Embossing/tooling leather

Leather items are already beautiful as they are, but you can also customize them by adding extra details. One way to add something more to your leather items is by embossing or tooling them. Embossing and tooling (also called carving) are similar leather crafting techniques, but with tooling you can create a more detailed result. Embossing and tooling leather do require some skill, so it’s recommended to first practice on leather scraps or old leather items. It should also be noted that these techniques may not work on all leather items, as the finish of the leather can influence the effect of the tools. 

Embossing leather

Embossing is a technique where you press a design into the leather using an embossing stylus. It’is mainly used to create line art, without any additional textures or shading effects. This makes embossing a relatively easy way to customize your leather items. Make sure to work on a hard surface, the less bounce it has, the better. 

What do you need?

-leather item



-tracing paper or other thin paper


-embossing/tracing stylus

How to emboss leather:

Step 1:

Trace or draw your planned design on the paper with pencil. Make sure the paper isn’t too thick, otherwise it’ll be difficult to get a good impression on the leather later.

Step 2:

Soak a sponge with water and wring out the excess. Use the sponge to wet the leather. The leather only needs to be damp, not soaked. Wait for the leather to start drying again. Wet leather is darker than dry leather, so once you start seeing lighter patches, you know the leather is drying. 

Step 3:

Place the paper with the design on the leather. You can use some masking tape to prevent the paper from sliding around. 

Step 4:

Trace the design with the embossing stylus. After the first line is traced, lift the paper to check how deep the imprint is. If it’s too faint, trace again using more pressure. Regularly check how the design is progressing on the leather. If you want a clean and even line art on the leather, you should keep an even pressure on the embossing pen.

Remove the paper once you’re done tracing the design and are satisfied with the depth of the embossing. You can always go over the design again after you’ve removed the paper to deepen the embossing a bit more.

Tooling leather

With the previously explained embossing technique you can create a simple line art type of design. With tooling, you can further flesh out that design by adding more details, textures and shading effects. Make sure to work on a hard surface, the less bounce it has, the better. 

The first step of tooling is embossing the design, so this is a continuation from the previous explanation.

What do you need?

-a variety of leather stamps 

-mallet or hammer (not a metal hammer)

-swivel knife

How to tool leather:

Step 1:

The first step in tooling a design on leather is embossing the line art of the design. You can see a step by step instruction for this earlier in this article.

Step 2:

Once you have the outline embossed onto the leather, it is time to carve the line art. Use a swivel knife to trace the embossed lines. It’s important to keep an even pressure on the knife for a clean result.

Step 3:

To add more depth and detail to the design you need to use a variety of leather stamps.

There are leather stamps with a smooth head to create depth and shading effects. These smooth stamps come in different shapes and sizes. Smaller heads can be used to emphasize certain corners and points along the line art, whereas larger heads can create a shading effect on, for example, a flower petal or leaf. 

Another type of leather stamps are those with a pattern on the head. These stamps should be used to create textures and patterns, which can both work as a shading effect or simply as some added details. 

To make sure you get a good imprint of the stamps, you need to tap the back of the stamp with a mallet. With round headed stamps, you can slowly drag the stamp over the leather while tapping the back of the stamp to create a smooth shading effect.