The follow article is by Christine Schannep and appears in the Antique Press © periodical in September 2000:

Is it a print, an engraving, or an etching? Customers frequently ask about prints and how they are created. The following is a description of different printing techniques

I. Intaglio Printing

This is a printing process in which the image is incised or etched into a metal plate using a variety of tools and techniques. Ink is applied to the recessed areas of the printing plate by dabbing, wiping, or a combination of both. The paper receives the ink from the incised marks and not from the top surface of the plate, although thin films of ink may be left on the surface to produce a variety of tonal effects. For intaglio printing, the paper is dampened so that under printing pressure it will be squeezed into all the inked recesses of the plate and around it (leaving a plate mark if the plate is smaller than the paper). One of the distinguishing characteristics of this type of printing is that the dried ink impression stands up from the paper in very slight relief, by close inspection, or by touching with your fingers

.In all intaglio prints, except mezzotint, the design is produced from ink in lines or areas below the surface of the plate. The smooth surface is wiped of ink before printing. Considerable pressure is used in the press to force the ink out of the lines and areas and, to an extent, to force the paper into them. The final printed image will appear to be slightly raised above the surface of the un-inked paper.a.


This is a process where lines are incised on a highly polished metal plate by means of a sharp-pointed instrument, diamond-shaped in cross section, called a graver or burin. The strength of the line may be increased by cutting deeper into the plate. The burin is held in a fixed position and, to produce a curved line, the plate itself is turned. This makes engraving a slow and painstaking technique producing controlled, formal results.

b. Etching.

This is a process where lines are bitten into the metal plate through the use of acid. To begin with, the plate is covered with a thin, acid-impervious coating called a ground, which is smoked to a uniform black. Lines are drawn through the ground with a stylus baring the metal of the plate. Acid is then applied which eats into the exposed areas. The longer the plate is exposed to the acid, the deeper the bite and therefore the stronger the line. Different depths are achieved by covering some lines with acid-impervious varnish and biting others a second (or third) time. The appearance of etchings is usually free and spontaneous but the technique has occasionally been used to produce results almost as formal as engraving.

c. Aquatint.
This is a technique of acid-biting areas of tone rather than lines. A ground is used that is not completely impervious to acid, and a granular texture (broad or fine) is produced on the metal plate. Acid-impervious varnish and second and third bitings are.used to produce variations of darkness.

d. Mezzotint.
This is the only intaglio technique that proceeds from dark to light rather than the opposite. The metal plate is totally abraded with an instrument called a rocker. Were it inked and printed at this point, it would produce an even, rich black. The design, in areas of tone rather than lines, is produced entirely by smoothing areas of the plate with a scraper or a burnishing tool. The more scraping and burnishing done, the lighter the area.

II. Relief Printing
This is a printing process in which the impression is created by the un-carved areas or the unprepared surface of the printing element, which has been inked with a brayer, roller, or other tool. The cut, or incised, areas do not usually print, since they are recessed and are rarely inked. Nonetheless, during a run paper is often pushed into these sunken areas, creating an embossed effect. The recessed areas do print when the printing element is inked in the same manner as an etching plate, with the surface wiped dean, leaving ink in the recesses. Woodcut and linocut are often used for relief printing.
In all relief techniques, it is the surface of the block that is inked and printed and, given perfect printing, all lines or surfaces will be equally dark. Moderate pressure in the press will emboss the paper to an extent, so the inked design will lie slightly below the un-inked surface of the paper.

a. Woodcut.
This is where a design is drawn on a wood plank and those areas that are not to be printed are cut away well below the surface with a knife or gouge. Linocut is the same technique using linoleum rather than wood.

b. Wood Engraving.
Tools similar to metal engraving are used on polished blocks of end-grain wood (usually boxwood), but instead of producing lines that will print, they are used to produce non-printing lines. It is the uncut surface that will take the ink and print.

III. Planographic Printing
In planographic printing, as opposed to intaglio and relief processes, there is no difference in level between the inked surface and the non-inked surface.

a. Monotype.
A design is drawn in ink or paint on any smooth surface. While the ink or paint is still wet, a piece of paper is laid on top of it and pressure applied, either with a press or by hand. The process, by its name, is meant to produce a single impression, but there is sometimes enough damp ink left on the plate surface to make a second, weaker, impression.

b. Lithography.
The design is drawn or painted on the polished, or grained, flat surface of a stone, usually Bavarian limestone, with a greasy crayon or ink. The design is chemically fixed on the stone with a weak solution of gum arabic or acid. In printing, the stone is flooded with water which is absorbed everywhere except where repelled by the greasy ink. Oil-based printer’s ink is then rolled on the stone, which is repelled in turn by the water soaked areas and accepted only by the drawn design. A piece of paper is laid on the stone and it is run through the press with light pressure, the final print showing neither a raised nor embossed quality but lying entirely on the surface of the paper. The design may be divided among several stones to produce, through multiple printings, a lithograph in more than one color. A transfer lithograph employs the same technique, but the design is drawn on special transfer paper and is later mechanically transferred to the stone. A zincograph is the same technique, but employing a zinc plate rather than a stone.

Techniques may be, and often have been, combined.

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