To emboss, you'll need a few tools and accessories:
1) Embossing Powder
There's a bunch, and I do mean a *bunch* of different kinds of this stuff. Shiny, matte, distress, antique... the list goes on and on! The basic premise of embossing powder is that it's really fine ground up plastic bits that you're going to put where you want with the help of some glue and then give a shot of the ole' heat gun to melt the plastic. The cool thing about embossing powder is that the cheap stuff works just as well as the expensive stuff, and honestly after you've picked up about 10 basic colors you're good to go on about any basic project.
Types of Embossing Powder:
There's three basic types of embossing powder: Extra Fine, regular, and Ultra Thick. If the jar doesn't say extra fine or ultra thick, chances are it's just the regular. Regular embossing powder is good for most everything- I find that I can use most regular grinds on fine detail and not have an issue with a loss in clarity. Extra Fine embossing powder is GREAT for really fine detail stamps, but I only bust it out every now and then. After you use all the powders that you have a few times, you'll get to know which ones are ground a little finer than the others and therefore are OK to use with finer detail stamps. Ultra Thick embossing powder (A.K.A. UTEE) is new and different. It's not really meant to be used with stamps, although it can be if it's a REALLY big and chunky stamp. Rather, UTEE is more of a sculpting medium in and of itself.
What embossing powder should I buy for the first time?
I have found that starting with black, gold, and silver is a good place to begin. Those three colors will get you through 80% of your projects, and if you decide embossing is not for you the initial cost of product isn't very much at all.
2) Heat Gun
There's two main kinds of heat guns: the hairdryer kind, and the long skinny kind. The main difference between the two is the way they direct heat. The hairdryer kind diffuses heat over more surface area, meaning that it takes a little longer for the powder to melt, but there's more of a window to hit the "sweet spot" in melting. With the long skinny kind, heat is blasted at your project, meaning that the powder will melt faster, but there's greater chance of either blowing the powder off the project, over melting, or catching your paper on fire. I have both kinds of heat guns and enjoy the versatility that comes with having both. Heat guns can also be used to heat-set inks and whatnot, so they have uses beyond just embossing.
3) A Stamp
Any stamp will do. Clear, wood mounted, opaque, pink... doesn't matter. It seems that beginners get hung up on this point, but honestly you can use any stamp to emboss that you would use with regular ink. Just remember your extra fine embossing powder if it's a particularly detailed stamp.
4) Embossing Ink
A little known and often misunderstood product, embossing ink is the tangle in an otherwise smooth skein of the embossing technique. There's a buncha different kinds, they do slightly different things, people will defend their particular brand to their dying day... it's hard to say which one is "best." I have two kinds- VersaMark (the first kind I ever used) and, more recently, the Ranger Perfect Medium. The Versa Mark is intended to be a watermark ink, so it goes on sticky and is great for big chunked embossing powder (or if you want to dust Pefect Pearls over your stamped image... but that's another tutorial.) The Perfect Medium is meant to just be a glue that will hold the embossing powder to the paper. You can also emboss with any ink that will be juicy enough to hold the embossing powder on the paper- I've had great success with pigment ink pads (you know, the ones that take forever to dry.) Tim Holtz says that one can emboss with the distress inks but I've never had any luck with those.
5) Something to dump your powder over
I have a nifty little craft tray that is made out of plastic and has a funnel with a cap on one end. I powder that baby up with some cornstarch, shake off the excess (this keeps the embossing powder from sticking) and go to town! You can also use a sheet of paper or a paper plate- both work just as well. Remember to dust them with cornstarch so that static electricity doesn't cause most of your powder to stick to the plate instead of going back in the jar!
Enough with the product, how the heck do I emboss?
Fortunately this part's easy! If you can stamp, you can emboss!
-Grab a piece of paper and the stamp you want to use, and ink the stamp with the embossing ink of your choice
-Stamp image just like you would with a regular stamp. Having something slightly squishy under your paper will result in a better stamped image- use a piece of felt or a stamping foam pad.
-Shake up the bottle of embossing powder you want to use, which will ensure that nothing has settled while it was just sitting around.
-Sprinkle embossing powder on your stamped image, holding the paper slightly tilted over whatever surface you're using to catch the powder. Shake on enough so that powder is sticking to all parts of the stamped image.
-Turn over the paper with the stamped image, now covered in embossing powder, and thump the back of the paper with your thumb and forefinger a few times (like you're thwacking your DH between the eyeballs!) This will get off most, if not all, of the stray bits of powder as well as any excess
-Aim your heat gun at the paper, keeping your fingers well away from the path of the heat. Use tweezers to hold the paper if need be. If you're using the hair dryer type of heat gun, hold it about four inches above the image and make little circular motions with it all over your image. It should take about 30 seconds for stuff to start melting. With most embossing powder, you can see it melt- it will go from fuzzy looking to smooth and glossy. Once a part of the image starts melting, move your heat gun to concentrate on another part of the image- remember that you don't want to over melt!
-Voila! You now have an embossed image! Remember to clean your stamp however you normally do, and put the rest of the powder back in the jar.
One of the most awesome things about embossing, to me, is that after the initial investment in the heat gun, embossing ink, and powder, chances are you won't have to spend another cent on embossing supplies for YEARS. I still have the first jar of embossing powder that I ever bought, and after three years it's still over half full. I haven't even needed to re-ink the VersaMark ink pad that I bought at the same time.
Remember that the greatest teacher is experience, so if you start embossing and it doesn't turn out perfect the first time, keep practicing!