Combining 3D Printing & Ancient Crafting: Make Your Own Embossed Leather Book Cover

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Tinkercad01For years now, many have predicted the death of the book in physical form, but from peeking into the lives of many of my bookworm friends and their children, I’d say reading and collecting of the tome with paper pages is still going quite strong; in fact, that’s the only way I prefer to read when relaxing–holding a hefty book–and cherishing the ones that are dog-eared from numerous reads. And while our library has added much from the digital age–including a very nice 3D printing lab–going there and perusing the shelves is one of our favorite activities as a family.

The book itself goes back as far as man had the inkling to write, forming communications together–whether that was on stone, tree bark, or parchment. And as the book came into being, a very important job, requiring the skill of an artisan, was created: that of the bookbinder.

The bookbinder is one who knows about more than just books. He must have a number of different skills and crafts to tie a book together, or to repair one, with knowledge in working with materials being crucial. While you and I may not actually know of anyone practicing bookbinding today, many talented craftsmen like Luc Volders enjoy the intricate and complex work greatly. Bookbinding is not an easy craft, however, and Luc has discovered that with today’s technology, especially 3D printing, he is able to do much more–and faster.

3D printing takes us into the future–and allows many to make veritable magic from the desktop. As the technology transforms and revolutionizes the way we are able to create and manufacture so many innovations, prototypes, and parts, it’s tempting to throw out the traditional and forge ahead. Often though, some of the best innovations we see today offer a combination of old and new–and as we see from Luc Volders–even the ancient.

You will need a pressing plate similar to this for completing the project.

You will need a pressing plate similar to this for completing the project.

Indeed a craft so old that it hails back from the Babylonians as they began writing on clay tablets, bookbinding is one that requires skill. And Luc can tell you from trial and error that even the most simple steps are not easy.

“One of the most difficult things to do as a hobby bookbinder is to make a cover with relief–also called embossed,” says Luc in his blog. “I made some of them and it was a tedious job which I never really got right.”

As bookbinding is his second favorite hobby, Luc–an accountant in the Netherlands by day–is first and foremost an impassioned technogeek in his free time (as well as a winemaker!). With great interest in 3D printing, he has already built his own Prusa i2, and is currently working on a delta style 3D printer. Luc’s overall prowess with technology, as well as bookbinding (excepting the wine, for now) allows him to lead us through a very distinctive project in making a personalized, embossed real book cover. Note: you will need a pressing plate for this 3D printing project.

And as Luc told recently, he has discovered that mixing the technology of bookbinding and 3D printing can yield ‘amazing things.’ Making an embossed cover for a book in the traditional manner is extremely tedious, labor intensive, and Luc explained to us that a lot can go wrong–meaning you may have to start over from the beginning if you make a mistake.

“I developed a method that makes embossing a piece of cake,” Luc told “It involves, of course, 3D printing.”

His sample for the project involves a book cover with his name embossed on the front. Your first step, should you want to replicate this idea, is to choose a typeface for embossing your name. If you would rather make a different design, Luc states that you can just as easily make a picture. Basically what you want to do is 3D print your name or design. You will then press it into leather later, producing a simple cover.

In making his name, Luc simply typed it on his computer and then made a screenshot of it (for those not familiar with doing that–it’s a fun and handy skill! All you need to do is press Control-Printscreen.) and imported it into MS Paint, where he tightened up the image as much as possible. For use with Tinkercad, Luc then converted the .jpeg file to an .svg file using Online-Convert, which he highly recommends for an exercise like this, and more.printing

“Now scale your subject and make sure that you adjust the height to a maximum of 2 millimeters,” instructs Luc. “You can experiment with this but the height needs to be in pace with the elasticity of the material you are going to use to make your cover with.”

Once you’ve finished there, just download your .stl file, and you are ready to head over to part two of your embossed cover project.

The next steps are fun and easy, as follows:

  1. Once the .stl file is imported into your preferred 3D printing program, slice and then print it.
  2. Find a suitable material for gluing the print to, as this will be your board for pressing it in future steps. Once it is glued thoroughly, Luc recommends letting it dry for 24 hours.
  3. Using artificial leather, place it on top of the glued surface, and then put the pressing foam on top of that.
  4. Next comes the pressing plate, for which Luc used laminate–recommended for its strength and affordability factor. Put everything into the press and press it as tightly as possible.
  5. Leave it there for the next 24 hours and then, as Luc says: “Behold the fabulous result.”

lucLuc also emphasizes that you can have a lot of fun and versatility with a project like this, using a variety of different styles, text and framing features, and even drawing.

“Use it on book covers, boxes, gift cards, etcetera,” recommends Luc. “Use your imagination.”

Not only is this a great gift idea for the holidays, but it’s also a tremendously valuable exercise and introduction to both digital design, 3D printing–and most uniquely–the ancient art of bookbinding. Making your own cover is just the beginning for a foundation in what could become an extremely fulfilling new hobby where you are able to stand out and do something very different from everyone else.  Have you tried using these methods?  Let’s hear your thoughts in the 3D Printed Embossed Leather Book Cover forum thread on

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