Category Archives: How-To

Ultra Lo-Fi Debossing and Embossing

Embossing from a negative shape
Embossing from a negative shape

Everyone likes a bit of blind embossing and debossing. Not everyone has die cut metal plates and hot foil machinery at home. Luckily, there is a way to do it yourself with cardboard and a bone folder. Basically. This guide will take you through step by step, and at the end you will find two downloadable files with illustrated instructions for you to save or print.

1. Tools and Materials*

  • Paper
  • Cardboard or loo roll
  • Pencil
  • Bone folder
  • Clips
  • Scissors
  • Scalpel

Optional but useful:

  • Carbon Paper
  • Paper masking tape
  • Small paint brush
  • Embossing tool

* Not all of these are essential. You can use loo roll tubes if you don’t have cardboard at hand. Use a bone folder or the tail end of a paint brush to replace embossing tools. Carbon paper, clips and paper masking tape all help with improving the process and end result, but if you do not have access to them, you can still try it.

Tools needed and suggested for debossing
Paper, carbon paper, cardboard, loo roll, pencil, bone folder, small brush, embossing tool, clips, tape, scissors, scalpel.

Prepare your paper by dampening it. For instructions, check out Make at Home: three hacks for better working here. For good results, it is essential that your paper is damp, as it needs to be able to mould easily around your shapes! Printmaking paper with a high cotton content and a maximum weight of about 170gsm will give you the best results. My personal favourite is Zerkall, but you can use Somerset, Fabriano, Japanese paper – try whatever you have lying around. You can find a list of suppliers in the Useful Links sections on the website.

2. Trace your design onto cardboard

The cardboard should be thin enough to cut easily with scissors or a scalpel, but thick enough to give you a visible relief. Bear in mind that your design cannot be too small, or you will not be able to cut it out. Thin lines can be problematic as you will lose detail in the process. Draw your design freehand or use carbon paper to transfer your sketch or print precisely.

Preparing cardboard cut outs

3. Make your relief

First, cut your sketch out of cardboard. If using a scalpel, make sure you use a non-slip cutting mat and a safe cutting ruler. Never cut toward your fingers. I find it easier to cut cardboard with several light cuts rather than force – it is much safer and easier to be precise. Be careful to keep all elements together. The cardboard you cut them out from can be helpful as a guide for positioning them in the right place later.

Do you need to reverse your design?

If you use it right-reading, it will emboss right-reading on the side you are working on, and deboss wrong-reading on the reverse of your paper. The debossed side typically looks nicer because the tools don’t mark it. If you would like the debossed side to be right-reading, flip your cardboard cut outs.

Create your base

On a large sheet of card or paper, mark where your shapes and your paper need to go. If you are planning to for example make a book cover, plan and mark your registration marks now.

Stick your shapes onto this base. If your design is made up of several pieces of card, glue them into the right place first using a bit of PVA or Pritt stick. Then use a large strip of paper masking tape to cover the entire surface. Using a bone folder, carefully press the tape down, tracing your cut out. Make sure there are no creases or overlaps of tape on the surface of your shapes. The tape creates a smoother surface and edges.

4. Deboss/Emboss

Take one sheet of paper out of your stack. Lining it up with your registration marks, if you made any (unlike me), lay it on top of your base. Use clips to secure the paper to the base to ensure it does not move while you are working on it. I started out with one clip and very, very quickly realised that a second clip on the other side was an important thing to have. Small bits of card or paper sandwiched between your printmaking paper and the clips will protect the surface from marking.

First, use your fingers to find the cardboard cut outs underneath the paper and gently start pressing down the paper to make the edges of your design visible. Now switch to a bone folder or other tool with a smooth, round tip. Being very careful, press around the edges of your design. Be gentle, as the paper gets damaged very easily! Use smaller tools for corners and tight spaces, for example the tail end of a small paint brush. Make sure that the tools are smooth and rounded, anything sharp will likely just damage your paper.

