Metal Stamping Your Jewelry: Part One

Metal Stamping is hugely popular these days, and I get lots of questions about it — particularly about stamping straight and spacing letters. To understand how to nicely stamp words and phrases, it’s critical to understand a little bit about typography. As a former graphics professional, typography and letter forms are near and dear to my heart, so here is an easy primer on the gentle art of typography for non-graphic designers.

First, a glossary is in order — just so we can speak the same language:
A font, or a typeface, is an alphabet of a specific design. All of the letter forms, numerals, symbols and ligatures of a particular font will be similar in appearance, match in size, weight and style, and they will work well together when combined into words, sentences, and paragraphs.
There are font families: Modern, Egyptian, Script, Roman, Gothic, etc.
There are font weights: Light, Medium, Bold, Extra Bold, etc.
There are two major types of letter forms: uppercase (capital letters; all-caps) and lowercase (non-capital letters).

Luckily, today’s metal stamp sets typically consist of one letter form, so the real complexities of typesetting are easily dealt with. Some fonts can be purchased as two individual sets: uppercase letters or lowercase letters. Either way, some essential measurements you’ll need to know about your particular letter stamps are detailed here. I know math and art make an unhappy marriage sometimes, but there are places where you’ll need it, and sorry, this is one of them.

The total height of the font includes the ascenders and descenders.

The total height of the font includes the ascenders and descenders.

In today’s blog, I will deal with just horizontal measurements. Stay tuned for Part Two: Vertical Measurements where I’ll be including samples, too.
OK, ready? Let’s start!

Capital letters of a font live in the space somewhere between the highest point of the ascenders (b, d, f, h, k, l) and the lowest point of the descenders (g, j, p, q, y). Some script fonts include flourishes and swashes that sweep into that space as well. The pink highlight in these diagrams, or, total height of the font, can usually but not always, be determined by measuring the shaft of the actual metal stamp. This measurement is critical to know if you are stamping blocks of text, but not so critical if you are stamping just one word.

Without getting too picky, there are also some special considerations for specific round letters — O, Q, G and C — which just look much better when they sit below the baseline a bit instead of on it, but I’ll save that for later.

Anyway, that baseline is the most important line you’ll need to know for well-spaced stamped lettering. It is used for lining up the bottoms of the letters, and measuring the “x-height” of your font is how you’ll find the baseline. See the green highlighted x in my diagrams? Those lines that mark the top and the bottom of the x are the font’s x-height. The bottom line is the baseline. This is true even if you choose an all-caps font. For a lowercase font, it’s obvious. So, take a scrap of metal, whack your x stamp and then measure the stamped x with dividers — so you know what that measurement is for the particular font you have decided to stamp with.
Here’s a diagram with a closer look…

The X height is the most-needed measurement of any typeface -- be it upper or lower case.

The x-height is the most-needed measurement of any typeface — be it upper or lower case.

So, once you know the total depth of the font and the x-height, you are ready to layout your horizontal guidelines, or grid. This is especially important for blocks of text, and again, not too important for single words. But, I suggest always working on an actual-size piece of tissue paper first, and hand lettering the layout for spacing, and then making a test run of your phrase on scrap metal. with the actual stamps you intend to use. Only then should you commit to your piece. In my mind, it’s worth taking the time to test things, because a poorly stamped text block can really ruin your day, not to mention your metal, so don’t go there.
To create the guidelines on your tracing paper, tape it to the table, and use a T-Square to draw parallel lines at all of these points: the top line, the base line, the bottom line, and the space between each line of stamping.
Here is a closer look at that…

Spacing guidelines for metal stamping must include these measurements.

The horizontal spacing guidelines, or “grid” for metal stamping must include each of these measurements.

I like to use the x-height as my line spacing, but you can also use more or less, depending on the style, size and complexity of your font. Again, making a test run (or several of them) is a good idea, especially with complex blocks of text. You did want people to be able to read it, right?
Next blog, I’ll address the vertical guidelines, so get yourself some letter stamps, a scrap of metal and write out a phrase to practice with. I have lots of tips to share with you, so hang tight… I will be back soon.

Pssst: Thank you, you intrepid souls who are following me on Instagram! It’s super-fun playing I Spy with you.

If this is a mystery to you, click on the photo under the photo of my book at upper right of this blog, join Instagram, and play along. And, if you have patience, wait. I’ll be producing a limited-edition instructional kit of the mystery project I’ve been making on Instagram for sale, in my soon-to-open Etsy Store… In the meantime, follow me here:

Twitter: @fabricationista
Instagram: HDriggs_Fabricationista
Facebook: Helen Driggs

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About Helen Driggs

Metalsmith, Artist, Writer, Maker of things. Former Senior Editor of Lapidary Jewelry Artist Magazine View all posts by Helen Driggs

3 responses to “Metal Stamping Your Jewelry: Part One

  • Sandi Brando

    Hi Helen, name is Sandi and I am new to metalsmithing and jewelry itself. I want to buy the same bench vise , the blue one, you use and there are too many for me to choose from. Will you tell me the exact one you use and I will have to attatch it to a stool like you do, so smart I think. I work in a very small space so I loved your use of the stool to attatch the vise. So clever. You have so many wonderful ideas, I am going to love learning from you.
    Thank you for your help I bought every one of your dvd’s and your books.
    Love them!
    Thank you
    Sandi

    • Helen Driggs

      hi Sandy, thanks for the subscribe, and welcome!
      The blue vise I use in my videos is company property and I set it up for the video studio in Colorado, based on the same method I use for my classroom vise when I teach at BeadFest or other convention-center scenarios. That company vise came from Home Depot, and I am not sure which item number it is. But a good and similar version can be found at Harbor Freight Tools for less than 40 dollars. Most of the vises from Harbor Freight take a 3/8 or 5/8 size carriage bolt, and the wooden stool came from Target. Just mark the positions of the vise holes, drill with a 5/8 wood drill bit and insert the bolts. Tighten the nuts and you are good to go.

  • Caroline

    Fabulous information and easy to follow. I love your work! Thanks for sharing.

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