Leather is an ideal material for clothing, footwear and horse riding gear due to its strength and integrity. Etching the leather creates a design by burning the surface, making an indention with a darker color than the rest of the leather. It adds a personal touch to your leather goods without harming the material.
Leather etching is common on products such as leather boots, gloves, hat bands, bracelets, horse saddles and riding vests. The etching often found on Western clothing and gear has Western scenes, portraits and horse designs. Painted leather etching offers a custom look in which the lines are painted to create colorful detail.
Perform leather etching on actual leather, not a faux leather product, as faux leather can catch on fire. Choose a piece of leather that has an appropriate thickness to allow for the etching, as extremely thin leather will puncture with the etching process. You should etch the leather before assembling a product, if possible, in case there is an error or the leather is damaged. Light-colored leather show more detail with the etching process, as it is sometime hard to see the line with dark leather.
It is ideal to have a sketch of the design before actually etching the leather. You can draw the design directly onto the leather with a fabric pencil or chalk, as the etching will cover it up. Try to avoid designs with lines with narrow spacing, as they are hard to keep separate due to the etching tip size.
A wood-burning gun or unit is the ideal tool to etch leather, as it keeps a constant temperature and has a fine-point tip. Plug the wood burning unit in a wait until it is fully heated before using. Place the leather piece on a surface that will not be harmed by the heat, such as a metal table, wood work bench or concrete floor. Trace the pattern lines slowly and firmly with the hot gun to properly etch the leather. You might have to go over the design a few times depending on the softness of the leather; harder leathers require more passes. You can shade and accent parts of the design by etching the leather at a different rate, leaving it with a different shade of color than the rest.