This side usually does not look very neat because the tools will mark and change the surface of the paper. The other, debossed side will be the nice one, which is why I flipped my design and stuck it down wrong-reading.

And that’s it! When you are finished, release the clips and flip the paper to reveal the debossed side on the reverse. Flatten and weigh down your paper until it has dried completely.

finished debossing
Finished debossed graphic of Korean syllable blocks

Tips, alternatives and a guide to download

  • Test with small cut offs from paper samples.
  • Take some time to get used to the process and to choose your tools before wasting paper.
  • You can trace the surface of objects instead of cardboard cut outs.
  • Try a negative shape
  • Damp paper is not optional!

Make-at-Home: three hacks for better printmaking

Text written by hand on paper
Text on paper

Making-at-home can present lots of challenges when you are used to a well-stocked workshop. In fact, this period of lockdown has been the longest I have ever been away from a printmaking space, in 20 years. It means working differently, working creatively, and for many of us, working in spaces that were not designed for printmaking.

Four weeks later, here are my three hacks for better printmaking-at-home. These are especially good if you share spaces with others, as I do, and are useful when thinking how you can continue your practice after university.

1. Your window is your lightbox.

Clockwise from top left: photograph, text written by hand on paper, blank paper, ballpoint pen, roll of masking tape

You will need: a window, paper and drawing tool
You could also have: any kind of tape, an image or piece of text you have found, or drawn

Tracing an image onto a piece of paper.  Image and paper are both taped to a window.
Good for tracing a found image, or drawing to make a stencil for screenprinting or monoprinting.
Reverse tracing text on paper.  Paper is taped to a window.
Also good for reversing text for printing.

2. Your drying rack… is your drying rack.

Left: scissors, thread, an assortment of small clips

Right: two clothes drying racks

You will need: a clothes drying rack, clips, string/floss, scissors (careful of the sharp!)
You could also have: lots of clips, lots of string/floss

Photograph of a small bulldog clip tied with string, to a rail on a drying rack.
Clips tied loosely to a rail.
Left: an example of clipping two prints, back-to-back, to the drying rack

Right: a clothes drying rack full of prints
Tip: double your capacity by clipping two prints together, back-to-back

3. Your shopping bags are your paper soaking tray.

Clockwise from left: stack of paper to soak, two clear plastic bags, coloured paper tabs, a clean sponge in a bowl of water

You will need: paper to soak, a water sponge or spray, water, two plastic bags
You could also have: small paper tabs, large and heavy books

Image of paper being sponged with water.
Sponge the bag first, lay a sheet of paper on top, and then gently sponge the top of the paper.
A stack of soaked paper, with coloured paper tabs separating each layer.
Optional: stagger tabs between each sheet of paper. This will help you peel off each sheet as you need them.
A soaked stack of paper, between two plastic bags, underneath a large book.
Place the second bag on top, and then add a big book, or two. This will help with even absorption, and keep your paper from drying out.

Practice, not perfect. (having a go at making some boxes)

Last February I took part in a box making workshop with our fantastic Book Arts team, and have not found the time since then to put those skills into practice. 

Until now. 

I had a plan in my head to make some boxes to hold teaching samples for our conductive & reactive ink workshops, and thought I would do this during the Easter break, with the help of Tilly and Rahel.

It was not to be. 

A hurried Plan B came into being as we were told we’d be working from home, and that plan was, quickly grab some materials and worry about the rest later.

What could go wrong?

My first task was to take over the kitchen table, and set everything up nice and neatly to try and emulate the serene environment of the @book.arts.workshop. I felt very pleased with myself at this point. I even Instagrammed.

Ariel view of table with tools laid out

I had tools, some materials, the box I’d made a year ago as a reference, and I’d also managed to find my scribbled notes from that workshop. Ready.

First obstacle. No board chopper.

I set to work with a sturdy craft knife and ruler. (carefully and making sure to keep my fingers out of the way of course)

Slow progress but not impossible and soon I was ready to start gluing.


