Make your own Embossed Business Cards using Acid Etching

Picture of Make your own Embossed Business Cards using Acid Etching
Etch. Press. Print. Want to learn how to emboss paper for your own business cards? Create your own pattern on the computer, and etch it into a brass plate.

I've wanted to make my own embossed business cards since I was handed a really incredible one at a fancy restaurant. I tried several methods of achieving the effect (photoemulsion, electrolytic etching) but ended up having the most success with a pretty simple and straightforward acid etch method similar to the one used in home printed circuit boards. I still have to work out a few kinks (such as flattening the paper after the emboss without distortion, or reorganizing the method to print before embossing) but I hope you can take something useful from my experiments, and apply it to your own projects.
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Step 1: Planning

Picture of Planning
All in all, to repeat my process you'd need:
Access to a laser-jet printer
Ferric Chloride (available here)
An Iron (with all the water emptied, please)
A meticulously clean brass plate (big enough to cover the space you want etched with room for more)
Heavy, thick paper. Card stock will do nicely, but heavy rag paper from art supply stores works well, too.
A clamping jig to align your sheets each time you use it. I used plywood with brass elbows and PTEG plastic sheet (to keep the paper nice and flat against the clamping jig), but it's up to your expertise.
6 or more C-clamps.
Shiny laser jet paper.
A plastic bus bin, or other wide plastic container for the acid etch.
A spray bottle.

My concept was to emboss a sheet of paper, and then run it through a printer to color the page. I'd then cut the cards out. On review I'd have changed some things, but got some cool results, regardless.

Begin by designing the pattern that you want embossed in the sheet. Remember that what is embossed onto the card is the mirror image of what is etched on the plate. So if your pattern reads properly on the brass, it will be backwards on the card. The same applies to the relief. If your logo is raised on the brass, it will be inset in your card. Design it in sharp black and white. If you want gradated patterns, consider going with a halftone pattern.
cpesacreta2 months ago

to keep the paper from warping (it does that because the moisture isn't consistent), you should look up steps to making a "wet pack" for intaglio printmaking. in fact, what you've done here is essentially an intaglio print that you just didn't ink up. but yea, wet packs are key. you have to make them the day before and it seems kind of a hassle, but you won't get warping.

batvans462 years ago
as far as the printing goes: say, for instance, you wanted ink in all of your little embossed areas. you could make your etch time longer, raising the embossing surface, then use a brayer (ink roller) and gently roll some intaglio ink onto the surface. kinda like combining a woodblock + copper etching. also you could put a silicone mat down first, then your paper, ink the plate then place slowly onto the paper, and press.

nice tutorial though! ive played around with chipboard and such for embossing but i think ill give your procedure a try.
eyanovich2 years ago
Does the qulaty of these cards are the same as the ones that i can buy and order from a business cards company?
embossed business cards
lgeorge32 years ago
So what exactly did you use to press the plate into the paper? I no longer have access to a professional etching press and wonder if there's a good alternative solution out there... perhaps an inexpensive one? *hopeful*

Thanks for this! I'd never heard of the process you used with the printer. It sounds like it could make things move quickly when you don't need the artist's hand for part of the process.
Get a cuttle bug or sixix from your craft store will work I think
olleorama2 years ago
Do you think you could have used aluminium instead of brass?
TANZMEISTER3 years ago
Have you tried putting a sheet of metal over the top, then ironing the metal? In highschool printmaking we transferred images onto wood this way. A piece of 1mm(19 guage) or so sheet steel, a bit bigger than the transfer, clamped at the corners. Heat the whole thing up (we used big cast iron skillets filled with hot rocks. If you try this use 2 hot pads on each handle)
In the olds before printing photos on the computer I dried my photo prints with an electric print dryer or a dryer roll (corrigated cardboard with only one smooth side) and used blotter paper on the print side and rolled the whole thing up and tied it with a string and left it over night. Either technique seems like it would work here.
KahlZun4 years ago
I don't get it. Why isn't the acid dissolving the paper to mush?
danlab KahlZun4 years ago
The acid isn't, assuming you are referring to step six, the paper is soaked in water so it can be removed without removing the ink.
shinojmahe4 years ago
it is great, but cant download the PDF. pls re link.hardly waiting

and also, a question, do u have a solution to make my logo punch or emboss on a plastic/fiber sheet surface??

hardly waiting
hpuilq4 years ago
Great tutorial. Would you be able to use this same process to create a stamp die?
This is great bofthem. I've thinking about this kind of thing for years without realizing how to make them. By the way, your photo reminds me of Jonathan Papelbaum for the Red Sox when he is pitching. (kidding) Thanks for the great info.
dianaw4 years ago
By the way, if you know a jewelry maker with a rolling mill you might try that to see if it works, I think it might with the right kind of pressure- takes experimenting to not ruin the paper. I know some people use a hand powered pasta machine to do some light crafty metal work so its the same principle with the rolling mill.
dianaw4 years ago
Great tutorial- and the suggestions are really great.
I bought some etching solution from radio shack ages ago to "play" with metal- quotes etc for jewelry- haven't gotten to it yet, now I feel inspired.

