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Leather embossing, how to make embossed leather

Leather embossing kit
Leather embossing kits

One thing I don’t think I’ve ever discussed here is leather embossing, or what embossed leather is. So just what is leather embossing? What does embossed leather look like? How do you emboss leather and where can you get leather embossing kits?

Well first lets get it straight about just what is leather embossing, because it is often confused with leather tooling, or leather working. Simply put, leather embossing is the act of putting any type of design, mark or lettering in leather with a stamp, wheel or die tool.

Leather embossing is the act of stamping or pressing an object into the leather so that it leaves an impression. Embossed leather does NOT have any leather cut out, like in leather tooling.

When you see a fancy saddle with big designs that have been cut out of the leather, that is NOT embossing. That is leather tooling or leather working, where they actually cut out pieces of leather to make a design or pattern.

That is much, much harder to do and takes a lot of skill and practice. You have to be a real artist to make those beautiful designs and one of a kind leather artwork in saddles and other leather items.

Leather embossing is much easier and just about anyone can do it. You stamp, hammer or press a pre-designed shape into the leather so that you leave a indent in the leather in the shape of what you want.

Big leather companies that make many embossed leather items use very expensive embossing machines to do hundreds of leather items a day. Technically even leather that has a texture pattern pressed into it, like fake alligator leather purses, is embossed leather.

However most people think of leather embossing when they want their initials in a leather briefcase, or a unique design in their leather belt, or maybe a pattern around the edges of their leather wallet.

You can buy leather embossing kits in hobby shops and good leather stores. One of the best places to buy leather embossing kits is Tandy Leather. They have all kinds of leather tools, kits, dyes and embossing kits.

There are three basic types of tools to make embossed leather. One kind is a steel die that has a design shaped into the end of it, like a deer or a star. Another kind of embossing tool is a set of dies that have all the alphabet letters to make initials or names.

Leather embossing kit
Click here for Leather embossing die kits

Yet another type of embossing tool is the embossing wheel. Lets say you want to make a pattern all the way down your leather belt. An embossing wheel has a rolling steel wheel at the end with a pattern in it.

Rolling this wheel along the leather pressing down hard gives you a quick, neat pattern as it leaves an indent in the leather as it rolls along, giving you a great embossed leather belt.

Leather embossing kit
Click here for Leather embossing wheels

There is one more thing you must know about leather embossing, and that is do you want a raised or depressed design on it? A raised embossed leather design tool makes an indent all the way around the design, leaving the design looking raised up.

A depressed leather embossing tool will have the design shaped at the end of the die. Once you press or hammer the die into the leather, it leaves a depressed shape of the design or letter in the leather. This is the most common type of embossing tool.

How to emboss leather, the art of leather embossing

Now that you know what leather embossing really is, what it does and the embossing tools you need your now ready to learn just how to emboss leather! First, use vegetable tanned leather or tooling leather.

This type of leather is soft and pliable, making it easier to leave your design in the leather. Most belts, wallets, saddle bags, briefcases and types of leather items like that are tooling leather. Many leather embossing kits come with leather you can use also.

In fact it’s best to use unfinished tooling leather to make embossed leather items. Then once your done you can dye or paint the leather and put a coat of sealer over it. However you can emboss finished leather also.

You need to get the leather moist so it’s a bit soft. Lay some wet towels over the leather for 15 minutes or so. Or use a steam iron and carefully use the steam to get it heated and wet.

Lay your leather on a flat, sturdy surface like a work table or work bench. Use a tape measure or ruler and a pencil to measure and mark where you want your design to be.

If your using a design or letter die tool, place the head of it exactly where you want it and make sure it’s straight. Then take a wooden or rubber mallet and tap the end of the die.

Don’t be too hard or you’ll actually cut the leather. Just give it some nice, solid taps. Tipping the embossing tool a bit all the way around as your tapping the die ensures a good, deep edge to the leather embossing design.

If your using a leather embossing wheel make sure your leather item is held down so it does not move. Put the tip of the wheel where you want to start your design, press down and start rolling it.

It takes practice to make a straight line or make curves with it but after a while you can make beautiful patterns with a leather embossing wheel. A combination of design dies and embossing wheels can make a great looking embossed leather item.

Once your done let the leather dry completely, like overnight. Then you can use leather dye to dye your whole embossed leather item. Use different color dye to fill in the leather embossing if you want.

Most leather embossing initials are dyed or painted a nice gold or silver color. There are special paints just for leather you should use. Finally give it all a good leather sealer treatment to protect it from dirt and water.

So that is how leather embossing is done! It takes practice so do a few test on scrap leather first. Use quality embossing tools as cheap ones will break and ruin your project. Leather embossing is a great hobby and you’ll be pleased with your embossed leather items. 🙂

7 thoughts on “Leather embossing, how to make embossed leather

  1. I am a hobbyist woodworker and currently in the process of designing a desk for my office. I want to place 3 panels of leather in the top of the desk. I have an upholster to fit the panels with blue leather. In the four corners of each panel I want to emboss a block “M” (I.e. University of Michigan). The desk is for my son. Where do I get someone to make the block “M” and/or make and apply the embossing in gold or yellow? Your help would be appreciated.

    Chris Picard

  2. Hi Chris,

    Sounds like a very nice desk! It’s going to be hard to find someone who can make the size M you want. I would try your local hobby shop or fabric shop and see if they have some kits with different size letters. Otherwise I really don’t know how you would find someone to make you the stamp you need. You can use leather paint to paint in the gold or yellow color. You’ll want to stamp in the letter before you attach it to the desk. Good luck.


  3. Hello!

    I just stumbled on your page as I’m doing research on leather embossing. I have a clothing line and I absolutely love the embossed look and was hoping to incorporate this art into my leather jacket sleeves. I’d like to be able to emboss both real and faux/fake leather, but- I have no idea if I can do this with those materials. It seems, from what I’ve seen so far tonight- that I need a good thick piece of leather to emboss and I’m afraid my clothing leather wont be able to be embossed. I really have no idea what I am capable of doing with this tool/craft and I’d like some guidance.

    If you have time, can you email me please I’d love to ask some questions to an expert. I wish there was a class in my city I could attend to learn this art.

    Thank you, Hope to hear back.


  4. Pardon me for asking, I am new to leather crafting and started off by jumping into the deep end by rebinding my Granny’s old leather King James Bible!

    I have seen several sites where embossing and debossing are switched around almost interchangeably. I was under the “impression” ( haha haha) that they were the opposite of one another. Emboss was a pattern or design in a raised relief against a background and deboss was the sunken pattern or design into a raised background!?

    Any insight into the two terms would be great thanks!


    1. Hi Buzz,

      You are correct. Embossing is a raised design, often made by stamping a die on the back of a material to product the design raised up on the front.

      Debossing is when you push a die into the front of a material and make a sunken design. Having said that most everyone who makes a design in leather on the front calls it embossing, even though it’s not technically correct. Even me. 🙂

  5. Hello, I’m not sure if this post is still being monitored. My question is, how do you make cowhide look like alligator skin? I have searched all over the Internet and cannot find a place that sells embossing Equipment for alligator skin. I don’t want some pre stamped. I want the equipment to make it.

    1. Hi there, thanks for asking. I admit that is a hard to find tool. But I found one over at Etsy. You can see it here:

      If you type in alligator skin embossing tool in Google you will find a few tools. Hope that helps, thanks.

      Hmmm, upon further look that seems to be a cake decoration tool, lol. I can’t find anything else, sorry.

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