Washable PVA does not dry quickly.

I swapped to a multi purpose PVA, still water based, but thicker and stronger and happy to dry quickly. 

If you only have washable, don’t worry it will work, just much slower.

Image of two types of glue, washable and multi purpose PVA.

Time for covering.

I had brought some book cloth from the workshop, and had some at home already.

Following my notes, and I cut some shapes and made some folds.

I tested the folds, and then had to cut some slightly different shapes.

Glue time again and then, ta-da!!

It’s a bit uneven and the corners look best from a distance, but it worked!

(I’d like to point out that it is meant to be 3 sided, I didn’t just make a ridiculous mistake)

3 sided crate style box, covered with book cloth

And repeat.

3 boxes, covered in book cloth

Time for the case, and I followed the hardcover guide from the book arts workshop.

I found some left over Christmas wrapping paper to line the boxes and the cases.

Old prints or any scrap paper big enough would work well too.

moving image of box being opened

And repeat.

Three boxes ready for filling with examples!

 3 finished boxes, with an example of contents

So, I had a go, I made mistakes, I swore a bit (a lot) and ended up with 3 functional boxes.

They’re not perfect, but they do what they’re supposed to do and more importantly I learnt from the process, with my skills improving with each one.

One last, and well-known tip worth remembering:

Measure twice, cut once.

Or in my case measure twice, and measure again, just to make sure.

box showing wrong measurements by mistake

Keep practicing…..

Alternative Bookbinding Tools

Want to do some bookbinding but don’t have any tools to hand. Here are some alternatives: Instead of a bonefolder you can use the handle of a blunt butter knife or any wooden/plastic cooking spoons. Instead of a pricker use a regular needle and a wine cork as a handle. Instead of bookbinding thread use tooth floss (it’s already waxed) and instead of a bookbinding needle just use a regular sewing needle.

Bookbinding tools, bonefolder, pricker, thread and needles

Try it out with a simple Three-hole Pamphlet Binding:

Paper and alternative bookbinding tools

1. Use between 4 to 8 sheets of A4 paper for your section and a heavier paper/card (roughly 250-300gsm) for your cover.

2. Start by folding each sheet of paper in half, keep the corners aligned and use the handle of the butter knife/wooden/plastic spoon to create a sharp fold.

3. Stack the sheets of paper inside each other and put the cover sheet onto the outside.

Folded sheets of paper and alternative bonefolder

4. Use the needle and the cork as pricker to pierce 3 holes, with equal distance, from the inside to the outside of your book.

Alternative pricker in use

5. Cut a length of the tooth floss roughly twice as long as your spine and feed it through the needle. Start sewing through the center hole to your right or left.

Alternative thread, tooth floss

6. Skip the centre hole and continue to the hole on the other side.

7. Now finish sewing by coming through the centre hole again.

8. To tie a knot, make sure that both ends of the thread are on opposite sides of the central thread. Tighten the thread taut and make a knot on top of the central thread. Trim your book once it is sewn.

Follow step-by-step guide here.

Or watch Simon Goode’s three-hole pamphlet binding. He explains how to properly cut the book afterwards

Bookbinding: Three Hole Pamphlet binding explained by Simon Goode

Lazy mono printing (and some less lazy upgrades)

Mono print collages

If you enjoy sketches, accidental marks on paper and quick, slightly unpredictable results, this might be a good technique for you. I like it for its immediacy and unexpectedness. I will introduce some variations depending on how messy or organized you want to be and what materials you have available. Feel free to deviate. For some toned-down artistic inspiration, check out Tracey Emin’s early mono prints.

Tools and materials for mono printing

Tools and materials

  • a tile I found
  • a hand roller
  • water-based, non-toxic block printing ink
  • water and kitchen paper to clean
  • paper

No tile? Use a piece of perspex, acrylic or glass (but no shards, please…).

