There’s something swanky about a leather accessory. It is luxurious and timeless, not to mention beautiful. You can also personalize it to reflect your personality – or add a personal touch to a gift. If you love crafts and DIYs, you may wonder how to engrave leather.
Various methods are used for engraving leather. The process starts with transferring a design to the material. It is then etched, burnt, punctured, or sewn on the hide. For each technique, a specialized tool or device is required.
Whether you’re an advanced crafter or a newbie: you can have fun with this craft. Let’s learn all about how to engrave leather!
Table of Contents
What is Leather Engraving?
When you engrave leather – or any other material – you incise a design onto the surface. Since the hide’s surface is flat, engraving creates an embossed effect, and the design sticks out in relief.
Engraving leather is a popular method of adding ornamentation to the leather surface. It can add letters, patterns, logos, or artistic designs. That way, you can personalize it in any way you want.
There are several easy methods of engraving leather at home. Even a simple carving knife should be enough for this purpose. Many inexpensive mechanical tools help DIYers.
Large-scale leather engraving for fashion companies uses laser machines or other advanced devices. But smaller specialized tools are sufficient if you want to make a gift for someone or start a small craft shop on Etsy.
How to Engrave Leather – 8 Techniques to Try at Home
You can engrave any leather item – wallets, belts, bookmarks, etc. Today, I’ll tell you how to impress leather at home. You will also learn about the different tools you will need, too!
What is it?
Leather carving is a process popularly used for designing leather by hand. In this process, you have to cut away from the leather surface. This subtractive process removes a part of the surface and the design from the outside, creating a 3D look.
The carved portions on the leather surface have a sunken appearance compared to the surrounding raised areas. Once you have mastered the basic cutting, you can also press and curve or contour the surface of the leather for advanced designs.
Tools You Need
You can use manual tools like a swivel knife, chisel, and scraper for carving. Most newbies start with a swivel tool. Make sure that it is sharp enough to dig into the leather surface.
You can also use an engraving pen for this purpose. It is a mechanical tool with various bits. It is electricity- or battery-powered to make the job easier. It’s helpful if you’re just starting.
You can also use stamping tools to contour and shade the surface and create variations. But this is not a required tool at the early stage of learning to carve. Don’t forget a stylus to draw a pattern.
- Wash down the surface of the leather piece or product on which you want to carve a design. Doing so will change the surface color.
- Soon, you will notice dry spots on the surface. At this point, use a stylus to press on the leather and transfer the image of the design you want to carve.
- After that, use a cutting or engraving tool to incise the leather along the lines of the drawn pattern.
Here’s a video to show you a simple way to get started with leather carving.
b) Embossing and Debossing
What is it?
Embossing and debossing leather is a process that creates a combination of raised and recessed relief patterns on the surface. Embossing means raising the pattern against the surface, while debossing makes the design sink into the surface.
You have to use a tool to press into the leather. This entire process is usually referred to as embossing. You can also say that it is a stamping method. Interestingly, embossing or stamping can also be a part of other engraving methods, especially carving.
Tools you need
There are different types of stamping tools or steel plates you can use. They have patterns on them and are pressed onto the leather. The design appears on its surface.
You’ll also need a texturing hammer. It is also called a stamping hammer, stamping maul, leather mallet, or gunsmithing hammer. It is used for striking the stamp to put pressure.
Advanced leather imprinting machines, hydraulic presses, etc., are used for pro work. But you don’t need those. But you may need a stylus to stamp along with a pattern.
- Start by wetting down the hide. Make sure that it’s not too mushy. Otherwise, the design won’t be sharp.
- Use a stylus to transfer your chosen pattern to the leather, if any. If you want to stamp a border, you can draw a straight line as a guide with a ruler.
- Place the stamping tool on the wet surface. Then, using the mallet, start striking the back of the stamp. You can also get the job done with a single strike.
Don’t get confused! Check out this video and learn to emboss on leather like a pro.
What is it?
Branding is also called hot stamping. This technique also uses a stamp to etch a pattern on the leather. The only difference is that it uses a hot stamp. The heat burns the design on the hide, making this process fast and easy.
Branding is probably one of the oldest methods of marking leather. You probably know about livestock branding, where a hot stamp is used to burn a section on the animal’s skin. Branding leather is similar to that.
This technique results in a dark mark on the leather resulting from burning. Since you have to use some force to brand leather, the design will have a sunken effect on the leather. Thus, the design will create a texture and have a unique color.
Tools you need
To use this technique, you need a branding iron. It is powered by electricity to heat the stamp’s surface with the pattern – and has multiple temperature settings.
You can also use a regular metal stamp and heat the surface using a hot iron gun or just the toaster oven at home!