I wonder if a flower press would work- for those of us who don't want to make the press- they are usually ppretty inexpensive- or- a tshirt printer press- if you can find one cheap.

but what I'm thinking might work really well for the ironing part of this - and sometimes you can find them at a thrift store where I found mine is a home size ironing press like the dry cleaners use- seems like it might work really well- I haven't even used mine yet so I don't know how long you can leave the thing in there.

you can try ebay- they do have them new= plus, if it works you could make a second plate and do twice as many at the same time. If you were going to do this for other art projects it might be worth the investment. If I ever get mine going and try this- and it works- I'll email you with a pic.

Again, great instructable, thanks for the inspiration.
dumper4 years ago
I would try to heat up the plate with an iron and play with that. I think both heat and pressure would result in crisper embossing and flat paper. You can also try to obtain some hot stamping foil (there are lots on ebay) and stamp with gold using your hot brass plate. If you get any success with the above, please update your tutorial!
1up5 years ago
Could you etch aluminum with this procedure?
jfdimarco 1up4 years ago
NO. Etching white metals such as zinc or aluminum with ferric chloride causes hydrogen gas. DO NOT use ferric chloride on aluminum.

Try this method instead:

You can get cupric sulphate here:
Al etches well with concentrated HF or NaOH. (Concentrated HF works the best, but is pretty difficult to obtain without a license. The glass etching kits in hobby stores might work over a long enough period of time)
Hello, interesting application. Note that if you use a real prinmaking paper (one made for intaglio/etc) the soak time is a couple hours, then the paper is blotted and then pressed. That emboss shows nicely, btw.
lancapd5 years ago
i am not sure if this will work, but if you don't need the heat to transfer the image, you might be able to use acetone/fingernail polish remover to transfer the image. once i get some space to work, i will try it and let you know if it works or not. great post!
tacamaral5 years ago
If you can, get a bookbinder's press. Or borrow one from a friend (nah, take your work there - those things are very heavy. I had one that weighed about 100 kg - no kidding). You can use the same jig you made (very well made) but put it in the press, screw it really hard and leave it for a few minutes (5 minutes or so), and get another sheet in. Because the press usually has only one big screw and it's made to put a very great amount of pressure with little effort on your part, you'd get a lot of printed/embossed sheets pretty quickly. There are lots of plans for building a press on the internet, and you can also buy one (but they tend to not being cheap). Great Instructable. : )
If the depth of the etching were more, could you not apply ink directly onto your brass plates? Then the ink would transfer to the paper, and it would line up perfectly with the embossment. Thinking of trying this out myself.
acidkid5 years ago
Add hydrogen peroxide to the HCL..
Wonderful work! Much Style! Congratulations!
Offstream5 years ago
The vibrations would help the etching. When etching a plate (Ive etched with copper and nitric acid rather than ferric chloride and brass) printmakers will use occasionally lift the plate out of the acid, or use a feather to stir it, in order to disperce any bubbles and detritus that form. Bubbles that form will stop acid from etching into the parts of the plate that the bubble is touching. .........just a note.
sujancho5 years ago
Adding on to Carlsburg comment, more specifically you can get a couple sheets of blotting paper your local art store, put the soaked paper between them and use a rolling pin to squeeze out the excess water. After you're done printing, you put the printed sheet between either more (dry) blotting paper or several (several) sheets of dry clean newsprint, and put it between a pair of heavy boards, and weight it down with some books. Let that dry for a few days and your print will be nice and flat. Since blotting paper is so thick and cushiony you don't have to worry too much about the embossing going flat. AWESOME Instructable by the way, exactly what I was looking for :)
though this came out looking pretty nice, though not so deeply embossed, I think that once laser cutters get cheaper, you could probably fabricate something nice with this design, you know? Cuz thatd be kickass.
Phiri6 years ago
Will the image transfer technique work for other metals such as zinc or aluminium?
bofthem (author)  Phiri6 years ago
The procedure of ironing the ink on to the image will work, as the inkjet print just acts like an adhesive when it heats up. But as far as the rest of the process, I'm completely unsure. You will probably have to find a different acid to etch a metal like zinc, and when you do, you will have to take into consideration the fact that the iron in the ink may not act as a resist in that case. I encourage you to experiment, though. I got to this process by a lot of trial and error.
_soapy_ bofthem5 years ago
Zinc or aluminium as a bit dangerous to add acid to. Aluminium is very, very reactive once the oxide coating is stripped away. Of course, your acid is unlikely to do this, so nothing at all will happen, if you are lucky. If you aren't you might get a fire. Zinc reacts rapidly with hot water. So adding acid to it is probably also a bad idea.
kudzookrazy6 years ago
You might try a 100% SULPHITE art copy paper, without the fibers, you may have less trouble, wetting, pressing, and the sulphite sucks up the ink like a wet vac on crack. Legion paper makes it in 200 gsm, whatever that means.
200 gsm is 200 g/m2 or 200 grams per square meter. Its a more
standardized way of measuring weight than pounds, as the amount of paper being measured by the pound scale is different for different types of paper.

