Making Intaglio Prints

First Intaglio Proof from the Dry Etched plateTo do Intaglio work you might be active in just one facet of printing as Intaglio covers a range of printing techniques. The article looks at what makes up Intaglio and examines the various disciplines within this art form. Briefly, the word Intaglio, from the Italian ‘intaglione’, means to cut or to engrave.

The plate is cut, scribed or scratched and when ink is applied it fills the grooves in preparation for the image to transfer to the paper. The first print is called the proof. Study if the proof allow you to make refinements to the plate by making additional cuts.

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Intaglio Plate

At the core of this printing process is the plate itself. Several metals are available for the plate but the best metal to use is copper. Zinc is somewhat cheaper to use but the very fine lines that can be achieved with copper make it the best choice. Along with the plate you will need a draw tool which is used for cutting the sheet copper to the desired plate sizes. A drawtool has a sharp hard point usually made from hardened steel and one or two passes will cut through the plate easily. Be careful after cutting the plate to remove the sharp edges with a file or even sandpaper. Intaglio tools need to be stronger than Woodblock cutting tools because Intaglio only deals with metal plates.

Intaglio tools and equipment

Apart from a drawtool the other equipment and tools required are the burnishers (scrapers), steel wool, files, turpentine, rocker, snakestones (polishing stones), cotton wool and rags for cleaning. The burnishers are varied and can be pointed, flat, curved, double-headed, twisted or dry point. The old fashioned metal scriber (metal scribe) is excellent for the beginner and the extra burnishers are only needed when one has gained experience in the craft.

Intaglio types

The oldest of the intaglio techniques is Engraving. Later on came Drypoint and then Etching. Aquatint was then developed for the purpose of creating tonal areas on the print. Another version of tonal printing involves Mezzotint which uses a rocker tool to create hundreds of tiny dents in the plate. Rockers come in many different sizes and they look like wide chisels. This technique results in a smooth delicate looking background on the print. A knurled wheel (with a handle attached) is a great tool for this type of background. They are better known as Roulettes and come in many sizes (wheel size as well as teeth size). All Intaglio removes material from the plate, unlike other techniques such as Collograph which adds material to the plate.  

Photo Etching Intaglio

For best results the plate must be very clean. Also required is a transparent positive image. The plate is sprayed with a light sensitive spray and allowed to dry. The image is placed on the plate and a piece of strong glass is placed on top. Very strong light is now required to burn the image onto the plate. The plate is then washed in a solution which removes the non-hardened parts of the image. The plate is then washed and checked and can be fine-tuned with a varnish coating. The plate is ready for etching and first proofing prior to normal Intaglio printing.

Intaglio in color

Although Intaglio is often thought of as a black and white work, all of these techniques can be adopted for color work, but a greater refinement of skill is required. The color can be achieved in one pressing if the plate is colored minutely beforehand. Normally many passes are required to layer the colors onto the finished work. The lightest colors are added first. Why not try out some Intaglio printing of your own as you might be pleasantly surprised at how easy it is.  

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