This information is reprinted from the For Beginners column of Hand Papermaking Newsletter #35 (July, 1996).

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Embossing is a technique for altering the surface of a sheet of paper by adding sculptural and dimensional qualities. The process works because paper--especially in the early, wet pulp stage--is malleable; it will embrace and retain an image of whatever object is pressed against it.

Paper artists who emboss their work employ a variety of items to make an impression into the sheet: textured fabrics, thread or string, wood blocks, linocuts or collographs, foamcore cutouts, leaves and other elements of nature, found objects, etc. The pressure of items such as these coming into contact with wet pulp or damp paper creates raised and recessed areas. Thicker papers offer more dramatic effects since the embossing can push deeper into the surface, and varying levels of relief are possible.

While it is possible to emboss paper by placing the selected device (a simple cardboard or foamcore cutout, for example) directly onto a freshly pulled sheet, and letting the sheet dry on the mould, it is more common to impress an item into the sheet under pressure. Both subtle and dramatic effects can be achieved by couching the sheet first, then laying down the embossing device (perhaps a length of thread) and pressing the sheet between felts. Experimentation is necessary to determine variables such as pulp consistency, sheet thickness, number of felts, amount of pressure, etc.

Another method of embossing involves running previously made paper through a printmaking press. The paper is dampened and pressed against a block or plate prepared by the artist. This technique is possible with handmade, mouldmade, and machine-made papers. The Summer 1992 issue of Hand Papermaking (volume 7, number 1) contains an article on this type of embossing, as practiced by Margaret Ahrens Sahlstrand. The issue also features a collograph paper sample.

The manner in which embossed paper is used or displayed can enhance its unique features. The surface can be inviting to the touch, for instance, if such an experience is appropriate to the setting. Proper lighting should be considered, to intensify highlights and shadows, if the piece will be shown in a fixed display. And if the paper is bound to inhabit a bookwork, practical considerations such as thickness and durability must be considered.

Copyright 1996 Hand Papermaking, Inc.