As weight is effected by thickness, finish, density, and amount of fillers, it is surprisingly difficult to use as a single judge of a paper. I prefer to give multiple numbers if possible, such as:

Brightness: normally a number between 92 and 102 that refers to the amount of optical brighteners and "clay" in the paper.
Thickness: normally given in mils, 10mil -12 mil is the standard business card weight range... 8-10 mil is inkjet card paper 12 mil is thermographic card stock (Nice!!)
Weight: preferably in g/m2

However, if you really want to get to know your paper, go to the mill, grab some headstock, run it through a Canadian Standard Freeness Tester (there will be one in the lab), and do a test burn to check "clay" content. Then, stop by the Machine Tender's booth to check dryer temperature and pressure. Finally, ask the Machine Tender how recently they changed their felt, and how many splices they ran the night before. Then, and only then, do you JUST FEEL THE DANG STUFF FOR YOURSELF.

Unfortunately, even with ALL the numbers, with most paper, you need to just try it out... ask if they have samples at the store, or if they use it in the print shop (for one stop office supply stores like Staples). if you are looking to cut the page, ask if you can cut a sample to size. an 8.5"x11" sheet of card stock feels VERY different than a 3.5"x2" business card made from it.

By the way, I use a lot of paper ;)
I also forgot to mention whether its short fiber or long fiber, cotton content, pre and post consumer content, texture, watermarking, and uniformity. Higher cotton means heavier sheets are more flexible, but also more durable Unfortunately for the environment, high quality and recycled papers are, for the most part, mutually exclusive. Buy 100% recycled copy paper, but please print your resume on "virgin" paper. For watermarked sheets, check if the mark is random or uniform in placement. random is more common, but can look off-putting. on a last note, never buy Staples brand paper if you need a quality presentable result... the quality control is terrible, you will get foreign particles in the sheets, and their listings for brightness are just plain wrong... Hammermills' 92 brightness is whiter than Staples' 97 brightness. I believe the same holds true for most store brands, like office max.
mondoweb5 years ago
I am thinking of embossing printed cards individually. There is a specialized embossing press at the local craft supply store. I may make the plate to fit this press. Your work in time vs etched depth is very helpful. Thanks
Merakesh6 years ago
For zinc or aluminum, or for metal on paper for that matter, try electroplating it. Sells kits for this.
joknrok6 years ago
What if you made a positive of the design on another plate with the edges of the design shrunken a tad so the two plates would fit together, the positive image going into the recesses of the negative image. That would sandwich the paper between it forcing the impression more sharply. Also, is the step 4 process only possible for laser jet? or will inkjet ink work for the image transfer too? Thanks for a well worked instructable.
smokehill6 years ago
One thing you might want to keep an eye out for, if you do much of this, is an old-fashioned book press. It spins down quickly and gives very even pressure. Book presses turn up at flea markets and low-end antique marts now and then. I kept watch for a few months for one, and finally picked up a marvelous one down in your area, Charlottesville, 20 years ago, for about 50 bucks, and it included a whole box of old bookbinder's embossing tools, etc. With a bit of fiddling, you can use a book press for a lot of different crafts and woodworking projects. Think of it as a large woodworker's vise, just sideways.
Carlsburg6 years ago
The paper needs to be dipped completely into a tub of water for about a minute, take the paper out and blot all excess water with a more absorbent paper do this untill there is no shine from the water on the page, ie the paper has a matte finish, then put through the press. Bathing the paper means that there is an even amount of absorption and therefore will dry evenly preventing warping. If that still doesn't work try recessing the embossing plate into the press so the page has no overhang to pull and warp the page.
HollyHarken6 years ago
bofthem, Google the wizard embossing tool and you'll find the best tool out there to emboss your paper. You can also find it at and search for the wizard. No more clamping and wetting of paper! Scrapbookers have been using this tool for years.

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