No roller? Use a rectangular piece of thick cardboard to scrape ink across the tile, just like you would use a squeegee.

No block printing ink? Use oil based ink. What is important is that it does not dry too quickly. You can use vegetable oil and kitchen paper to clean it up instead of water. 


Cover your work station in old newspaper or other waste paper (see Ling’s Top Tips for Saving Paper). Now ink up your entire tile. You want a thin, even layer coating the entire surface.

Inked up tile

Lay a thin sheet of paper on top of the tile. Ink will transfer onto your paper through pressure: this can be pressure from your hand and fingers, pencils, toothpicks, bone folders, or any mark making tool you want to try. Experiment with pressure, try drawing with different pencils and mark-making tools. Even a screw will do (but mind the sharp)! 

When you are finished, peel the paper off the tile. You will notice that marks appear wherever you touched the paper during drawing, and that the result is mirrored.

Draw – peel off – reveal

Are you worried about the pencil marks on the back of your paper? Understandable. You can use a thin sheet of paper on top of your final sheet, and use this as your drawing surface. This sheet could already have a sketch or a mirrored printout on it that you can now trace. Use some masking tape to create a hinge that allows you to flip your drawing paper over. That way, you can easily recreate the same drawing a few times.

Trace template – peel off – reveal


Depending on the type of ink you have been using, the cleaning will differ. Always check the packaging for cleaning instructions. For my block printing ink, water is enough to clean my equipment. Loosen the ink by pouring a little bit of water onto the tile and distributing it with the roller. Get rid of the majority of ink and water on your roller by running it across a piece of waste paper.

More tips

Don’t forget to let your prints dry. Depending on the ink you were using, this will take different amounts of time. 

You can touch a print carefully with your little finger to check if ink is still coming off.

To level up this technique, you could ink up a large sheet of perspex rather than a tile. Try inking up with several colours at once. Especially if you are working on a larger piece of paper, fix it to your work surface with some tape that won’t damage the paper to keep it in place. The more hands-free you can work, the better you can control your outcome. 

For some inspiration on how this technique can be applied in a much neater and beautiful way, have a look at Tanaka Mazivanhanga’s mono prints on her website.

Ling’s Top Tip – Save all your paper

Photograph of origami cubes, made with found paper.

There is paper everywhere, waiting for you to use it. From junk mail and pizza leaflets, to catalogues, bank statements and old magazines, to newspapers and delivery inserts, there is plenty of paper, everywhere.

Photograph of junk mail, newspaper and magazine.

At many printmaking studios, members bring in their paper to use and share. It’s free, and it gives you something to read when you’re waiting for your screen or plate to dry.

Photograph of newspaper cut into paper stencils for monoprinting.

I use it to make stencils for monoprinting. Magazines and newspapers use thin paper stock, perfect for cutting with a scalpel or scissors. Stack several sheets together to make multiple stencils, rather than cutting one at a time. I use masking tape to hold my stack together.

Photograph showing how to clean a lino block with an old magazine.

Free paper is also great for cleaning up after printing. This lino block is taped to a cutting mat, and cannot be moved. I slide it between sheets of a magazine and press down, to take off as much ink as I can, before wiping the block clean with a cloth.

Photograph of twelve sonobe origami units.

My favourite thing to do with free paper, however, is to fold it. Mock up a book, test a design for packaging, or do what I do: cut it into squares and make some origami! This unit origami pattern is simple, but you can create complex shapes just by making more of the same unit, and slotting it together.

I learn a lot about paper when I do this. Bank statements come on a thicker, rigid stock, which is harder to fold, but provides better structure. Magazines are easy to fold, but the results are a bit floppy – technical term! The inexpensive paper stock is very sensitive to moisture, and damages quickly.

Photograph of a twelve-unit origami fold.
12-unit fold, with found paper.

To make a cube, you will need six squares of paper.
To make the 12-unit fold, you will need twelve squares of paper. Good luck!