One of the best parts of working with leather is the ability to customize projects. One popular addition that I have been recently looking into is engraving. The ability to add names, designs, or images onto leather excites me. I have been dreaming of adding my logo or customer’s initials.
Engraving leather is adding an image to leather with a laser-powered machine or a cutting Cricut. Each method alters the leather by burning it or cutting the surface. The cost of engraving tools starts at $40 but can significantly increase depending on the machine purchased.
Each way of engraving leather has unique benefits. Let us examine the various options to help you decide which engraving method is right for you.
What Is Engraving Leather?
Engraving leather is the process of adding an image onto leather by cutting or burning. The engraving process takes specialized tools, or stamps, to create consistent markings each time it is used. Heating elements, such as branding tools or laser cutters, are best suited for light color leathers as they leave the image by darkening the surface.
Cutting tools, like a Cricut machine, can be used by removing the leather’s surface. However, this machine will require the engraving attachment to be purchased separately. In addition, since the leather is cut, it can create some unwanted issues when the leather is used in a high-strain area.
What We’ll Explore
- Clearing up Myths & Misconceptions
- Reasons You Might Choose to Engrave Leather
- Variations or Styles of Engraving Leather
- How to Engrave Leather Overview Table
- Skill Level of Engraving Leather
- Tools and Supplies Needed to Engrave Leather
- How to Engrave Leather Step by Step
- How to Get Better at Engraving Leather
- My Personal Research on Engraving Leather
- Helpful Insights on How to Engrave Leather
- Key Takeaways
Clearing Up Myths & Misconceptions
Engraving leather is often seen as a big undertaking that will require expensive and large machines. However, depending on the goal, engraving can be done on a budget. For those who simply want to add a high-quality logo to their work, branding tools can be purchased for less than $50. A custom stamp will need to be purchased as well.
However, with the combination, any leather can be engraved. Foil can even be combined to create a luxury look without purchasing large machines. Those looking to make custom projects with unique images however, will be best suited for a laser machine. Since the machine is only being used for engraving, not cutting, less expensive lasers may be purchased.
Reasons You Might Choose To Engrave Leather
Engraving leather is a great way to customize projects for any situation. The most common is a brand logo. With this, each project will have a seal of approval that helps cement a small business as professional.
Alternatively, engraving can be used to add value to a project. By including a customer’s logo, initials, or any other image, the final piece they receive is tailor-made. Engraving can also add visual details to a project to tie the whole thing together.
Themed projects that use colors and shapes to help convey an idea can be further realized with the addition of engraving. This helps each project become unique through the addition of imagery. Rajkishore Nayak, Debi Prasad Gon, and Asimananda Khandual, from The Technological Institute of Textile & Science, in Bhiwani, India, provide an outlook on how leather engraving can be used in the fashion industry.
While currently, brogue shoes are the most popular area for designs; engraving can be applied to everything. From bags to jackets, with the help of leather engraving, designers can further individualize their fashion wear.
Variations or Styles of Engraving Leather
Engraving leather can be broken into two distinct styles: marking and removing leather. Marking leather involves using heat generated by different tools to burn the leather surface, leaving behind an image. This can be done by hand with an electric branding tool, but laser engraving is the most versatile option.
On the other hand, engraving leather by removing it is not a standard method. However, engraving bit images can be cut into the leather with the use of a Cricut. Engraving through cutting leather is not ideal, as it can hurt the leather’s integrity if it is not thick enough.
How To Engrave Leather Overview Table
|Area of Preparation||Details|
|Overall Level of Skill (1–5)||2–3|
|Time to Complete (minutes/hours)||5 mins–hours|
|Workspace Needed||Worktable, up to a small corner in a room, depending on the tool used.|
|Skills Needed||Design and file management|
|Tools and Supplies Needed||Stamps, heating element, foil, or engraving attachment|
|Key Helpful Tip||Always test on scrap leather before use on a final project|
Skill Level of Engraving Leather
Most engraving tools are an automatic process that only requires a design and an understanding on the mechanics of the machine. Design files will be created in a vector graphics editor before being exported as the proper file for each machine.
Leather is then lined up using the provided equipment, and the program can be run, engraving the leather. Using hand tools may be more difficult, as they require the user to draw any image they wish to put on the leather by hand. With branding tools, complete awareness of the device is also needed.
If left on the leather too long, it may cause it to char. However, if left on too short, the marking left behind will be faint. However, this can be quickly picked up through trials using scrap leather, making each design consistent in the future.
The engraving process takes specialized tools, or stamps, to create consistent markings each time it is used.
Tools and Supplies Needed to Engrave Leather
The tools needed for engraving depend on the method used to apply the designs. Hand tools require an electric branding heating element. They typically come with additional tips or small stamps, each providing a unique look. Foil is an optional supply for engraving leather, but when used with a hot stamp, it can produce high-quality colored markings.
Laser cutters come with all the supplies needed to engrave leather and will only require setting up the machine to begin. Cricut machines will also require assembly before being used. However, they require an additional engraving tool sold separately to engrave leather.
How to Engrave Leather Step by Step
- Choosing leather – The first step for achieving a nice engraving on leather is picking the proper hide for the project. Each leather takes engraving differently; however, the best leather is thick, non-textured, natural vegetable tanned leather.
- Choose the size – The design used for engraving is equally as important. Overly complex designs will most likely require a large area, so it is important to consider how a design may look at different sizes. Once it has been finalized, the file can be used to produce a stamp or engrave using an automatic machine.
For Automatic Machines:
- Export the file – Automatic machines like laser or Cricut cutters simply require exporting the file so the engraving can begin. Each will come with work mats with which the leather will be placed and centered.
