Knowing Your Trace in Soap

Knowing Your Trace in Soap
One of the most difficult concepts for new soapmakers to grasp is trace.  Until you see trace for yourself and know for sure that you have it, it is not easy to understand.  Then once you do have an understanding, you may have trouble controlling your soap recipe so you can get the trace you want.
Trace is when you can see ‘traces’ of the soap drizzled on top of the entire soap mixture or when a spoon is run through the mixture.  It will look similar to pudding.  This is typically the point where additives are blended into the soap mixture and when you pour your soap into a mold.
Different levels of trace or soap consistency can assist you in using particular techniques and achieving specific soap designs.  In layering and embedding, a thicker consistency is desired, while most swirling techniques work better with lighter consistencies.
 
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Light (Thin) Trace
Light trace occurs immediately after the oil and lye mixture have been blended and no longer separate. It will be very runny and trace on the surface of the soap will be just barely detectable.  It will pour like cream.  This is great for swirling or pouring soap into fancy, intricate molds.
 
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Moderate (Medium) Trace
Moderate trace is a thin pudding consistency.  It shows drizzling on the soap surface distinctly, but still pours relatively smoothly.  This consistency is good for most layering and some embedding.
 
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Heavy (Thick) Trace
Heavy trace shows a very distinct drizzle on the surface of the soap.  It does not pour as easily.  It either needs to be spooned, slid or glopped into the mold.  It is good for some layering and most embedding.
 
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Seizing (AKA Soap on a Stick)
Seized soap goes beyond tracing.  It rapidly becomes too thick to blend and will have a mashed potato consistency.  You can still use soap that has seized by placing it in a crock pot and cooking it for a while until it is soft enough to glop into a mold.  Seized soap cannot typically be used in making creative designs.  In fact, you will usually be so relieved to save your batch of soap, that you take whatever basic appearance is left in the end.
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Emulsion Vs. Trace
Trace is the point when soapmakers know their mixture is thoroughly blended and can be placed in a mold.  Trace can be seen.  For new
soapmakers, this is a great explanation of really knowing when your soap mixture is ready to pour.
However, emulsion is also a safe point for pouring soaps in the mold.  Emulsion is the point right before trace and is used when more time is needed to create a complicated design such as a Peacock swirl or 10 color swirl.
Emulsion is when the oils and lye have been mixed thoroughly in very short spurts with short points of rest in between.  As soon as the mixture has a stable consistent solid color, there are no oils separating during periods of rest, and trace is completely undetectable, your soap is an emulsion and can be used for special designs.