Make Your Own Stationery: A Guide to Heat Embossing

by Katy Kelleher

People always say that handmade gifts are the best gifts, but until recently, I never really thought that would apply to my life. As a marginally creative person who completely lacks the ability to bake cookies or paint pictures, I figured it would probably be better just to buy handmade soaps and junk like that. But I have come to realize that crafting is awesome! And not really that difficult. You, too, can make sweet little handmade cards — all you need to do is learn how to heat emboss.

Luckily, heat embossing, despite the Martha-esque results, is actually super easy. But before you get started, you’re going to need to pay a visit to your local stationery store and buy the following items: blank cards, a stamp, a heat gun, a stamp pad (I prefer ColorBox — they’re wetter than other brands), and embossing powder. (Optional: cute envelopes and strips of pretty paper.) While I’ve included links to everything online, if you live near a stationery store, do go. I live near a Paper Source, and I love it. Not only is it an amazing source of inspiration, but the people who work there tend to be very helpful when it comes to things like picking out stamp pads and teaching you new, fun techniques. OK, let’s do this.

Now that you’ve got your supplies all lined up, plug in that pink heat gun thing that kinda looks like a sex toy, and let it get ready for embossing. Once you’ve done that, you can take your stamp (I used a vaguely art nouveau-looking floral square) and press it into the stamp pad. After it’s all inked up, press it to your card, applying even amounts of pressure and being very, very careful not to smudge it. Though it sounds painfully easy, I suggest you practice on a piece of scrap paper first with each new stamp you use, since some tend to have uneven edges and others can come out skewed. Make sure you know what you’re doing before you ruin a good (and fairly expensive) piece of cardstock.

There, now you have a colorful image! But before it dries, take out your embossing powder and sprinkle it directly on the ink. Some people like to dust it, but I just dump it all on there to make sure it gets good and powdered. Tap off the excess onto a piece of scrap paper (or directly back into your powder pot). And feel free to ignore my horrendously chipped nails; I’ve been too busy crafting and doing other womanly stuff to even consider a manicure.

If you are using colored powder, it’s always a good idea to take an old makeup brush to any extra powder that gets stuck on the card. Clear powder will show up clear (duh) but black powder can make a real mess if you don’t brush all the smudges away. Actually, unless you’re really great at this, I think you should stick to clear powder with colored ink. It’s much easier than the colored powder (save that for once you’ve had a bit of practice).

(This is what it should look like when you’re done. It should be totally covered in white dust with only minimal stray bits.)

Scoot over on the floor — or you know, reach across the table, if you’re more civilized than I am — to where your pink heat gun is plugged into the wall and turn it on. Make sure it’s hot. It should feel like an incredibly lazy blowdryer. Point your weapon at the card, hovering about an inch above the image. Move it around slowly to prevent focusing too much heat in any one area. (This can cause the card to curl up unattractively.) As you do this, you’ll notice that some parts are getting darker and shiner, which means it’s almost done.

Once you’ve melted all the plastic powder, take the gun away and admire your work. The stamped portion should look plastic-y and feel hard to the touch. Unlike a regular stamp, this image is now waterproof(ish) and won’t smudge. It also looks much, much nicer. Professional, even!

At this point, I usually like to jazz up my card with a strip or two of pretty, patterned paper. If you want to do this, you might need to get a paper cutter, because cutting in a perfectly straight line is maddeningly difficult and not worth the effort.

Now, go forth and make yourself a set of cards — or, even better, make a few for someone else. The nice thing about this process is that you can mix and match, creating a “set” of blank, personalized notecards that isn’t boring. If you want to get extra fancy, you can order a custom-made stamp with your name and address — or your wedding info, since ’tis the season. Also, this almost goes without saying, but these are the perfect mom gifts. If your mom is anything like mine, she’ll begin crying tears of pure pinot grigio the second she unwraps her set of handmade, personalized cards. Oh, and if you’re having a garden party anytime soon, these would make for the perfect invitations. Or anything from this shop. The possibilities are pretty much endless.

Katy Kelleher is a nightlife writer for NBC. She spends her free time playing with paper.