Another accessory that you should use while branding is a pair of gloves. These will provide safety. You will also need a stylus for drawing, as usual.
- Heat the stamp or iron to a temperature based on how dark or light you want the mark to be. A higher temperature creates a more scorched effect.
- Wash the leather surface using a wet stamp. Then, using a stylus, mark the spot or pattern where you want to stamp. You may need to do this repeatedly.
- Don’t hesitate to use a little force. Take the now hot stamp and press it down on the leather. Remember that the longer you press, the darker the design.
Here is a video to help you learn how to hot stamp with basic tools!
What is it?
Pyrography is yet another method of engraving and decorating leather using a burning technique. But instead of a stamp, it uses a sharper, more pointed tool to draw unique patterns, as you’d do in the case of carving with the help of an engraving pen.
You’ll be surprised to know that “pyrography” literally means “writing with fire.” By scorching the surface, you can use this method to write or draw on a piece of leather. So you could say that pyrography combines branding and carving techniques.
Tools you need
You need to use a specialized tool for leather pyrography, i.e., a pyrography pen. This iron tool is a small handheld device powered by electricity or a battery.
This leather-burning tool should be compliant with different types of tips or bits. Thus, it is a versatile gadget that allows you to make lines and patterns as fine or as thick as possible.
Due to the design and size of this tool, it is considered risk-free. But to be safe, you may wear gloves. And, for drawing, don’t forget your trusted stylus!
Using a burnisher before starting the drawing process is also a good idea. This simple tool with a flat surface presses down on the leather and smoothens it.
- Turn on the burning iron and let the device heat up. Adjust the temperature according to the darkness or lightness of the burnt mark.
- Wet the leather surface and press the burnisher on the leather to smoothen it. Wet the surface again if the leather becomes too dry.
- Use a stylus to create a basic outline on the hide surface. Then, with the pyrography pen, start drawing. Press longer and harder to darken some sections.
Check out this video and find out how much fun pyrography can be.
e) Laser Engraving
What is it?
Laser engraving is a modern method used to engrave leather with excellent finesse and accuracy. This advanced technique uses laser beams to create patterns on the surface. The beam acts like a chisel to carve the design on the hide for a deep, dark incision.
The patterns are precise – and this technique doesn’t require much handling from the user. It requires a dedicated machine that projects the laser beam. When this beam hits the hide, it burns and evaporates the surface layer, turning it into fumes.
Tools you need
There are different types of laser engraving machines, from basic to advanced. For your DIY crafting purpose, you need a small laser machine, though other tabletop devices are also available.
These portable laser engraving devices are equipped with different mechanisms. The basic idea is to connect it to a smartphone/computer to provide the image.
For laser engraving to be safe, you should protect your eyes with a pair of tinted glasses. Most DIY laser devices come with them.
- Your laser engraver may need some minor assembly. Read the manual. Also, understand how to use the device.
- Install the app/software on your phone or computer to connect the device to the laser machine. This software/app should send the image/design to the device.
- Place the laser machine on the table and set the leather appropriately. Turn on the laser and allow the device to engrave the pattern on the hide.
Here’s a video that shows how the laser engraving device might work.
What is it?
Foiling or foil printing is a unique technique of color printing using tinted foil. The method allows the color of the foil to transfer to the hide’s surface. This transfer needs pressure. But the primary force required is heat.
It is exciting to add colors to your leather design using a thin color film or stamping foil. It is easy to incorporate this method into other engraving techniques (called blind printing) and get colorful engravings on leather.
When you place the stamping foil on the leather, you must apply heat and some pressure. The color will transfer to the leather surface from the portions where the stamp applies pressure. The process can be completed with the help of various tools.
Tools you need
To add color to leather, you need to use a reactive color film or stamping foil. These foils usually have a metallic finish for a luxurious finish to the engraved section.
The easiest way to do this is using a foil transfer machine. There are advanced machines that can be connected to the computer.
You can also use a stamping pen. It works like a carving or pyrography pen, powered by electricity or batteries to heat the tip. Applying it to the foil helps transfer the color.
Without such specialized tools, the method needs a hot stamping iron. Or, you can heat your regular stamp in the oven or use a hot air gun.
- For a foiling machine, use the app/software recommended to transfer a design from a PC/phone. Place the leather and the foil on it in the device and print.
- While using a hot stamping pen, draw the design on the shiny side of the foil. Place it on the hide and use the hot pen tip to draw along the design lines.
- For hot stamping, put a foil shiny side up on the hide. Press down the hot stamp. If it’s not a branding iron, heat a regular stamp with a toaster oven or hot air gun.
Here’s a video that shows an easy way to get it done.
What is it?
The technique of perforation involves punching holes into the leather. It is different from other engraving methods that merely manipulate the hide’s surface. Perforation is an excellent choice for belts, hats, bookmarks, and similar items that use a thin leather layer.
