Embossing Metal Foils With 3D Printed Stencils

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Being the curious human I am, I wanted to know more about metal foil embossing techniques, and what I found out was that the many amateurs or artists who deal with it, get some amazing results, of a captivating (and often intimidating) beauty. Seeing their work, I often asked myself if I could ever something like that? I think I'm not the only one.

I have read many articles describing how to make embossing templates for paper or leather, but these templates cannot be used for embossing metal sheets (except for the thick ones) because the edges of these templates are sharp and the models are relatively deep, so they can break the foil very easily.

Some links about making this kind of templates:

In this article, I would like to present to you the methods I have tried to make the model from the main graphics, which is a digital modeling of an older idea of mine. The quotation from the model belongs to Octavian Paler, who was a reputable Romanian journalist, and the graphics are taken from the dreamstime.com website, which I edited a little in Inkscape. I hope I can convince you that you can create beautiful embossing even without a great artistic talent, using your own templates, printed on a 3D printer. Of course, the size of my templates is limited to about 200mmx200mm, because that is how much my printer can do, but there are many small companies that can print larger sizes at affordable prices.

To create these templates, I use only free software solutions: Tinkercad, Inkscape, Paint.NET, ImageToStlConverter and MeshLab.

The models used by me are purchased as royalty free images and I have their right to use them according to the basic dreamstime.com license. The vectors can be found at the following links:

Also at the second method I used a floral vector from svgsilh.com (the original from pixabay.com)

The material used for this purpose, the metal foil, can be purchased in any hobby shop. The foils I used are relatively thick (0.1mm) and do not break easily during work, they can be found in different colors. Other foils are the ones used in hairstyles in the hair dyeing process. They are rather narrow, have a smaller thickness than those used for this purpose, to about 15 µm, but are much cheaper and can be also found in different colors. Let's not forget food aluminium foils, which are a little thinner (but some are 15 µm thick), are wider, are very cheap but can break relatively easily during the work. They are only found in silver. Finally, some caps of yogurt, cream cheese or other foods can be packed in boxes covered with metal foil, they are a little small, but many are excellent for embossing, and they are mostly only silver. Also, the relief finishing can be done in hundreds of ways, with paints of different types, with varnishes, with boot polish (!) ... I will not stop to describe each operation because an article can be written separately for the different methods :)

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Step 1: Method I: Tinkercad

It is the simplest and fastest method. The steps would be: import SVG file, extrude, base edit, centering, merge, export STL file for printing.

In the video below, you can see exactly what is going on.

The problems with this procedure are the following:

  • Importing SVG files doesn’t always work properly, many files downloaded from the internet have problems opening;
  • The depth of the models can not be too high, generally they are no more than 1 mm, and the thinner sheets can break easily because the edges of the template are sharp. They can be rounded with some fine abrasive paper but in complicated models this is basically impossible;
  • SVG files can have a maximum of 25 MB, this is the import limit of tinkercad, and some large and complicated SVG files may exceed this limit.

I did not create a template with the 3D printer according to this method.

Step 2: Method II Rounding the Sharp Edges

This method prevents the problems from the previous step, mainly the sharp edges of the template. Generally, for such an operation, the howtos from the net recommend the use of 3D editing CAD program, these programs are difficult to use, to learn and the really good ones are not open source softwares. I have found that the easiest method is to use an image editing program, such as Paint.NET. After editing in Paint.NET I transformed the resulting image into a three-dimensional object with the help of ImageToSTLConverter. The transformation is based on a simple rule: the black color is the zero level, the lowest height of the object (the zero level) and the white color is the maximum height of the object, the height that you define (in my case 2 or 3 mm). Otherwise, all shades of gray (253 maximum) are intermediate heights. You can watch in the videos below what it is exactly about.

Essentially, these are the steps:

· Opening, filling in black the areas that will be embossed, exporting the image - in Inkscape;

· Opening, filling with white where necessary, enlarging the canvas, reversing the image (highlighted areas = white, base area = black), selecting the white areas and applying the Gaussian blur effect, deselecting and applying a new blur, saving - in Paint.NET;

· Import into ImageToSTLConverter, generating and saving the STL file;

· Checking the result in MeshLab;

To save the images do not use the JPG format, you should use only the PNG format, the PNG format does not degrade the image quality.

Below, you have two videos where I created two STL's for the templates to be printed with this method.

Attached, you have the floral model STL file and photos with the templates printed on the 3D printer. As you notice, the edges of the model are beautifully rounded, so the reliefs can also be made with thinner metal foils. I made positive and negative templates, the difference is when the STL file is generated the "Invert Output" option in ImageToSTLConverter is deselected.

In the final step you will see that this was the method which I create the embossing I wanted in the beginning.

Step 3: Generate Grayscale HeightMaps

I used the same tools for this method, the only difference was that when I edited the image in Paint.NET I simply played with the areas to be highlighted: I used different shades of gray for filling, where I felt the need I used gradient colors and also different gaussian blur values. Below are two videos that will show you what I did.

I also attached a photo with the templates made.

Step 4: Grayscale HeightMap Images

The last method is suitable for making some templates after processing the so-called Grayscale HeightMap Images. There are many models available, the vast majority must be purchased but there are many free models too. You can download such free models from cncsquid.com for example. If the downloaded model already contains the STL file, then it can of course be printed directly on the 3D printer. If it is only the grayscale image, then it can be imported into ImageToSTLConverter and a 3D file in STL format can be generated.

I did not make templates with these files but their creation is extremely easy.

Step 5: Conclusion

For the realization of the reliefs, I used both 0.1mm craft aluminium foil, hair dyeing foil and kitchen aluminium foil but I folded the foil in several layers. For pressing the foil on the templates I used either a high density sponge or kinetic sand, pressed with a pressing roller (a dough roller for example). The kinetic sand will scratch the surface of the foil a bit and also take a little of the paint off the foil, so it is best to use it with negative templates.You can watch three short videos below with this operations.

Method II, "floral" model, positive and negative stencils, hair dyeing foil and craft foil

Method II, "habit of time" model, positive and negative stencils, kitchen aluminum foil and craft foil

Method II, final result (with negative stencil), craft foil

That's all...

I hope you enjoyed this article and you will create many other models of embossing that might be more beautiful and interesting.

And please don't forget to vote for me in the METAL contest :)

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