Embossing Versus Engraving/Thick Strokes Versus Thins

January 16, 2009

I’ve worked with commercial engraving and engravers for decades and was under the impression that the same die used for engraving with ink can also suffice for a nice blind embossing.

Not so.

And this makes sense, once I think it through without assumptions.

Engraving on paper was invented to replicate the (hand) written word; rather than making multiple copies of a document with pen and ink the message is cut BACKWARDS into the surface of a piece of metal (originally copper but later steel, zinc and sometimes magnesium.) The plate (which is thin) or die (thick) is inked—the ink wiped clean from the surface retained only in the cuts—then paper is pressed onto it by virtue of a “counter” (corresponding counter form cut from paper, board or a synthetic form)under approximately 2 tons of quick force.

Blind embossing is for decoration so it is usually made to look more pronounced. The die is cut in a similar manner (wither with a burin or with acid then touched-up by hand with the burin or graver) but deeper so there is more dramatic play of light and shadow. Good embossing dies are thick, usually 1/2” copper for short runs (in the hundreds) and brass for long runs (thousands).

So, if I were using a grape vine motif the grapes would be nice and round, the vines definite. If I engrave the same motif the modulation of the orbs would be implied rather than made to look literal. In a type application, I might want to blind emboss a logo built from 72pt Didot because the thicks and thins would be accentuated.

The smallest type I ever saw blind embossed was 2 or 4pt. No joke. Very subtle. It was used as a background pattern on an invitation.

I’ll post some specimens when I go to the other computer.


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