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Embossed Print

Submitted by: Ken Schwab, formerly of Leigh High School, San Jose, California
UNIT: Printmaking - Embossed Print - Art History
Grade Level: High School (adaptable to younger grades)
Ken's Web Site:


Objectives: Students will

  • Explore and learn about cultural motifs - describe characteristics of the cultural art

  • Create a design inspired by a culture and simplify a design

  • Understand concept of relief and work in reverse to create a plate that will make the embossed image - exhibit craftsmanship

  • Make an embossed print

  • See how methods can be used in commercial use.

While Ken's students had choice of subject matter, I have selected images that show cultural studies. Students could research a particular culture of choice then do their embossing from that culture. Reports could be made to the class. Other theme that work well are architecture and nature.


embossed print      embossed print

Click on the images above for full size



Newsprint. 12" by 18" (30.5 x 46 cm) - Drawing Pencils. - Magic Rub Erasers.
6-ply Railroad Board. - Mat board. scraps (Paper weights are now figured by GSM -grams per square meter- You can figure out the basic weight on this website)
X-acto Knives., White Glue. - Brushes.
Crystal Clear Acrylic Spray Paint., Rives BFK paper.
Batik Wax., Dowel Rods. 3/8ths inch (1 cm) thick
Pins, Water container, Paper towels - towels
Optional: Etching Press.
Plastic Wrap. or Wax Paper..


What is embossing? Embossing is changing the shape of paper to create a raised edge of multi-levels. It is white on white and the different levels of the paper, is the design.



The Art of Stencil Embossing. - From simple embossing on paper to intaglio techniques and embossing on metal, this guide reveals all the techniques for easy and fun projects with clear, step-by-step instructions and innovative ideas.


The Art of Embossing Step by Step. - In this book you will learn ail there is to know about Embossing on parchment paper technique. The author Kannikar Sukseree will show you, step- by - step, how to achieve the best results on the transparent paper.



Art 2- Embossing, using several levels. In Art 2, I try to teach them how to create a stylized design, emphasizing simplification and outlines. After showing many examples, I have them create a template or matrix that uses thin 4ply board. I use a system of numbers and letters to create a layer of thin railroad board levels to be used with soaked Rives BFK paper. and rubbed from the back with paraffin wax and wooden dowels sanded into a flat rounded end. The number/letter system helps them see how to plan the print and to give them a way to make the matrix.


1. Create a stylized design that is a simplification of form and emphasizes the most interesting aspects of an object. The design must be large 12" x 18" (30.5 x 46 cm) using enclosed shapes. By starting with a "0" level ask yourself if you want the paper to go up or down. To go Up or outward is called a level "1" and down or inward is a level "A". If a level "A" is next to a level "0" the "0" will appear to go out in the print. Be careful to not drop more than 3 levels at any point to prevent ripping when making the embossing.

a. Make an outline sketch that has enclosed lines. Use newsprint and pencils to create this sketch and then look for the levels.

b. Use a series of numbers for levels that will go outward in the print. We start with a flat board your "base", zero level, and then think of how the embossing will look. If you want an area to be out one level it is a 1, out another level a 2, out another level and it would be a 3. If you need to back down a level it would be a lower number.

c. If you get too many levels outward or if the design shows a change of more than three levels, it will be easier to have an area go inward thereby making the level next to it seem to be pushed out. I label this an "A" level if it is used on the "base" board. An "A" level next to the base level makes the base level appear to be embossed outward. A, B, C, etc. will be levels that are built up from the base and 1, 2, 3, are levels that are built downward in the template.

d. The print of the embossing is the exact opposite of the template. All levels that are out will be inward on the embossed print. All levels that are built down will look too be printed outward in the embossing.

This is a mirror print because it is printed from the back. So reverse anything that must be a certain way such as words.

How to make the template…

Before you start to make the template you will have to create a design and use numbers and letters to indicate the different levels. When you create your composition make an outline of all the shapes that you would like to have at different levels. These must be drawn as an enclosed line or shape and not just a single line. Each shape will be given a level.

The numbers (1, 2, 3, etc.) indicate the areas that will be going outward from the flat surface or what I call the base.

The letters (A, B, C, etc) indicate areas that will be going inward from the base.

These numbers and letters will be the guide for making the template and you will need them to be correct before you start.

1. Using carbon paper taped to the back of you design, trace out carefully, the entire design onto a piece of railroad board. Label all numbers and letters.

2. Trace the entire design twice, and set it aside.

3. On a separate board, trace out the A and B levels as one larger shape. In another area of the board trace out the B level as a single shape.

4. By using X-acto Knives. and a cutting board cut out all the shapes, both the A+B level and the B levels from the railroad board.

5. Using white glue, glue the B level onto the A+B level shape.

6. Take the A+B levels and glue them down to one of the complete design tracings in the area that they would be, by looking at the tracing of the shapes.

7. After it has dried use a cutting board and with the X-acto knife and cut out all of the levels that are marked with a number (as one big shape). This will look like one big hole.

8. Glue the second complete tracing of your design underneath the first one with the A+B levels glued on. This is the Number 1 level and you will place the other level underneath this one.

9. Cut out with the X-acto knife, the shapes that are marked 2, (if there are more levels, cut them as well, as one big shape).

10. Glue this onto another piece of board that will just cover the open space form the last cut. This is the last level, then you are complete as far as the cutting and gluing is concerned.

11. Mix a small amount of white glue with a few drops of water to thin it slightly. With a bigger brush, give the entire design a coat of glue mixture and let it set to dry. Make sure it gets into the nooks and crannies of all the levels and shapes but that it doesn’t build up in the edges and corners.

!2. When the glue has dried go outside and spray the design with a good coat of Crystal Clear fixative to make it shiny and not soluble in water. This is to make the template strong and water proof. If this is not done, the moist paper will stick to the template and you will have a big problem. You can also use acrylic medium to make a hard shell.


To print the embossing... (without a press)

a. Place a sheet of thin white Tissue paper. (like we use at Christmas) over the matrix.

b. Soak some Rives BFK paper. for at least 10 min. Blot dry with newsprint (save and reuse) so that there is no water visible on the surface.

c. Use masking tape to secure the template and place the paper over it. Also try to tape down the paper with some masking tape but this will not permanently hold it in place.

d. With some Batik Wax., rub the back to start to show the edges of the matrix and continue to go over the entire printed area. Use your hand to keep it in place and never let your hand leave the paper.

e. Using a pre-sanded dowel that has a flat end and a rounded end, place the flat side down and push against the edges of the matrix to create a bend in the paper and a crisp edge.

f. Go over only once as it will dry and could cause double lines. Rips are not allowable so be careful to not push down as much as you push against the matrix/template. When finished pull it off and you are done.

g. Pin up the paper to dry so that it will be flat when dry and easy to mat or frame.


embossed print

embossed print      embossed print


In this template the numbers and letters show how the levels are created to produce an interesting print. You start with "O" and "A" is built up, (in, on the print) numbers 1, 2, 3 are built down (up, in the print).


The dowel is sanded with a flat side and lightly pointed side. These are used to press the paper when making the embossing. Wax will make the tool slide easily and will prevent ripping.


To Print with an Etching Press (from Judy Decker)


Prepare paper as above (soak and blot between bath towels). I have even used Tag board. with success for embossed prints. Place plate on bed of press - top with sheet of wax paper or Saran wrap. I found this prevents paper from sticking to any stray glue. Place damp paper on top - cover with clean newsprint - then felts. Run through press with firm pressure Allow prints to dry between blotters to prevent warping.



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