Incising, Etching or Engraving Leather: All You Need to Know

incision leather etching leather

Incisions or etching leather is a classic leatherwork decorative technique that incites a lot of dramatic effects on the grain surface of the leather. While it can serve as a decorative technique for the entire surface of your leatherwork, it can also be used as a technique of branding your leatherwork projects. In this article, I researched the details on all you may need to know about Incision or etching leather.

What’s Incision or Etching Leather?

So, what is incision or etching leather? Incision or etching leather is basically a decorative technique that involves the removal of the top layer of leather by cutting with a knife or by using leather incision or etching tools. The incision or etching process removes pieces of the top grain layer and allowing the underlying fibrous layer to show off a design.

A completed leather incision or etching work will look like the beautiful in-lay applique technique except that in the in-lay applique technique, you cut out a hollow design on the leather before sealing it off with another colored piece of leather. While with incision or etching, only the top layer is removed to allow the design to be seen from the underlying skin.

The incised or etched portions of the leather can be dyed, textured with matting or carving tools or simply left plain and smooth. You can also dye potions of the leather before you start incising or etching. It’s all up to you and the kind of effects you’d want to create.

Best Leather For Incision or Etching

The best types of leather most appropriate for leather incision or etching works are full-grain or top-grain leather. This is because the technique involves the grain layer of the leather and the full and top-grain leather will still have its grain layer intact, unlike corrected or genuine leather that will have the grain layer removed and buffed to remove blemishes that comes with the natural hide.

Split leather like that of corrected leather or even bonded leather although it can be incised or etched may not result in the luster you’d want in leather.

Corrected grained leather is usually buffed and covered with pigment coatings and finish to create a perfect grained leather. Because of this, it may be hard to deal with since the lustrous grain layer will have already been removed.

Also, the grain surface of bonded leather is often a piece of synthetic fabric over which the shavings of natural leather is bonded to create an entire piece of leather. So with the surface being fabric, its nearly impossible to incise or etch on them.

Application of Incision or Etching In Leatherwork

Incision or Etching has quite a few practical and aesthetic applications in leatherwork. It’s a medium to a high-level leatherwork skill you’d want to master. It requires precision cuts or a masterful application of leatherwork incision and etching tools for a professional and neat finish.

It takes a lot of practice to master but once mastered you will absolutely love the beautiful effects you’ll create. The are several applications of Incision or Etching in leather and below are some few examples.

Leatherwork Product Branding

Incisions or etching can be used to brand products. For example, the logos of companies can be incised or etched on the finished leather product to give it a professional touch.

This technique can also be used to make customizations and create labels on products in a very convenient and cost-effective way especially if you’re not ready to buy all the fancy equipment.

Decorating Leather Products

The incision or etching technique can be used as a decorative technique. This is one of the main reasons why leather crafters will use this technique. You can use this technique to make everything from very simple designs all the way to very intricate designs depending on your level of skill and mastery.

I have personally used this technique to try out several subject matters on leather such as abstract works, portraits, landscapes, still-life compositions, etc.

The key idea is to work out enough contrast on the leather for your designs to be seen although in most cases that might not be the goal. You can use this technique to make decorations on leather bags, leather wall hangings, wallets, shoes, purses, garments, and many others.

Tools and Materials For Incising or Etching Leather

The incision and etching leather technique employs the use of some basic and advanced tools and equipment. Traditionally, most utility knives can be used to make incisions on leather.

You can read an article I wrote earlier on the best utility knives for leather

However, using utility knives requires you to be very cautious especially for beginners because chances are, you’ll cut through the leather. So in most cases, you’d find that crafters will use blunt cutting knives of utility knives for this purpose to have more control as opposed to the popular notion you can have more control and make fewer mistakes or accidents when you use sharp cutting tools.

There are also advanced simple Incision or etching hand-held devices you can use to make incisions or etching on leather. If you’re interested in trying out a leather incision or etching, I find this hand-held tool on Amazon to be the best even if you’re a complete beginner.

How to Incise or Etch Leather

You can finish a beautiful Incising or etching design on leather by following these simple step by step processes.

Tools and Materials Needed:

  • Leather
  • Utility knife (sharp or blunt depending on your skill level) or
  • Hand-held incision or etching device
  • Dye (optional)

The Procedure

Step 1: Sketch your preferred designs on a tracing paper with a pencil or pen

Step 2: Transfer the design from the tracing paper on to the area of the leather where you want the design to be with a marker

Step 3: Go over the traced design with your preferred incision or etching tool and ensure the lines are showing.

Step 4: For Utility Knives –

If you prefer using a utility knife, cut out along the lines of the design you have transferred onto the leather and peel off.

Note: Make sure you slant the knife or blade at an angle of 45 degrees

For Hand-Held Incision or Etching Tool –

On the other hand, if you’re going to be using a hand-held incision tool, ensure there’s enough power in its batteries or ensure its firmly plugged.

Step 5: You can use a dye to stain the areas you have peeled off, etched or incised. You can as well simply leave it plain.

Step 6: Polish the finished incision work

You can visit my about me page to check out some of my personal leather incision or etching experimental works I have done. 😀


Making incision, engraving or etching is a really fun, unique, and an easy way of decorating or branding your leatherwork products. You can use very simple incision tools such as utility knives or hand-held etching tools to embellish your leatherwork projects.


Hi! I’m Kwabena, the owner and founder of Favored Leather. I’m a huge Leathercraft enthusiast and I’ve been that for almost 13 years now. I'm excited to share my experiences and all the new stuff I learn each day about leather craft, leather cleaning & care, and everything in-between!

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