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Line Engraving

A print created by pushing a sharpened tool called a ‘graver’ or ‘burin’ over a metal plate. The tool leaves V-shaped lines, which are later filled with ink. It is these lines that show as the final image on the print.

Paper is placed over the plate and both are run through the rollers of a press. Pressure forces the ink from the engraved lines of the metal plate onto the paper. The earliest engravings date from the fifteenth century.


A method of printmaking in which the lines in a metal plate are ‘eaten’ by acid. The polished plate is covered with a thin layer of waxy, acid-resistant substance. The etcher draws through this layer with a metal tool, exposing the plate where a line should be printed.

The plate is then immersed in a bath of acid, which bites into the plate through the exposed lines. Ink is applied after the plate has been wiped, leaving the etched lines, and a print is produced. The depth of the line, and so its darkness when printed, is determined by the length of time the plate remains in the bath and the strength of the acid solution. The softness of the etching ground, allows the same freedom for the artist as drawing.


A process used in drawing, painting or engraving, stippling uses tiny dots to create an image. In printmaking, the dots can be carved out of a plate using a metal tool. Ink is then applied, and a print formed from placing paper over the plate. Both are then run through a press.

The heyday of stipple engraving was 1770 to 1810, a period of decorative prints of which Italian-born Francesco Bartolozzi (1727-1815) was the master. Stipple engravings were often printed in colour.


Discovered in the mid-seventeenth century, the process is more tonal than earlier engraving & etching methods. A metal plate is roughened using a tool with a curved & serrated edge (a ‘rocker’). This produces a ‘burr’ which prints as a deep black. The artist scrapes down the roughened plate to produce lighter tones. These areas will hold less or no ink.

The distinguishing feature of the process is the artist works from dark to light. A mezzotint is therefore easy to recognise because of the distinctive manner in which the design emerges from a dark background.


A variety of etching, producing a wash effect similar to that of a watercolour painting. The process involves covering a plate with powdered resin, through which acid can penetrate. The acid bites between the grains, which hold sufficient ink when printed to give the effect of a wash. The printmaker will ‘stop out’ with a protecting varnish any parts of the ground required to be pure white, and a print is taken. The process was invented in France in the 1760s.


Lithography was invented in 1798 in Munich by Alois Senefelder.  It was the first entirely new printing process since the invention of intaglio in the fifteenth century. Stone was the first surface used, other alternatives were zinc or aluminium.

A design is drawn onto a flat surface with a greasy ink or chalk and then water is washed over it. Oil-based printing ink is rolled on to the stone, which attaches itself only to the greasy parts, being repelled from the areas covered with water. Reverse prints are then taken on paper in a lithographic press.

The great surge in lithography came after about 1820 when commercial printers recognised the method as one of extreme ease and versatility.


Chromolithography is a method for making multi-colour prints, covering all types of lithograph. The process uses chemicals instead of relief or intaglio printing. An image is applied to a stone or metal plate with a grease-based crayon. After the image is drawn onto stone, the stone is gummed with gum arabic solution and weak nitric acid. It is then inked with oil-based paints and passed through a printing press along with a sheet of paper to transfer the image to the paper.

Each colour in the image must be drawn separately onto a new stone or plate and applied to the paper one at a time. The process is very time-consuming, sometimes taking months to produce one image.

Wood engraving

A version of woodcut developed in the eighteenth century.  A very hard wood is used, which is always cut across the grain (woodcuts are cut along the grain) using sharp tools.

Wood-engravings are printed in relief, not intaglio, and print white against black (unlike the normal woodcut that prints black lines against white).


  • Gascoigne, Bamber, 2004. How to identify prints: a complete guide to manual processes from woodcut to inkjet. 2nd edition. London: Thames & Hudson.
  • Goldman, Paul, 1988. Looking at prints, drawings and watercolours: a guide to technical terms. London: British Museum Press ; Malibu, California: J. Paul Getty Museum.
  • Griffiths, Antony, 1996. Prints and printmaking: an introduction to the history and techniques. 2nd edition. London: British Museum Press.
  • National Portrait Gallery, ‘Glossary of art terms’.