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Debossed Leather – Aesthetic and Functional Impressions

I had never heard the term “debossed” before. I was asking for suggestions on a project I was about to begin. It turns out that debossing leather is essentially “stamping” or “tooling” the leather. I’m going to take a deeper look into the art of debossing, come with me.

Debossing leather is the act of compressing leather to leave a recessed impression using moisture, heat or the excessive force of an industrial press. Debossing can be done on any kind of leather and can be seen on countless leather goods most commonly in the form of a maker’s mark or business logo.

The word “Debossed” is less common than its counterpart “Embossed”. Unfortunately the two get misused and often, one is used in place of the other. The last thing we want to do is pay for an expensive custom maker’s mark only to get the opposite of what I had envisioned. Let’s talk about terminology today.

What is Debossed Leather?

Debossed leather has been tooled, stamped or creased leaving a recessed impression in the surface of the leather. This can be done with a machine such as an arbor press or by hand using a mallet and stamping tool. Debossing leather or any medium for that matter is a matter of using moisture, heat, or brute force in the form of compression.

Debossed Letters on Leather Discs - Debossed Leather - Liberty Leather Goods
Debossed Letters on Leather Discs

What Is the Difference Between Embossed and Debossed?

The simplest explanation is that “Embossed” images stand proud above the surface of the material (ie: raised lettering). The background area is compressed leaving the letters, numbers, or image standing out prominently above. 

“Debossing” is the exact opposite, the main image is recessed into the fibers. This is very common among leathercrafters that use a maker’s mark or business logo. Some are embossed and stand out, but most are symbols or images pressed into the leather with force or heat. 

Both Embossing and Debossing can be (and often are) done the same way by the very same tools, the difference is what gets pressed into the fibers of the leather and what is left uncompressed. Hot foil stamping can be either Debossed or Embossed depending on the die and how it is machined.

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Creasing leather along the edges is debossing. It is a recession left in the grains. To be “Embossed” that crease would be a ridge left standing above the surface while the area around the ridge was compressed instead.

Debossed leather has been tooled, stamped or creased leaving a recessed impression in the surface of the leather.

Tools Used To Deboss Leather

Anything can be used to deboss leather. Drawing lines on leather while marking a cutline or glue line can be considered Debossing. Machined dies made of brass, steel or even hardened resin are the most common tools used in debossing leather. Other tools used in the process include mallets, mauls, arbor presses, hot foil stamping machines, creasers, stamping tools and more.

How Is Leather Debossed

Leather is debossed when the fibers of the hide are compressed using moisture, heat or extreme pressure to leave a recessed impression in the top grain of the leather. This can be achieved using hand tools, powered tools, or hydraulic tools which help to produce a significant amount of concentrated force. This force enables the design to be debossed to press deeply into the leather’s surface.

Debossed Lettering on a Journal Cover - Debossed Leather - Liberty Leather Goods
Debossed Lettering on a Journal Cover

Popular Debossed Leather Items

Everything that is made of leather typically has a maker’s mark or business logo stamped into it. Sometimes it is pressed into the leather leaving a depression (debossing) in the top grain. In other designs, the background around the text or image is pressed down leaving the logo standing proud (embossing). 

Patches

A popular option for debossing a maker’s mark or business logo into before stitching onto a project. Patches are an amazing way to highlight a project. 

Portfolios

Leather Portfolios will tend to have a maker’s logo debossed into the surface of one of the pockets. The mark is usually placed out of the way but in a location that is still prominently seen when the portfolio is laid open. These kinds of items also tend to get a mark or logo debossed in a conspicuous location on the back.

Journals

Much like the Portfolio, Journal covers will typically have some kind of logo or icon debossed on an interior location such as a card slot, and again on the back of the cover in a clearly conspicuous location that does not take away from the aesthetic of the cover. Journal covers may have the added artwork of an image being debossed right into the front cover as well.

Wallets

Wallets can have debossed markings on every surface. Many custom wallets get the name of the person the wallet is being made for debossed into the lower right corner on the front of the wallet. Just like journal covers, wallet covers may get an image of some kind debossed into them as a way to set them apart from mass produced versions. The inside panels of a wallet are also prime locations for a debossed logo design.

Brown leather wallet with debossing - Debossing Leather - Liberty Leather Goods
Brown leather wallet with debossing

Card Holders

One of the most common things created by leatherworkers is the card holder. Debossing an image on the front is not common, but also not unheard of either. Most makers will simply leave their mark on the lower back panel of a card holder.

Here is an informative video on debossing leather using a heated press.

Insights

Debossing is a process that can be performed with almost any medium. Papers, cardboard, card stock, foam, leather, plastic, etc… There are countless applications for the debossing process and just as many materials that will take and hold an impression. 

Can leather be debossed with a cricut maker?

Yes. Cricut machines can deboss leather but the machine must be set up correctly with the right tools or dies in place to leave the impression(s).

Can I deboss leather myself at home?

Yes. There are many tools we have talked about that can be used to deboss leather at home. The most common among them use moisture to wet the fibers of the leather or heat to soften the fibers before or during the compression (debossing) process.

In Closing

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With the knowledge of what “Debossing” is and the tools that can be utilized to create an impression… It is now your turn to go, be creative, and leave your impression on the world. This is a fun and very visual technique that can be utilized on great projects and in the shop.

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