- Complete a trial run – The engraving process can begin once a trial run has been completed. – OR
Using Hand Tools:
- Heat stamp – Hand tools used for engraving are slightly different. Different tips can be attached, with custom stamps being the most consistent. The stamp is attached to the element, which is then powered on, and will begin heating the tip.
- Press stamp – Press the stamp firmly into the leather with even pressure once it has had ample time to heat up. Hold it on the leather for a few seconds before removal.
With any engraving method, practicing on a scrap piece before attempting to work on the final piece is best.
Check out this helpful video provided by Springbok Craft Co, demonstrating how to engrave leather using an engraving attachment on a Cricut machine and comparing the results to a debossing attachment.
How to Get Better at Engraving Leather
The best way to get better at engraving leather is to understand your tools and the leather you are using fully. Laser-cutting machines and Cricut tools utilize programs that offer an array of options that may lead to a better outcome.
This can be as simple as better centering your engraving or redesigning an image to better work with the shape of the leather. Laser machines, in particular, have power settings that can change the laser’s strength. Too much power and the leather may be cut or charred. Each piece of leather will require different strengths to get the perfect engraving.
Choosing the right leather is also very important when engraving. A dark, textured, or heavily finished leather will not produce the best final product. Try experimenting with leather types and tool settings to dial in the perfect combination for engraving leather fully.
My Personal Research on Engraving Leather
Most crafters who want to start engraving on leather don’t typically know where to start. I decided to research laser machine retailers, and leather engraving forums, to help uncover what is best for this process.
Boss Laser Leather Engraving
My first information source for leather engraving came from Boss Laser’s website. They provide a detailed blog post on the page with leather types you can use with their laser, details, and tips. They include full grain, top grain, split leathers, as well as Nubuck and suede on their site. They also list deer and buckskin which are typically lighter-weight leathers.
Included on the list are synthetic leathers. While the laser can engrave synthetic leathers, it is important to note that some finishing coats used on synthetic leathers, such as polyurethane, can produce toxic fumes. When working with any type of leather, it is important to understand what it is made from to reduce the risk of harmful fumes.
Some tips provided by Boss Laser were how to adjust the laser according to the weight of the leather. They recommend starting at lower settings to avoid cutting your leather. Using lower speeds or higher power as the leather becomes thicker. Boss Laser also suggests sticking to light color leathers for good contrast, but even black leather can be engraved with much lower contrast.
The best way to learn how a product works is to research what others have experienced. When looking at information posted by fellow crafters, I got a much better look at how leather engraving occurs. Leather engraving with a laser is described as trying to balance the burning. Most new to leather engraving seem to experience issues with their laser settings.
Many consider the leather’s thickness but have trouble with smaller details becoming scorched. A few solutions were provided for this.
- The first was to lower the laser power or increase the laser speed. With fine details, the laser is focused on one area much longer than others. Changing one of those settings may be possible to avoid the charring entirely.
- Alternatively, leather engraving can be broken up. Instead of engraving the entire project at once, crafters suggest doing the fine details separately. Ensuring you have full control over the power of the laser without the rest of the image being lightened.
- The most straightforward solution is changing the design to suit better what the equipment can do. For projects that will be mass-produced, it may be easier to make the smaller details larger or forgo them entirely to ensure consistency throughout each piece. Those looking to create the perfect engraving for passion projects may be able to dial in the ideal settings. However, when speed is a factor, it is often best to adjust a design if changing the power settings is not producing the best results.
With laser engraving being the most effective way to apply designs to leather, having a deeper look into it helps uncover why. With the information provided by Boss Laser and the leather crafting community, it is clear that laser engraving products are achievable with some troubleshooting. However, once dialed in, there is nothing faster or more consistent as laser for engraving leather.
Helpful Insights on How to Engrave Leather
How do you put engraving on leather?
To put an engraving on leather, design an image you want to place on the leather. Export the file into the necessary program for your laser or Cricut cutting machine. Use a test piece of leather to dial in the power and see if any changes need to be made. Prepare the final leather by placing it flat on the work surface and taping it down if necessary. Use the settings created when testing the leather to engrave the surface of the leather. Wipe away any charring or fibers if necessary.
Do you engrave or emboss leather?
You can both engrave and emboss leather. Only the leather surface is marked or cut when engraving leather, producing the image mostly evenly. Embossing leather, however, presses a design into leather. By pressing designs into leather, the artwork has more depth, going well past the surface.
What do you engrave leather with?
Leather is engraved using heat or cutting into the material’s surface. Laser-cutting machines can be set up at lower power to engrave the leather’s surface rather than cut it. A Cricut cutter can be used but requires a different tip. However, this tip will cut into the surface of the leather rather than burn it.
What tool do you use to engrave leather?
The most common tools for engraving leather are a leather burner, a laser cutting machine, and a Cricut cutter. A leather burning tool and laser cutting machine darken the leather’s surface using heat. The main difference is a laser cutter is an automatic process. Similarly, a Cricut cutter with an engraving attachment can also create images in leather.
Can I use a Dremel to engrave leather?
While it is not recommended, you can use a Dremel to engrave leather. By creating a stencil out of masking tape, a Dremel can be powered to scrape off the leather’s surface, cutting out a design. While this may work to produce an image, removing the surface can cause structural issues. The leather surface is tightly intertwined, and as an area is removed, the surrounding parts will be more likely to peel or crack.
- Engraving leather can be done on a budget with an electric hand tool.
- Light-colored leathers are best for engraving as they provide the most contrast.
- Laser engraving machines are the most efficient for engraving leather but can be costly.
Engraving leather is a unique way to customize leather projects by adding images to the surface. It may require additional equipment, but simple designs and logos can be easily added through electric hand tools. Those looking to dive further into leather engraving will find that laser machines work best for providing varied designs with consistent results.
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