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Foil Tape to Emboss a Metal Tin

How to Emboss a Metal Tin

August 20th, 2008 in other crafts, patterns & designs, gifts
Sister_Diane Diane Gilleland, contributor
Use hardware-store foil tape to create lovely embossed surfaces on ordinary candy tins. Its easy!
Look in your local hardware store for aluminum foil tape. Its often in the duct section.
An ordinary pencil makes a great embossing tool. Or, save your empty ballpoint pens!
Use hardware-store foil tape to create lovely embossed surfaces on ordinary candy tins. Its easy!

Use hardware-store foil tape to create lovely embossed surfaces on ordinary candy tins. It's easy!

Photo: Diane Gilleland

Here's a clever way to turn an ordinary candy tin into a striking one with some simple embossing.

What you'll need:
Small candy tins, such as Altoids tins, emptied and cleaned
Aluminum foil tape
Plastic spoon
X-Acto knife
Self-healing cutting board
Empty ballpoint pen (optional)
Sharpie markers in assorted colors (optional)
Cardstock (optional)

I love aluminum foil tape! You can find it in your hardware store. It's basically a thin sheet of aluminum with very strong adhesive on the back. A roll of this material isn't cheap, but it should last you a very long time—and it has 1,001 crafty uses. But, please do keep these cautions in mind when you work with it:

Aluminum foil tape, available at your local hardware store, is an amazing craft material. And, incidentally, it also comes in copper.

Sharp edges. When you cut foil tape, the cut edge can often be sharp. Handle it with care, and never run your fingers along any edge of foil tape!

Aggressive adhesive. The sticky back on this tape is very strong. If it sticks to a surface, it may not come off again without damaging it. So, protect your work surface with some cardboard.

Line up two pieces of foil tape to cover the lid of the tin. The tape should be larger than the tin on all four sides.

Foil tape is most commonly available in a 2-inch-wide roll (although you can sometimes find it in 4-inch widths). Check the width of your tape against the width of your tin. Some tins can be covered with a single piece of tape. Others, like this one, will have to be pieced. Begin by cutting two strips of tape that are longer than your tin is. Peel away the backing paper, and stick the tape strips to the lid of your tin. The edges of these strips should just meet, and the tape should overlap on all four sides, like this.


Burnish the tape with a plastic spoon until it's smooth.

Use the back of a plastic spoon to burnish the tape down smoothly. (By the way, a metal spoon doesn't work well for this step—it will mark up the foil tape.) See how much this burnishing minimizes the seam between the two pieces of tape?

Place a third piece of tape over the center of the lid, covering up the seam between the first two pieces.

We actually need two layers of tape in order to provide a deeper surface for embossing. And in this case, where we're piecing the tape to cover the tin, we also want to cover up that center seam. So, place a third piece of foil tape across the center of the tin, as shown.

Thoroughly burnish the tape with a plastic spoon to smooth the surface for embossing.

Burnish this piece down with the plastic spoon as well, until the seams between the pieces of tape are nearly invisible.

Cut along the edges of the tin with an X-Acto knife, cutting the excess tape away.

Place the tin face down on a self-healing cutting board. Use an X-Acto knife to carefully cut the tape along the edges of the tin. The adhesive may make this a slow process, so you may need to cut around the tin twice in order to cut all the way through the tape. When you're done cutting, remove the excess tape.

Burnish the edges of the foil so they won't be sharp.

Now, the edges of the tape can be sharp! So, take your plastic spoon and burnish the tape all around the edges of the tin until it's very smooth. This step also may take a couple tries.

Tape a pattern over the tin and trace the design firmly with a pencil.

You're ready to emboss your tin! A slightly sharpened pencil makes a great embossing tool, or if you prefer a sharper line, you can use an empty ballpoint pen. You can always draw freehand on the foil to emboss it, or you may want to transfer a pattern. This is what I'm doing here. I found a design I liked online, sized it and printed it from my computer, and then taped it down to the top of the tin. I like to crease all four edges of the paper, so I know where the edges of my tin are. Then, just trace over the elements of the design you like with a pencil, using firm pressure.

Lift the tracing template to see the design lightly embossed in the foil.

When you're done tracing, remove the paper. The design is lightly embossed into the foil tape! (I should mention here, you can also trace an image from a magazine, some fabric, or other items with some tracing paper. Then, just tape the tracing paper down to the tin, and retrace the design to emboss the foil.)

I like to trace over my tracing lines again, directly on the foil this time so they're etched more deeply.

Add more surface texture by embossing more details—the more detail, the nicer embossed foil will look.

Embossing is all about surface texture, so I also like to add lots of little details to my embossing. Here, I'm incising some little lines. You can also use a toothpick to make a tiny "pebbled" texture. If you're embossing a larger area this way, you can use a bundle of toothpicks as your embossing tool.

As a finishing touch, you can also add some subtle color with Sharpie markers. (Just don't press the tip of the marker too hard into the foil because it will also emboss!)

If your tin was made with an embossed lid, you can put some cardstock over it to make a smooth surface before you add foil tape.

One note: Many brands of candies in tins, including the beloved Altoids, have begun to produce tins with embossed lids. You can work around this by cutting a piece of heavy cardstock that's about 1/8 inch smaller on all sides than the dimensions of your tin. Then tape and emboss as usual.

Also, a flat-topped tin is best for this project. Tins with domed lids are much harder to cover smoothly with foil tape.