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Fingerprint metal clay pendant

Create a lasting keepsake in metal clay

I don’t think of myself as being very sentimental, but when my Mum was diagnosed with breast cancer last year, I decided to make a bracelet that celebrated her life and to include her fingerprint as the clasp. There are many occasions when a moment could be preserved forever: the birth of a baby, engagements, weddings, big birthdays, etc. Using the fingerprints in a finished metal clay design makes the jewelry more personal and meaningful. 

Read about transferring fingerprints to clay below. For instructions on making this pendant, click here for the free project PDF.

Taking clear impressions

Materials

  • Inkless kit or nontoxic black pigment inkpad and sheet of white paper
  • Photo-editing software (e.g., Photoshop)
  • Scanner
  • Printer that can print overhead transparencies
  • Overhead transparency
  • Photopolymer plate processing supplies

To use the indirect method of transferring fingerprints to clay, you’ll start with an inked fingerprint, then translate it into a photopolymer plate, using a bit of technology. (If you don’t have photo-editing software or a printer that can print overhead transparencies, you can do those parts of this process at a local print center.)

Capture the fingerprint. A clear fingerprint is vital to a good end result. Press the finger into a pigment stamp pad then onto a piece of white paper. (If you’re using an inkless kit, follow the manufacturer’s instructions.) The goal is good contrast between the black and white of the whorls in the print. Redo the print if the results aren’t satisfactory. When taking prints of small children, be sure the ink is nontoxic and easy to wash off.

Fingerprint metal clay pendant A
Photo A

Make a negative of the fingerprint. Set the scanner to “color photo” or “best quality” and to 300 dpi (dots per inch) resolution. This will give you the fine detail you’ll need when work-ing in your photo-editing software and will also limit the amount of information in the file (too much information can cause problems when you’re trying to get good contrast). Scan the image, save it, then open the scanned file in your photo-editing program [A].

NOTE: I use Photoshop CS4; if you’re using a different program, your drop-down menus will be different. Look for the menu items that achieve the same functions that I describe here.

Navigate to: Image > Adjustments > Levels. Increase the contrast just enough to get some definition.

Navigate to: Filters > Sketch > Photocopy. If it’s available, check “Preview.” Adjust until you achieve a good balance of black and white lines.

Fingerprint metal clay pendant B
Photo B

Zoom in on the image. Make sure the pixels are black or white, not grey. If necessary, you can apply “Levels” again or navigate to: Image > Adjustments > Brightness & Contrast. Slide the contrast slider all the way to the right, then adjust the brightness until you are happy with the results. Add dots in the corners [B].

Navigate to: Image > Adjustments > Invert. This will translate the image into a negative.

Fingerprint metal clay pendant C
Photo C

Print the fingerprint negative. Copy the image, and paste the copy next to the original [C]. Print the fingerprints onto an overhead transparency using the highest-quality setting on your printer. 

Prepare the transparency. Cut the transparency in half between the two images. Place one half on top of the other, taking care to line up the fine details exactly. (The dots that you added previously will help with this.) Doubling the prints will give you the absolute blacks needed to block the UV light when you make your photopolymer plate.

To learn how to make a photopolymer plate, click here to see instructions in the “Openwork metal clay pendant” project.

Direct or indırect method?

There are two ways to transfer a fingerprint to metal clay, and each has its pros and cons.

Direct method

Press the fingerprint directly into wet metal clay.

Pros:

  • Easy to do.
  • Direct touch; your loved one touched the piece and pressed his or her mark into the clay.

Cons:

  • Generally not the most clearly defined prints.
  • You have to have the person to be printed with you, or ask a third person to do the printing.

Indirect method

Capture the fingerprint in a transferable method (e.g., photopolymer plate or stamp), which is then used to impress the metal clay.

Pros:

  • Clearly defined prints.
  • Easy to redo if things don’t work out.
  • Can be kept on file for future use.

Cons:

  • Not touched by the person.
  • More work in making a stamp or photopolymer plate.
  • More expense to cover the supplies to make the stamp or photopolymer plate.

For instructions on making the featured metal clay pendant, click here for the free project PDF.

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