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Paper Embossing & Debossing

Embossing & Debossing

Do you want to create a special effect? Why not try embossing or debossing? This procedure will create a raised or lowered image on paper and other substrates.

Embossing raises an image, while debossing lowers or presses down the image. Debossing is mainly used on leather, soft papers, or anywhere you want a depressed image. Blind embossing refers to an image raised with no printing.

Both methods are achieved by pressing your paper or substrate between a female die and a male counter on a controlled pressure press. Debossing can be achieved using a male die only.

Paper Embossing Embossing & Debossing

Paper Embossing – Make-Ready

Make-ready is the final stage where adjustments can be made prior to running your printing or finishing job. Following is a step-by-step outline of the make-ready process for embossing:

  • Lock the female die into the chase. (3M Bonding Film) can be used on presses without chases, and for some extremely large jobs.)
  • Apply double-coated tape to the back of the male counter die.
  • Apply a small amount of Vaseline or non-corrosive lotion to the female die.
  • Insert the counter die into the female die.
    Be sure your press is backed-off all the way.
  • Close the press slowly.

You are now ready to start embossing by applying the right amount of pressure. OWOSSO can supply dies with register pins on request. Register pins are used to register the male die to the female die, not to the printed piece.

How it all works

Paper Embossing – Paper Stock Selection Guide

For foil stamping projects, your choice of paper stock may also affect the final foil appearance. Papers such as 25% cotton, 100% cotton, vellum, laid stock and other porous papers will dull certain foils. The solution is to communicate to your stamping supplier the stock you’ve selected so they can order a metallic foil formulated for that specific stock. Check with your printer to determine the dyne count (surface tension) of a sheet when laminated. The dyne count should be higher than 40 for the sheet to be foil stamped.

  • Recycled Stock:  As the use of recycled stocks has become quite common, there are some considerations worthy of mention. Due to high compression levels of recycled fiber, stamping large areas requires significantly more tonnage, or pressure, applied by the stamping press compared to virgin fiber stock. Because of this fact, often a foil will not appear mirror-like, and fine lettering or detail presents a greater challenge because of compression inconsistencies. In addition, because of the abrasive, fibrous nature of these stocks, die life is shortened often resulting in loss of detail or additional cost.


  • Dark Colored Stock: As opacity levels vary with different foil pigments, resulting colors and contrast may not be acceptable when applied to dark stocks. This is not only true of translucent pastel and light foils, but with high gloss pigments as well. Check with your stamping supplier to achieve best results.

Paper Selection Guide for Foil Stamping

Paper Embossing – Counter Dies

Counter dies, also referred to as male dies, can be made from several materials: poured fiberglass, etched magnesium plates, embossing compound, or layered counterboard. Brass counter dies are poured fiberglass.

Poured Fiberglass
If holding as much artwork detail as possible is imperative to your job, poured fiberglass counters are the ones to use. The material used for poured fiberglass counters is extremely hard, specifically designed for crisp, clean stamping applications and for long-running jobs.

Magnesium Counter Dies
To ensure a crisply detailed raised image, it is important to etch the female die enough to accommodate a male counter die yet also leave spare room for the weight of the paper. The counter die is etched several thousandths of an inch deeper than the female die. When embossing, this allows the counter die to bottom-out without disturbing the texture of the surrounding paper. See the paper stock selection guide for embossing for additional details.

OWOSSO customers are reporting great results and increased simplicity of make-ready using poured fiberglass and magnesium etched counters for both cold and hot embossing.

Embossing Compound
If your image has a lot of extremely fine detail, your best bet might be to produce your own counter die on your press.

Pressed into Layered Counterboard
Layered counterboard is a material that can be found from sources that carry engravers materials. It is a board made up of several layers – 36 or more. This is another method of creating your own counter die on your press.

Paper Embossing – Artwork Recommendations

Artwork is critical to the success of embossing and debossing. Some types of art are not as suitable for either process on heavy, textured stock. See the Paper Selection Guide for more details on choosing the paper that is best for your project.

