Embossing has a rich backstory that predates modern printing by many centuries. While today its most common form is a pressed into a disposible medium, the earliest attempts to add dimension to a flat piece of art dating back to prehistoric times, deep in the caves were the earliest bas relief etchings were discovered.
Nearly every major civilzation known to man would produce these same raised etchings to suit their beliefs and aesthetics. From Ancient Africa to the Mayan Empire and well into the New World, there's something about tactile graphics that has retained a timeless charm and attraction for human culture.
A Literal Brand
Included amongst our earliest traditions was the branding of cattle and animals. A person's initials or family symbol would be pressed into the animal's hide with a heated iron, leaving behind a raised monogram and unerasable marker of ownership. To this day the concept remains lodged in our vernacular, as modern day companies create logos and marketing campaigns designed to leave a similar psychological imprint on their audiences.
From Iron to Gold: The Age of Metals
Probably the most ubiquitous, and certainly most recognizeable form of embossing can be found in one's pocket. The first coins date back to 700BC when Lydian merchants (modern day Turkey) began producing the first metallic coins. Upon these coins was an embossed lion's head - a symbol of the King and the state's official adoption of the currency. The ability to shape metal with such precision would open all sorts of doors for this growing craft.
Embossing and Printing
Barely one century after Gutenberg first took printing from a little known craft to a world renowned industry, leading craftsmen were well on their way to discovering new specialties by adjusting heat and pressure when producing books. The earliest experiments were made on leather. Already long a part of the tradition, it was well known that anything burned into leather leaves behind a fine and durable mark. But what if you added just the right amount of heat, enough to swell the material without burning it?
This is exactly how embossing was invented in the context of printing. You could easily apply heat and pressure to leather or paper of a sturdier stock to expand where contact is made, without burning the material. This would leave behind a raised and uncolored impression, known in the world of printing as blind embossing. The technique would become so popular that printers combined it with other specialties in what is referred to as a registered emboss. Sometimes excess heat or pressure may be applied to leave behind a colored singe. This is known as scorching
The Rise of Tactile Status Symbols
Embossing and gilded foil stamping have enjoyed a long and fruitful partnership. Some of history's most timeless books, from the Bible to the Teachings of Confusius have enjoyed these bespoke touches, applied by the hands of master craftsmen. What was once a primal symbol of ownership now became a coveted art form, reserved for only the most special, influential or rare publications and artifacts. This idea would become further enforced when certificates, seals and historical documents would habitually use embossing as a hallmarks of authenticity.
Modern Day Embossing
With the industrial revolution, and followed by the conputer age, this once elite technique would become a lot more accessible for the masses. Innovations were made to produce even more detail and extra specialties like a multilevel emboss which creates a sculptural, three dimensional finish. At its heart though the process has remained rudimentary as ever. In this case it's computers controlling heat, pressure and timing to achieve just the right level of detail and finish to add that unmistakeably tactile appeal to business cards, greeting cards, invitation and bespoke stationery.