What you need to get started
Basic tools and supplies needed for metal embossing on Aluminium sheet:
Aluminium sheet for metal embossing
I have found the most affordable way to get started with metal embossing, is to start with aluminium (aluminum) sheet. This is my recommendation for all my students.
The basic embossing techniques remain the same, whether you do them on aluminium, copper or pewter sheet. But unless you’re sure this is a hobby you would like to pursue on a long-term basis, I wouldn’t advise you to invest in all the expensive tools and supplies.
Aluminium sheets is quite readily available and affordable, and does not require patina or metal polish in the process, which adds to the cost of pewter work.
It is the perfect medium to practice your embossing skills on until you feel comfortable enough to purchase a more expensive sheet of pewter.
Aluminium sheet used for embossing is at least 7 times thicker than normal household cooking foil and is between 0.3-0.5mm thick. This can also be described as gauge, and metals used for embossing are normally between 36 and 38 gauge. A good top is to remember is the higher the gauge, the thinner the metal and the easier it will be to emboss using hand-held tools.
Sheets of 36 to 38 gauge are easily cut with normal household scissors, but please be careful when cutting your metal, as those edges are razor sharp and can give you quite a nasty cut (like a paper cut on steroids!)
Basic Metal Embossing Supplies
Having the right tools for any craft makes it so much easier to achieve a professional finish. To do metal embossing, you really need only 3 specialised tools: a fine point embossing stylus tool, a rounded tip embossing tool and a paper-pencil.
However, to make your metal embossing experience as enjoyable as possible, you will need the following supplies:
Metal sheet of your choice
Pewter, Aluminium, Copper, copper-plated and color-coated aluminium are all suitable metals to use in metal embossing. Price-wise, aluminium is the most affordable option, with pewter being the most expensive.
The metal sheet you start with will all depend on your personal preference, as the embossing techniques used are the same. The only difference comes in right at the end, with the patina and finishing process.
For aluminium and copper-plated aluminium, I use normal black craft paint for the patina/ageing process, making this super affordable.
Pewter requires a chemical liquid called “patina” to give the pewter an aged, antique look. Patina has a corrosive effect on metal, and settles into the recessed/engraved parts of your design, giving it depth and interest. The longer the patina is left on the pewter, the darker it will become.
For copper, you will use a liquid chemical patina specifically for copper. Pewter patina will not take on aluminium.
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You will need a smooth, hard surface without any texture to roll out your metal and do your embossing process on. Suitable options include a smooth glass cutting board, a craft cutting mat or smooth MDF wooden board.
I recommend buying a craft cutting mat. The guiding lines come in very handy when measuring out and cutting metal, so you can dedicate one side for embossing and the other for cutting.
It is critical to keep your work surface free of scratches, dust and other particles, as these will transfer onto your metal and damage the surface.
A soft cloth is needed when modelling the metal sheet while you are working on “high relief” designs where the metal is pushed out and raised from the back. The metal is then moulded into the cloth to give it its raised shape.
My favourite is using the soft yellow cleaning cloths available from your local supermarket. These are super affordable and it instantly gives your 3 different levels to which you can raise the metal.
Other options include felt or foam sheets (available at craft stores) or even chamois.
These are used to roll out and flatten the metal initially when cutting it according to size for your chosen project.
It is also used to flatten the metal during the entire embossing process, to ensure your project stays nice and neat.
Sharp scissors or cutting tool
Both pewter, aluminium and copper sheets can be cut with sharp craft scissors.
You also get specialised needle cutting tools that are used mainly when you want to precision cut parts of your embossed metal design. These tungsten carbide tip tools are my favourite, as they come in a pack of two and have replacement tips included.
I recommend using a steel ruler when measuring out and cutting metal for your projects as they are very durable and precise
There are many options available when it comes to embossing tools. To get started without breaking the bank, especially when you just want to try it out to see whether you like this craft, you can get started with a bamboo craft stick.
The other popular option is to invest in a set of ball-tipped stylus tools. They come in a variety of sizes and is great to created texture and “dots” on your metal too. When using metal ball-tips tools as your stylus tool, please ensure you lubricate them with a bit of oil/vaseline to ensure that they glide over the metal instead of scratching it.
My favourite all-in-one tool set, is this one from Walnut Hollow. It comes with interchangeable embossing tips, ball tip tools, pattern rollers, and everything else you may need for your embossing projects. This would be my recommendation if you know you will continue with pewter work as a serious hobby.
Also known as a torchon, paper pencils are used in various ways. I personally use them to flatten out and neaten areas around the modeled parts of my design where my rubber roller won’t fit.
Because they are soft, they don’t leave scratch marks on the metal. I also use them as a modeling tool when raised my high relief designs. They come in sets of different sizes and the set I recommend comes with a sharpener as well.
Filler & Syringes
You will need a filler to support the raised, high relief parts of your embossed design. This is used to fill the back of the design to prevent the design from being pushed back or flattened.
I personally use beeswax as it :
- is a natural product
- melts easily
- hardens quickly
- doesn’t contract when cold, as candle wax does.
- sticks to the metal like glue.
Candle wax is NOT SUITABLE as a filler as it contracts when cold and crumbles easily, leaving no support for your metal artwork.
I personally place the beeswax in a glass measuring jug in an old pot filled with boiling water. I then melt the wax using this double-boiling method. I also place a glass jar with 2 different sized plastic syringes in the boiling water to warm them up.
I use the syringes to pull up the melted wax and heating the syringes before-hand prevents the wax from setting in the syringe.
I only pull up small quantities of wax at a time (approximately 5m-10ml) to prevent the wax from setting. The pointy tips of the syringes give me great control over where I want to put the wax.
Finally, you will need an adhesive to secure the embossed metal onto your chosen project medium.
Any decoupage blanks are suitable to mount metal on, as well as canvas, mounting board, glass, clocks, tins etc.
My go-to adhesive for sticking metal onto any surface, is contact glue.
For mounting metal onto cardboard or book covers, you can also use a strong double -sided craft tape (also used in scrap-booking).