<- Visual Arts

GrabadoEngraving is a process of duplication, creating, copying, stamping and the printing of images or words. This is achieved by using a plate to imprint the desired words or designs onto another surface of some kind, like paper for example.

The board that is used as a plate has been treated through various techniques to give it the reverse of an image, once it has had ink put on it may be printed on paper through a press.

There are various techniques and methods that have been developed through many centuries to create the images on the plates. A few of the many procedures used to obtain the engravings are: engraving manually executed by a using a chisel or power tool with a similar effect, by chemical means (etching), mechanical engravings (photomechanical, photochemical, electrochemical, electronics).

Another way to classify the engraving is to define it into two categories: hollow and relief, differentiating according to the materials used for the manufacture of the plate which can be copper, zinc, aluminum, steel, glass, stone, wood, linoleum, silk, etc.

Procedures of Engraving

The artist will choose from a variety of methods for the implementation of a manual engraving; the relief method, hollow, visually, monotype or stenciled, each one having a different procedure.


Engraving in Relief, Woodcut Method, Engraving in Linoleum / Linocut,

Engraving on Contra Fiber, Etching, Aquatint Engraving,

Drypoint Engraving, Mezzotint Engraving,

Engraving in Relief

Diverse techniques of engraving in relief exist like the "woodcut" (impressions based on the wood characters used), engraving in linoleum, engraving in gypsum, etc.

The engraving in relief is carried out by cutting gouges into the smooth surface of a plate so the design remains with the impression raised up. Later a roller is passed over the surface of the plate with ink and then finally the plate is put onto paper and pressed down gently to reveal the design.

The engraving in relief permits us to reproduce the same work as many times as desired or required; however this does not signify that each print will all be identical to the original. Among other factors the differences in ink applied to the plate, pressure put on the plate when recording an impression, cleaning in between uses and the natural furrows in the wood will ensure each print has its own unique detail.

Woodcut Method

The woodcut method of engraving is the oldest method of engraving, during centuries the technique consisted of shaping the form of the wood by cutting away the areas that are not needed in the desired form. For this technique it was traditionally more common to utilize fruit-bearing woods, like the cherry tree or the pear tree because they are not hard to carve.

In the twentieth century the artists preferred to use the wood of pine, as it was even smoother then fruit woods and easier to work with. Working with this type of wood one needed only to follow a small procedure to use it for the creation of an engraving plate: First the surface was smoothed and later hardened by treating it with shellac, which made it more resistant to the pressure of the chisels and tools used to create the carved drawings in the plate.

Next the artist would create their composition by painting or drawing it on the surface; later, the wood on both sides of the marked lines were emptied, so that the contour of the image was lower then the area of the image, creating a raised up effect. Then with a roller the image was coated with ink, usually an oil based type. Now the plate would be ready to be used for making a print; a sheet of paper, ideally Rice paper as it is very absorbent, is then placed underneath the inked plate and the artist could then record the image by hand rubbing the surface of the plate with the palette of a spoon.


Engraving in Linoleum / Linocut

Linocut is a printmaking technique that is very similar to the woodcut; the difference is that the engraving is done on a sheet of linoleum. A design is cut into the linoleum surface with a sharp knife, with the raised (uncarved) areas representing a reversal (mirror image) of the parts to show printed.

As the material being carved has no particular direction to its grain and does not tend to split, it is easier to obtain certain artistic effects than with most woods, although the resultant prints lack the wood character of wood block printing. Although linoleum as a floor covering dates to the 1860s, the linocut was invented by the artists of Die Brücke in Germany between 1905-13.

The technique of engraving which is used on linoleum also works with any relatively hard material such as leather; it is so similar to the woodcut method that in fact the only difference between the two is the material being used for the print.

Engraving on Contra Fiber

The technique of engraving prints on contra fiber is similar to the technique used for recording on fiber although it is used mainly to illustrate books and magazines.

To make an engraving for contra fiber, the artist uses a burin with which he records an image directly onto a wooden stick in crossed directions. Generally cherry and pear wood is used as they are strong enough to facilitate the small engraved lines necessary for this technique.

The artist varies spaces between the lines engraved; creating a subtle toned effect that is unique to this technique. On the surface a thick ink is applied carefully in a way so that it does not penetrate the etched lines, now the design is ready to be used to make a print on the contra fiber.


Etching is part of the intaglio family (along with engraving, drypoint, mezzotint, and aquatint.) The process is believed to have been invented by Daniel Hopfer (circa 1470-1536) of Augsburg, Germany, who decorated armor in this way, and applied the method to printmaking. Etching soon came to challenge engraving as the most popular printmaking medium. Its great advantage was that, unlike engraving which requires special skill in metalworking, etching is relatively easy to learn for an artist trained in drawing. With the technique of etching, one of the advantages is that one can correct errors or make unforeseen changes in the last-minute work, trying not to scratch the copper sheeting.

Etching prints are generally linear and often contain fine detail and contours. Lines can vary from smooth to sketchy. An etching is opposite of a woodcut in that the raised portions of an etching remain blank while the crevices hold ink.

In pure etching, a metal (usually copper, zinc or steel) plate is covered with a waxy ground. The artist then scratches off the ground with a pointed etching needle where he wants a line to appear in the finished piece, so exposing the bare metal. The plate is then dipped in a bath of acid, or has acid washed over it. The acid "bites" into the metal, where it is exposed, leaving behind lines to the plate. The remaining ground is then cleaned off the plate, and the printing process is then just the same as for engraving.


Aquatint Engraving

This method is a variant of etching. Like etching, Aquatint uses the application of acid to make the marks in the metal plate. Where the etching technique uses a needle to make lines that print in black (or whatever color ink is used), aquatint uses powdered resin which is acid resistant in the ground to create a tonal effect. The tonal variation is controlled by the level of acid exposure over large areas, and thus the image is shaped by large sections at a time.

The method of aquatint is difficult to control and often used in a combination with the techniques of etching, engraving and drypoint engraving. The prints to aquatint began to arise in the eighteenth century, by the efforts of artists to recreate illustrations in the effect of watercolors. Goya used aquatint for most of his prints.

Drypoint Engraving

This is another variant of engraving which is done with a sharp point, rather than a v-shaped burin. While engraved lines are very smooth and hard-edged, drypoint scratching leaves a rough burr at the edges of each line. This burr gives drypoint prints a characteristically soft, and sometimes blurry, line quality. Because the pressure of printing quickly destroys the burr, drypoint is useful only for very small editions; as few as ten or twenty impressions. To counter this, and allow for longer print runs, electro-plating (also called steel facing) has been used since the nineteenth century to harden the surface of a plate.

The technique appears to have been invented by the Housebook Master, a south German fifteenth century artist, all of whose prints are in drypoint only. Among the most famous artists of the old master print, Albrecht Dürer produced 3 drypoints before abandoning the technique. Rembrandt used it frequently, but usually in conjunction with etching and engraving.

Mezzotint Engraving

An intaglio variant of engraving where the plate first is roughened evenly all over; the image is then brought out by scraping smooth the surface, creating the image by working from dark to light. It is possible to create the image by only roughening the plate selectively, so working from light to dark.

Mezzotint is known for the luxurious quality of its tones: first, because an evenly, finely roughened surface holds a lot of ink, allowing deep solid colors to be printed; secondly because the process of smoothing the texture with burin, burnisher and scraper allows fine gradations in tone to be developed.

The mezzotint printmaking method was invented by Ludwig von Siegen (1609-1680). The process was especially widely used in England from the mid-eighteenth century, to reproduce portraits and other paintings.


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