Embossing on silver and copper

I was a printmaker in a former life (well…guess I still
am…just expanded into jewelry!), and still have my old heavily
etched plates and printing presses. I have been playing with the idea
of taking soft silver and copper sheets or shapes and running them
through a press on my old steel heavily etched plates. Will the
etched surfaces transfer do you think? Anyone ever done this?

Beth in SC

Since I’m wholly unfamiliar with printing presses I can’t say much
of anything about that, but I do know that you can emboss things as
fine as lace and textured paper onto silver and copper with a rolling
mill. I’d think that a heavy steel plate would work just as well, if
not better. The steel could damage the rollers though, so it would be
a good idea to keep a sheet of scrap copper between it and the mill.

Charles Lewton-Brain posted an article about it on Ganoksin. I can’t
remember if links work on this list, but if so, here it is.

If not, it’s listed under “Surface Manipulation” on the jewelery
making articles page.

Willis Hance


adjust the tension on the printmakers press to increase the psi. and
ANNEAL the silver-the thinnest you can get away with will yield the
best result .However you could, if you have access to one, run a
portion of the steel plates (as most flat rollers aren’t large
enough) through a rolling mill,the printmaking press or a screwpress
if nothing else is available (though a screwpress is the least
effective because it relies on straight thrusted pressure to
transferr the image and you’ll need a great deal of pressure (and
registration marke to reline it up if necessary and the image will
be more akin to die cut into the annealed sheet or shapes) between
thin brass or copper sheets. One thing to remember is when heating
your very thin substrate lay a thin coating of beeswax on the surface
of the steel without pressure.As long as it’s deeply etched the wax
won’t run into the design and post coating you can refine the etched
lines to insure nothing is essentially masqued.Alternatively and
additionally, a sheet of onion skin type paper (extremely
lightweight) will prevent contamination of the precious metal from
the steel that wont be revealed until you pickle the piece… So
just heat the plate,run beeswax over the surface,or lay on onion skin
and tape down with a graphics style tape, press the annealed metal
and then refine the etching if necessary.Always and perhaps
repeatedly anneal the metal to which you want to transfer the image
(you may have to repeat the beeswax application)- you won’t get the
deep channels, but you will transfer the image which can then be
refined to the depth you desire and you may get a debossed end result
that can then worked to your specifications.Ultimately you’ll get a
reverse of the original that can then be re-run through the press (a
rolling mill will work if the flat area is large enough to
accommodate your plates) to turn it back to the original image you
wanted to copy…It’ll look great- (wish I hadn’t lost my old plates
to rust after the flood after Katrina !). If you need further
assistance, I live with a printmaker so feel free to contact me for
her email address if you need collaboration or want to run something
by her (she holds an MFA in printmaking)


Sounds like you’ll end up with a product very similar to roller
printing (where we put brass/copper/silver through the rolling mill
with maybe some paper towel, or window screen or what have you with a
brass sheet on top, sandwiching it together). Of course you’ll not
get the depth you do in paper, and more so if the printing press has
a thick felt base, but let us know how it turns out. As the rollers
are still I can’t see much wear happening due to your experiment.

Best of luck,
K. David Woolley
Fredericton, NB
Diversiform Metal Art & Jewellery

Hi Beth,

I think that this is very do-able. You can experiment with using
your printing presses as well as a rolling mill and hydraulic press.
Your steel plates will last longer, and be less damaged, I think, if
you use a soft material to help push the copper or silver into the
recesses of the steel. Since my expertise is with they hydraulic
press, I’ll give you the quick essentials for using urethane in a
hydraulic press–I think the concepts transfer to a printing press or
rolling mill and paper towel, leather, or felt might be used instead
of urethane with these other tools:

-the thinner the metal, the better the details

-the harder the urethane the better the details (yes, I know that
this one is counter-intuitive, but it is true)

-the thinner the urethane, the better the details

–However, to avoid damaging the urethane, the urethane should be at
least twice as thick as the depth of the recesses that the metal is
being pushed into

-large areas press more easily than small areas

-to get the details of the smaller areas, it may be necessary to
press a second time (or third, or more) with small pieces of urethane
over the “problem areas”

-the higher the pressure the better the detail

– However, avoid excess pressure, which can damage the tools and

I hope this helps. Have fun!
Cynthia Eid