Intaglio : What is it ?

Initially, intaglio meant engraving with a chisel, used in particular by goldsmiths. Nowadays, it includes all engraving processes on a metal plate. That is to say that a design is created on the plate, using scratches and hollows, which can be microscopic.

As opposed to saving size, where the protruding parts are inked, in intaglio the ink fills the hollows.

The realization of a plate in intaglio
Drypoint is an intaglio processe. It consists of creating hollow lines.

If the preferred metal is copper, intaglio can use other metals, such as zinc or brass.

Intaglio: categories

Intaglio processes are divided into two categories:

Direct size.

The artist engraves the metal plate directly. This is the case of chisel engraving, drypoint engraving, mezzotint.

Name of engraver tools
Burnisher, graver, copper cutter, chisel, drypoint… The engraver’s panoply

Indirect size.

Etching the mordant
The mordant used is only very rarely nitric acid. The duration of the bath is variable depending on the expected result.


Printing is the common point of intaglio processes

Indeed, the inking method and the material used are the same. The creation of an engraving involves 2 actors, the artist who creates the matrix, and the professional in charge of printing . 

These “craftsmen “, named “Taille-doucier”, are in charge of all the printing stages and responsible for the quality of the proofs.

The copper matrix is ​​uniformly covered with ink several times, with a clean stroke at each “Engraver”. To thin an ink that is too thick and avoid adding oil, the copper is often heated.

Then the excess ink is wiped off, first with a cloth and then by hand. To do this, a very loosely woven cotton muslin called tarlatan is used . Then it’s the “paumage”, finishing with the palm of the hand and talc. Thanks to these different steps, only the grooves remain filled with ink.

Then, the metal plate is placed on an intaglio press. Then, the paper, after humidification, is placed and aligned on the plate. Finally, it is pressed onto the plate by the press with a very heavy roller. Finally the paper is gently removed, the ink present in the hollows has been transferred to the paper.

The first proof is often a test print, which allows the engraver to check his work. If necessary, after a test run, the plate can be reworked to eliminate the defects identified on the control proof. Corrections are followed by a new control print. Once satisfied, we print the “ready to print”, that is to say the reference print run for printing.

For limited editions, once the number of copies is obtained, the copper is crossed out twice so as not to be reused. Some works require several different inkings and therefore several press runs.

Synoptic of printmaking methods

In this terminology which turns out to be more oral tradition than encyclopaedic, it is sometimes complicated to navigate. To help you, I have chosen to create a small tool that will enlighten you.

summary table of printmaking methods

Download synoptic of printmaking methods, click HERE

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