Art & Architecture Library
Methods of intaglio
Engraving involves the physical cutting of lines into a plate using a tool called a burin. The resulting print has regular lines, spaced and crosshatched to create varying gradations of light and shade. (Drypoint is a related process, in which a sharp point, scratched into the plate, creates shallow lines with rought edges.)
With etching, the incising of the plate is achieved through a chemical rather than physical process. The plate is coated in wax, upon which the artist draws lines that reveal the surface of the plate. When the plate is immersed in an acid bath, the acid “bites” the lines not covered by wax and leaves the waxed portions untouched.
To prepare a plate for mezzotint, the plate surface is roughened using a tool called a rocker. Were the plate to be printed at this rough stage, the image would be a rich black. The negative image is formed when the artist smooths out the rough burrs to varying depths, creating gradations of tone. The plate is then inked and printed as with an engraving.
Aquatint involves the use of varnish to “stop out” the portions of the plate that will not be etched, followed by the application of grains of resin. When the resin is heated, it sticks to the plate, which is then immersed in acid, as with etching. The acid bites the plate around the grains of resin, leaving incised areas that have a speckled pattern.
Collagraph, also referred to as collage intaglio, is a less standardized method, achieved by attaching elements—pieces of metal, string, textured papers, fabric, etc.—to a plate. The resulting surface can be inked and printed using an intaglio press.
It is common for printmakers to combine several of these processes in a single print.
Read more about intaglio in Oxford Art Online.
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Intaglio printing from copper plates, as illustrated in Diderot's Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, vol. 7 (plates) (Paris, 1769)