Introduction: Leather Press to Make Decorative Leather Items With 3D Printed Dies

You can see an example in the picture of a small leather journal I made, and instead of tooling the design into it, I embossed the design in, a far easier and simpler method and it took a fraction of the time as well.

Now leather makers will know about wet moulding leather, its a great way to make shaped pouches, boxes and purses. However what it is also good for is embossing. If you wet the leather first and then press something into it then it will retain the imprint. A few people have done this using just a vice, but I found that you couldn't get an even pressure across the piece of leather, even if you were using large blocks in the vice. The pressure just concentrated in the middle giving you a great impression in the center, but it fades off towards the edges. So I came up with a simple press out of some metal plates. Here is the guide to how to make one yourself, and how to use 3D printed shapes to add some flair to your leather projects.

Step 1: Watch a Video on This Press

I've also made a video of the entire process if you want to see that, hope you enjoyed this and try making your own press and dies.

Step 2: The Design

Why not use a Vice?
First up the solution that I tried first was to just use some dies and pieces of wood and squeeze it altogether in a vice. The big problem here was that the pressure is so concentrated in the centre that you get a real crisp indent in the middle but it fades off and the imprint gets shallow as you get towards the edge. This was even apparent on small items like keyfobs, On leather journals,wallets and cases it was even more pronounced and didnt really give a good result.

This is of course why I went ahead and built this press. I did look for an old cast iron book press, but they are really heavy, hard to find and worse of all expensive. Seems there are people who like to collect them as antique pieces so I had to come up with something simpler, lighter and cheaper.

So lets start on some designing of the press and first thing to consider is what size of thing we are looking to emboss. For me I wanted to make keyfobs and also some notebook covers, so this helped set the size of the plates required. The other consideration is how easy it is to get some plates of the right size. Length is OK, but the width can be the limiting factor, so I settled on 20cm by 12cm. Pieces of plate this size were easily obtainable on ebay and were cut to size by the seller making it one less thing to worry about. I really wasnt looking to hacksaw this kind of thickness steel so buying it pre-cut was a simple decision to make.

Parts List

4 off 8mm bolts - 40mm long
4 off 8mm nuts
4 off 8mm half nuts (thinner than normal)
8 off 8mm washers
2 off Steel plate - 20cm x 10cm x 10mm thick
2 off 13mm spanners to tighten nuts

Step 3: Metal Blanks and Drilling

The blanks arrived and it was just a simple task to take a file to the edges and remove any burrs..

Next step, was to mark holes in one plate and drill these out with a small pilot drill at around 3mm. I then clamped the piece to the other so that I could use these holes to mark out the ones on the other plate. This was important to get the holes all aligned so that the plates would easily bolt together. I took these over to the pillar drill and took the holes out to around 8.2 mm to give some clearance to the 8mm bolts. To keep things neat, I used a deburring bit to take the edges off the holes as well.

Step 4: Finishing the Press

A coat of Rustoleum hard hat paint was next and at first I covered the entire plates in this and it looked pretty good. However after using them even a few times and with the pressure involved the paint would start to transfer to the leather in the press. I took a wire brush and some emery cloth and removed the paitn on the inside of the press and things were fine after that. So remember to keep the pressure faces clean of paint if you are going to paint yours. 8mm bolts, nuts and washers went through each corner which would provide the clamping force to get the plates to go together.

Step 5: 3D Dies

With the press ready, you'll need some dies and here I made up a 3D design in tinker cad and then printed it out in PETG. At first I thought I might need to make the print almost solid, but it actually worked out that only something like 40% infill would be fine, although its clamped into the press there is a piece of leather there as well. You dont really iend up crushing the dies and they have all survived many pressings now. The key fobs also included in the design marker points for the rivet holes that were used to keep the two sides together and guide lines as well for the stitching.

Making dies are pretty simple , all I did was to find some suitable designs as .svg's and load them into Inkscape to modify them if necessary. The I load them into Tinkercad and turn them into 3D models and add flanges, holes and any other little items. These are then sent to a 3D printer and printed.

The dies here can also be found at

Step 6: Wet Pressing

To make an embossed design I used some plain veg tan and soaked the piece I wanted to emboss for about 10 minutes.I then placed the die on top and put it on the lower plate and just loaded the top plate on and then tightened up the bolts and left it clamped for a couple of hours so that the leather could dry out.

Once embossed you can then dye or treat your leather however you like to finish off the piece. Antiquing polish works well as it will sit in the grooves that you make.

Step 7: Results

Here you can see some of the results that I've had so far. From putting dragons onto notebooks , key fobs as Christmas presents and personalised card cases. In fact for personalisation this method works really well as its pretty easy to just turn out a 3D print and then emboss it into the leather.

Leather Challenge

Participated in the
Leather Challenge