Embossing Gives Your Art a Lift

While reorganizing some supply bins in my studio last weekend, I came across some old friends: Tim Holtz DistressTM inks, stamp pads, and embossing powders.

Tags stamped with embossing powders and colored with Distress ink, gesso, markers, and watercolor pencil.

Embossing powders were my gateway into mixed-media art. I learned about them at a card-making class in the '90s and I was entranced. I love any substance that seems to magically change, and watching the powder-coated stamped imprint turn into a shiny raised image after heating just wowed me.

About the time I came to work for Cloth Paper Scissors, Tim Holtz' line of Distress products was taking off. I loved the vintage, grungy look you could achieve with his supplies, and I stocked up on the faded ink colors and rusty-crusty embossing powders with names like Faded Jeans and Worn Lipstick.

More recently, I've been exploring other techniques and color palettes. But when I saw stash of Distress supplies, I smiled, gathered them up, and made some embossed tags.

It's easy to learn how to emboss. All you need is cardstock, pigment ink, embossing powder, a stamp, and embossing tool or heat gun.

1. Ink up your stamp with the pigment ink. You can use clear ink specially made for embossing, but you can also use colored ink.

2. Stamp your cardstock or tag.

3. Open the jar of embossing powder and tap the crystals out onto the inked image. Tap off the excess powder onto another piece of paper or a manila folder.

Tags stamped with embossing powders.

4. With your heat gun about 6" away from the image, turn it on and slowly move the heat gun around, watching the embossing powder melt. This should take just a few seconds. If you're using enamel embossing powder, it will turn shiny.

That's all there is to it. I like how the raised image acts as a resist of sorts for other media like paint and ink. I stamped two of my tags with Distress ink and embossing powder and one with enamel embossing powder in black. After they had cooled and set, I used combinations of Distress Ink, gesso, watercolor pencils and Fabrico markers to add color. On the purple and orange tag, I glued on a bit of hand-dyed embroidery floss.

Here are some tips and safety precautions to be aware of when using embossing powders:

Technique tips:

  • Be sure to use pigment ink. They stay wet longer than dye inks enabling the powder to stick to them.
  • Choose your embossed finish to suit your project. Embossing powders come in enamel (shiny), matte, and other finishes. For example, Tim Holtz' DistressTM embossing powders don't melt as much as regular powders. Instead they result in a granular patina that appears rusty and aged, depending on the color you choose.
  • Work over a piece of unfolded cardstock (an old manila file folder is perfect for this).  After tapping excess powder on the cardstock, bring the two sides of the unfolded paper into a V and pour the extra powder back into the jar. If you are working with more than one color of powder at a time, have a folder for each one.
  • After covering the inked image with the embossing powder, turn the paper over and tap on the back. This will help the excess powder to drop off the paper rather than stick to it if you just tip the paper to the side.
  • To remove flecks of embossing powder that have gone astray (before using the heat), use a soft, small paintbrush.

Safety precautions:

  • Before opening the jar of powder, don a disposable surgical mask so you don't inhale the granules.
  • Work in a well-ventilated area, preferably while wearing a respirator, during the heat gun phase of the project as the heated embossing powders will emit fumes.
  • That heat gun? It gets hot. Direct it away from you and not too close to your artwork. Make sure you have a safe, sturdy spot to set it down when not actively using it (like a fire-proof table or an upturned terra cotta flower pot), and turn it off between blasts. Always unplug it before leaving the room, even for a few moments.
A vintage display in Tim Holtz's booth.

I was pleased to see that by adding some of the newer materials and techniques I've learned to my Distress stash, I create something that was more in keeping with my current style.

Cloth Paper Scissors Editor Jenn Mason talks with Tim Holtz about creating your signature style in the new eMag Collage in Color II, now available for iPad. Chatting in his found object-filled booth at the Craft and Hobby Association show earlier this year, Tim reveals his tips for staying true to yourself and finding time to create art every day.

P.S. Has your style evolved since you began making art? Do you have a signature color, motif, or technique? Leave a comment below!


Blog, Mixed-Media Techniques


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