In this post I am taking another look at blind embossing and asking the question ‘what is the key to success for combining blind embossing with colour?’

blind embossed print by Alison Bernal

Blind embossing seems to have been a bit of a theme over the last few weeks. I recently did a one to one on-line session to help one of my blog readers get to grips with blind embossing. We had some great discussions, and as often happens with teaching, I came away with more ideas than I had started with!

After that I went to the recent Printmakers Council exhibition ‘Surface Challenge’ at the Barbican and was struck by the number of prints combining blind embossing with some coloured printed elements.

Prints by Alison Bernal, Victoria Johns and Marie Louise Martin particularly caught my attention..

Blind embossing combined with colour

I thought it was time for another look at blind embossing, this time in relation to adding coloured elements, either with printing ink or chine collée.  

The image above is from ‘Folded’ series by Alison Bernal.

colourful silhouette of William Morris with embossed frame

Marie Louise Martin

In this print Marie Louise Martin has combined a wonderful rich coloured silhouette of William Morris with a sharp embossed surround referencing his designs.

coloured botanical print with embossed surround


Victoria Johns

This botanical print by Victoria Johns combines a coloured image set within blind embossed plant material. I like the way some of the embossing has escaped and crept in front of the coloured image….

Finding middle ground between blind embossing and colour

A lot of the appeal of collagraphs is the embossed texture on the print, but when this is all inked the embossing can take second place to the colour.

On the other hand, a purely blind embossed print, ie one made with no colour but just texture impressed into the printing paper, can be very subtle. The angle of the light is essential to throw the detail into relief; it needs a strong side light, and if you get this wrong it looks as if you have framed a blank piece of paper!

I thought it would be interesting to explore the middle ground – and discover the best ways of combining colour with blind embossing.

cream chine collet circles combined with deep blind embossing

Pointers for success

As usual I set off enthusiastically thinking this will be an easy way to make a set of original prints…. Needless to say some time later, and after quite a bit of experimentation and research I discovered it is not as straightforward as you might imagine!

Like many things which appear simple there are quite a lot of pitfalls – so I came up with a few pointers for success, and I hope this may whet your appetite to have a go yourself.

Colour and pattern

Embossing is subtle, and colour can be dominant; it is important to find a balance between the 3d embossed surface and the colour or pattern you are adding.

Dark colours mask the embossing because they don’t reflect much light. Strong patterns also mask the embossing, your eye just sees the patterns without noticing the textured embossed surface. Plain or minimal pattern, and light colour is the watchword here I think.

rust print framed by blind embossing

Blind embossing supports coloured areas

This sample using a tiny piece of rust printing shows how the embossing can help focus attention on the coloured element, providing a frame or context for it.

This type of approach is used with great effect by Marie Louise Martin in the the William Morris print shown above

Balance and space

Blind embossing needs space and time to appreciate. Larger areas of the paper surface with just texture and no ink give the viewer time to understand what is going on, and appreciate the sculptural 3d nature of the embossing.

Be sure to give your blind embossing enough space. 

Areas with coloured shapes, lines and patterns have more contrast and will always dominate visually so keep these in check – remember less is more.

Matching embossed and coloured shapes

I assumed that if the chine collee followed the embossed shape that would be a strong effect, the embossed edges enhancing the coloured shape. Perhaps this could work, but it didn’t do it for me; your eye picks out the coloured paper shape and the embossed area doesn’t really register, even with strong side light. However if the shape is deliberately misaligned the effect is one of layering and overlaps and I think this is much more interesting.

embossed shape exactly matched with coloured chine collée
embossed shape with chine collée misaligned

Challenge your printmaking habits

The thing about combining colour with blind embossing is that it forces you to dial back your colours and contrasts which is an interesting experience if you love colour and pattern.  Perhaps a bit like mindfully appreciating a bowl of plain brown rice instead of a colourful spicy curry!

I think anything that challenges your regular printmaking habits and encourages you to think differently is a good thing. It can nudge you into new areas, helping you discover different perspectives, or add greater understanding to your familiar activities.

embossed printing plate with chine collée colour added

Try this

If you would like a simple activity to help you tune into the subtleties of surface texture you could try this one as a warm-up.

1. Bend some soft wire into a shape (garden wire or jewellery wire is good)

2. Make a simple blind embossed print by covering it with thick damp paper and running through the press.

3. Add coloured elements; cut or tear some shapes from light coloured chine collée paper, these could either complement or contrast with the bent wire shape.

4. Glue the back of the chine collée shapes and lay them over the bent wire on the press (glue side up)

5. Cover it with thick damp paper and run through the press.

6. Keep on going till you think you have found the perfect balance of colour and embossing.

wire spiral embossed with chine collée shapes

What happened?

Was it hard to reduce the elements you used?

Did you find your inner minimalist?

How subtle can your colour get before it disappears?

How might this affect future prints you make?

relief and embossed print by Alison Bernal

Carry on…..

You could swap the bent wire for un-inked plates, lino cuts can work really well as they have distinct surface contours.

I hope you will continue experimenting with blind embossing with added colour from chine collée, or simple relief inked shapes, like this print by Alison Bernal from the Surface Challenge exhibition.

Let me know if you devise any of your own pointers for success…..