Developed in the 16th Century and used by artists such as Rembrandt, Goya and Durer, intaglio processes involve an image being cut or etched into a metal place, typically copper, but also zinc, aluminium and steel. Ink is pressed into the recesses of the etched metal plate, and the plate is then pressed onto dampened paper using a printing press. Intaglio prints are often single-coloured (although multi-colour is possible) and can be identified by the indentation mark the plate leaves around the image.
The intaglio processes lend themselves to anything from fine line work to deeply textured and embossed images. Artists will often use a combination of these techniques in one print.
Etchings are created by coating the surface of a metal plate with an acid-resistant material (referred to as a ‘ground’). The image is created by scratching away the ground to expose the metal underneath. The plate is then immersed in acid, and the acid bites into the exposed metal, ‘etching’ the image permanently onto the plate. The longer the plate stays in the acid, the deeper the etch will be, and the darker the image will be when the plate is inked up and printed onto damp paper using a printing press.
A similar process, called ‘photo etching’, uses a photographic image which is transferred onto the plate using a light-sensitive solution or film.
You can find a very informative video about the etching process from National Museum Liverpool, UK below.
Unlike traditional etching, drypoint (also sometimes known as drypoint etching) does not involve the use of acid. Instead, a soft metal or plastic plate is carved with carbide or diamond point tools to create a characteristically soft, rich and dense line. Drypoint prints tend to come in small editions, as the soft printing plate can wear quickly during the printing process.
The use of carbide or diamond point tools can also be combined with other itaglio processes.
The button below links to Lost Art Student, where you will find a detailed description of drypoint process.
Similarly to drypoint, in engraving, an image is cut directly into the surface of a metal plate, rather than using acid. Instead of using carbide or diamond point tools, the engraving process uses a tool called burin – which is also used in wood engraving. This results in harder and sharper lines, with a greater level of details.
Mezzotint creates images using a toothed metal rocker to create grainy, pitted areas on a metal printing plate. This technique is used to achieve tonal details, alongside other intaglio processes.
The button below links to Lost Art Student, where you will find a detailed description of mezzotint process.
In embossing, a design is impressed onto paper by way of an intaglio or relief printing process, but without using any ink, creating areas of indentation and raised surface ‘relief’ details on the paper.
Embossing can also be used along with other printmaking techniques and processes, and sometimes colours and lines are painted and drawn as well.