Introduction: Embossing Clay - High Detail Pattern Making

I have been experimenting with making easy, repeatable and highly detailed bas relief or high loft embossed clay tiles.  I don't have much experience with clay and this is how I solved this project.

Embossing means to raise a pattern above the background.  Debossing is the opposite - to lower a pattern below the background.  An embossed pattern looks and 'feels' more interesting to me for this type of project than debossing.  It has a WOW factor that really impresses people who see it.  To me - it begs to be touched.

This is a sure "How did you do that?" project that people are fascinated to see and touch when they see it.
Among my goals were: I wanted to do it very inexpensively, I wanted it to be relatively fast, and I wanted to use minimum equipment, space and materials.  Additionally, I wanted the pattern to be reusable.  I have been very happy with the results.

All of the clay samples in this Instructable are in an intermediate state.  The Photo's on the Intro are high grog, cone 10 clays that have been fired to cone 10.  They are unglazed and unsealed at this point.  I used Sculpey polymer clay in my instructional presentation.  The Sculpey had not been fired in an oven.

Step 1: Assemble Materials for Cutting the Pattern

For cutting the pattern you will need:

1.  A copyright free pattern (make 2 or three copies)
2.  A jewelers saw (I  used a 6 inch saw frame - the one in the photo is a 3 inch)
3.  One dozen jewelers saw blades (I used size 4/0)
4.  A drill bit (I used a #68)
5.  A bit of wax to lubricate the saw blade (candle wax is fine for this project)
6.  Glue to hold the pattern to the sheet metal
7. A piece of sheet metal (I used aluminum sheet bought from a steel re cycler)

Total cost if bought new for all of the above currently would be near or less than $20.00

Step 2: Drill Holes

After you have assembled the required supplies you can cut the pattern.

Begin having at least two copies of the paper pattern. You may want to lightly 'rough up' the aluminum on the gluing side so the glue will adhere better.  Glue one of the patterns to the sheet metal and let dry.  Dimple the pattern with a nail or other tool so the drill bit doesn't run when you drill the holes.  This isn't strictly necessary but it helps.  Drill all holes.

Step 3: Cut the Pattern

I made an instructional video of cutting the pattern that you can watch here;

Step 4: Clay Phase

Your material list will depend on what clay you want to emboss.

For Sculpey Polymer Clay I used;

1.  2 ounces of clay 2.  A non food use pasta machine to condition the clay.
3.  The cut out pattern.
4.  A small sandwich bag to keep the clay clean.
5.  A spray bottle with plain water for a mold release.  (works with Sculpey but may not for your clay)
6.  The second paper pattern to make a cutting/design pattern for the 'pants'.  (I used vinyl stencil material because I wanted it transparent)

Step 5: Fun With Embossing Plates

Thank you for your attention and have fun with your new embossing plate!

More examples of clay embossed with hand cut embossing plates;

An assortment of hand cut embossing plates;

Other detailed hand cutting projects;

Many examples of very detailed cutting;

Play With Clay Contest

Finalist in the
Play With Clay Contest