Engraving and Etching
Intaglio printing is one of four categories of printmaking, along with relief printing (woodcuts), planographic printing (lithographs) and stencil methods (serigraphs). Engraving, drypoint, etching, chine colle, mezzotint and aquatint are all intaglio printmaking methods.
To create an intaglio print, the image is incised by the various methods into the matrix, usually smooth, polished copper or zinc metal plates. Then ink is applied directly to the surface of the plate and removed with a cloth leaving a small amount of ink only in the scratches, cuts or openings. Paper that has soaked in water is placed on top of the image and run through a printing press. The image is created from the ink trapped in the incisions being transferred or pressed to the paper. Intaglio prints are easily identifiable as the entire plate makes an indenture in the paper framing the image.
Engraving, when an image is incised directly into the matrix, first became popular in Europe during the fifteenth century, when paper became readily available. Initially it was used for religious illustrations and for playing cards. Engraving requires gouging lines of different depths and widths using a burin, a v-shaped tip. Any ridges caused by cutting into the plate are removed with a scraper. Stippling (dots) and crosshatching (parallel lines at various angles) create shading. For softer lines artists cut the plate with a needle in a technique called drypoint. The excess metal is not removed and a larger amount of ink is retained. These ridges wear down quickly and usually only 20-30 prints will be created in the edition.
With etchings, the metal plate is covered with a wax into which the artists draw the image with a needle. The plate is placed in an acid wash and exposed lines are eaten by the acid. The excess wax is wiped off and the applied ink stays in the acid cut grooves. Etching became popular during the sixteenth century. It evolved from fifteenth century techniques for putting patterns on swords.
Mezzotint prints are easily recognized since they have areas of rich color and contrasting light. Thousands of tiny dots are pressed into the entire metal plate with a tool called a rocker. To create light or white areas requires smoothing out in a reverse type technique. These tiny dots hold ink, and depending on the depth, the color achieved is darker or lighter in certain areas.
For aquatints, resin is applied directly to the matrix. The metal plate is heated, causing the resin to melt on the surface. Then the plate is dipped in acid, and the acid eats away at the metal. The artist creates a design into the processed half tone plate and keeps dipping into the acid bath to create contrast and tones. Chine colle is an additive method where different fine papers are printed with the regular heavier papers used in intaglio printing where fine details are desired.
The intaglio methods are typically printed in a rich black ink, but multiple printings with other colors can be found. Each color requiring a separate plate and separate run through the press with registration marks for proper placement. Goya, Rembrandt, Esher, Durer and Cassatt were masters in the intaglio process.
Suzanne Snider, June 2010
by Mary Cassett
by Marcia Salas