

londobali (author)Orngrimm2013-05-16

I'm not an expert, but i've worked with leather.
It will depends on the leather type..

In general, the stiffer the leather the easier it is to emboss/deboss, maybe with more weight/force but it'll stay embossed/debossed. Moisten the leather here helps to sink it deeper and with less force. You only need to moisten the area where you're embossing, it wont change much. Just let it air dry, not in the sun!
Wet leather is more flexible, but it wash away the oils in the leather and makes it stiffer afterwards. Drying it in the sun also evaporates the oils i suppose..

Soft leathers (specially the chemically processed) would bounce the embossed part back to flat, and even sooner if it's loose leather that gets bent and folded often. Soft leather behaves well when backed by a hard lining like the one on the picture. Sometimes it'll do with a piece of cotton/paper glued to the back side of the leather. The glue holds back the bouncing-back effect.

As far as i've been experimenting.. :)

Istarian (author)maco222013-05-16

I can't say I know anything about it, but I'm going to guess that if you left the wet leather stretched over a surface (kind of like on a drum -- the musical instrument) and left it there until it dried then you could ensure it would stay flat. I think wet leather is more flexible? Not sure why'd you need to do so though.

ktrakoontiwakorn (author)2013-05-16

great idea, thanks a lot

joelhunn (author)2013-05-13

Very nice! I am getting ready to reupholster the leather seats in my car, and I think I'll use your intructable to add some embossing. Thanks!

ChrisYarrow (author)2013-05-13

Seriously, brilliant job!

Thanks pal.

meremoonphile (author)2013-05-12


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