Perforation is a technique used to make leather breathable and accommodate belt buckles, shoelaces, etc. But you can decorate leather with this technique. You have to punch holes of various shapes and sizes and create a pattern.
Tools you need
The tool of choice for perforation is a drive punch for decorative purposes. Some punching devices have interchangeable tips. These are available in different shapes and sizes.
A popular tool is the comb-like pricking iron that looks like this with sharp fork-shaped tips for multiple holes at once. Beginners also use leather chisels and scratch awls to drive holes.
For all the above tools, you will need a mallet. It helps strike the drive punch, pricking iron, chisel, or scratch awl to apply pressure and cut through the hide.
A rotary punch is another device that can be used. This tool looks like a scissor with a wheel-like head. This wheel is fitted with thick and sharp punches all around it.
If you’re planning on following a specific pattern you want to perforate, you’ll need one other tool. You’ve guessed it: the stylus!
- Clean the surface of the hide lightly. Do not allow too much water to soak into the surface of the leather. Just wet it enough to make the image transference easy.
- Using a stylus, create a design, drawing, pattern, etc., on the hide. You can use different stylus tips to develop a guideline for different types of holes.
- Punch holes into the hide along with your pattern using perforating tools and a mallet. You can use a pricking iron or rotary punch for borders or uniform holes.
Here’s a detailed guideline to help you understand perforation.
What is it?
Embroidering leather is the craft of sewing patterns on leather using thread. Granted, it is different from other techniques used to engrave leather. But it is undoubtedly a popular decorating method and complements other leather engraving techniques.
It is not too different from regular fabric embroidery. You just have to use sturdier tools to perforate the thick leather material. This method also allows decorative materials like beads, sequins, quills, and more to make your craft more interesting.
Tools you need
If you want to embroider leather by hand, you need proper needles. These should be thick and strong enough to prevent bending.
However, if you are more into sewing by machine, you’ll need a specialized leather sewing machine equipped with a specific program. It should also have needles for leather.
Use strong threads like silk, polyester, etc., for this purpose. You can also use other items like beads and sequins. Remember the stylus for transferring the pattern.
- Smoothen the surface of the leather by cleaning it. You can use a stabilizer for the same, too.
- With a stylus, draw the chosen pattern on the hide. You can create a guideline by punching holes in it using a needle, especially if you want to hand-embroider it.
- Start the process of embroidering along with the pattern. You can incorporate other decorative items into your design.
I’ve attached a video here to show you how to embroider leather.
Which is easier for beginners, engraving wood or leather?
Each material has its own set of challenges when it comes to engraving. Wood is soft and porous, so it’s easy to make mistakes. Leather is tough and unforgiving, making it difficult to get a clean cut. So, which is the better material for beginners?
Here’s a quick rundown of the pros and cons of each:
+ Easy to work with
+ Forgiving of mistakes
+ Can be stained or painted for added effect
– Porous nature can make engraving messy
– Easily damaged
+ Durable and long-lasting
+ Clean cuts are easy to achieve
+ Unique texture adds interest
– Difficult to work with
– unforgiving of mistakes
– Can be expensive
So, there you have it! As you can see, each material has its advantages and disadvantages. If you’re just starting, engraving wood may be the better option. It’s easy to work with and forgiving of mistakes. However, leather is the way to go if you’re looking for a material that will last a lifetime. Just be prepared for a bit of a learning curve!
What is the best leather for engraving?
For most techniques of engraving leather, it’s best to use full-grain leather. That’s because it’s strong and can handle engraving techniques without getting damaged.
For perforation and embroidery, go for thin leather. Always use animal-tanned leather for natural colors.
Should I wet leather before engraving?
It’s a good idea to wet the surface of a piece of leather before engraving it. Doing so will make the material easier to manipulate and will be molded into the design faster and better. But don’t wet beyond the top layer. Especially for embroidery or perforation, just wash the surface.
How can I transfer a pattern to leather before engraving?
Choose a design or pattern for your leathercraft and have it ready on a piece of paper. Then, place a piece of tracing paper on the design and draw the design on it.
Put this tracing paper on the leather and run a stylus over the pattern to transfer it to the hide.
How can I engrave a leather wallet?
Leather wallets can be engraved using carving, pyrography, embossing, stamping, laser engraving, etc. After washing down the surface, transfer the design using a stylus. Then, start engraving! Depending on the technique, choose your tools to do it.
Leathercraft might be a fun new art form if you are a DIYer. But if you have never tried it, you may wonder how to engrave leather. Thankfully, some incredible techniques are super-easy.
You can use different methods of etching and beautifying leather for any product. Just let your imagination run wild – and have fun!