Example 1=Bold & Thin Lines Combined

Thinner copy will not emboss as deeply as bold artwork. Combining both thin and bold lines in the same piece will yield uneven results.

Example 2=Screens and Fine Patterns

Example 2=Screens and Fine Patterns

Avoid images with a fine pattern in them such as a screen. These do not reproduce crisply as an embossing or debossing and usually look unintentional.

If you have questions about artwork, please feel free to call us anytime for help. Remember that checking with us before starting a job can save costly mistakes, time and money.

Paper Embossing – What Type of Metal?

Several important factors combine to determine the choice between brass, magnesium and copper for creating the best results with your embossing and debossing dies. No single factor should be used alone to make the decision. Since all of the factors listed below interact with one another, their cumulative effect should be considered. Experience will help you make the best material choice, and your printer, press operator, and photoengraver can all provide valuable assistance.

Choosing magnesium, when appropriate, can yield cost savings for your customer and speed up turn-around, without sacrificing quality. Brass dies are hand sculpted and machined therefore making them the most expensive of the three metal choices. Brass dies are the most durable and since they can be repaired, the life of the die is almost endless. Interpretation of the artwork is only possible with brass dies, including shapes, textures and edges.

Copper is a relatively harder metal used for the same applications as magnesium dies. If your job requires a more durable metal, copper is the best selection. Please consider the following:

  • Surface Area Pressure
  • Artwork Designs
  • Length of Press Run
  • Substrates
  • Handling and Maintenance
  • Experienced Craftsmanship

Surface Area Pressure
The amount of pressure required to achieve the best results depends on the size of the surface area being embossed or debossed. Equal embossing and debossing results for a one-inch square surface area require less pressure than that needed for five square inches. Depending on the other factors involved, magnesium is best used on smaller areas with smoother papers while copper is beneficial for larger areas and more heavily textured papers, and extremely long runs. Brass is generally used for combination foil and embossing dies.

Artwork Designs
Durability of your embossing and debossing dies under pressure should suit your artwork design. Relatively more pressure is needed for the best results in bold and uniformly spaced designs. For example, a solid square requires more pressure than an outlined square of the same size. Fine detail and unevenly distributed artwork designs require relatively less pressure and can be readily achieved with magnesium. However, bold and evenly spaced artwork to be printed in long runs may require pressure that copper can withstand best.

Length of Press Run
Generally longer press runs can cause erosion on embossing and debossing dies. For this reason, copper dies are recommended for long runs. However, this is a relative guideline since many factors determine what is even considered a long run. For example, heat is a factor that can reduce the durability of metal. Magnesium has achieved runs in the upper tens of thousands. If you are using high heat and have a long run with your embossing and debossing, brass or copper might be better choices.

Is your paper stock recycled, heavily textured, coated, or uncoated? Generally, the tougher the paper stock, the more durable the metal for your die should be. Smoother paper stocks don’t wear as much on your embossing and debossing dies, and magnesium can yield excellent results. Copper dies may be worth the extra cost when using heavily textured papers and for longer runs.

Handling and Maintenance
Press tolerances should be checked periodically. When adjusted accordingly, you can considerably increase the life of your embossing and debossing dies. Also, be careful in make-ready. Scratching and dents can be avoided with just a little attention. With proper handling in all these areas, you will get more from your die. A good way to store your magnesium dies, is to first coat them with a little cooking spray or oil such as Pam™. When stored and handled properly you may find you are using magnesium again and again.

You’ll offer your customers the best cost, speed, and quality, when you balance all of the above factors. Paper houses have sample departments – use them to test your dies on different stock. Artwork designers should also consult with their printers and finishers concerning stock choices and designs. When printers and finishers know ahead of time what they will be working with, it is much easier for them to evaluate the best metal for your embossing and debossing job.

OWOSSO welcomes any technical questions or inquiries. Just email your job specifics including artwork design, length of run, paper stock, and temperature and we can help!

Experienced Craftsmanship
Since 1949, OWOSSO continues to set the industry standard for both craftsmanship and service. Our experienced staff has a thorough knowledge of the substrates, the die-making process, and the best production techniques that produce the highest quality dies.