Intaglio (printmaking)  

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Intaglio is a family of printmaking techniques in which the image is incised into a surface, known as the matrix or plate. Normally, copper or zinc plates are used as a surface, and the incisions are created by etching, engraving, drypoint, aquatint or mezzotint. Collographs may also be printed as intaglio plates. To print an intaglio plate, ink is applied to the surface and then rubbed with tarlatan cloth to remove most of the excess. The final smooth wipe is often done with newspaper or old public phone book pages, leaving ink only in the incisions. A damp piece of paper is placed on top and the plate and paper are run through a printing press that, through pressure, transfers the ink from the recesses of the plate to the paper.

Intaglio techniques are often combined on a plate. For example Rembrandt's prints are referred to as "etchings" for convenience, but very often they have engraving and drypoint work as well, and sometimes no actual etching at all.

Apart from intaglio, the other traditional families, or groups of printmaking techniques are:

  • Relief prints, including woodcut, where the matrix is cut away to leave the image-making part on the original surface. The matrix is then just inked and printed; not wiped as described above.
  • Planographic, including lithography, where the image rests on the surface of the matrix, which can therefore often be re-used.
  • Other families have developed, especially in the twentieth century - see printmaking.
  • Both intaglio and relief, as well as planographic printing processes, print a reversed image (a mirror-image of the matrix), which must be allowed for in the composition, especially if it includes text.

Brief history

old master print, line engraving

Intaglio engraving, as a method of making prints, was invented in Germany by the 1430s, well after the woodcut print. Engraving had been used by goldsmiths to decorate metalwork, including armour, musical instruments and religious objects since ancient times, and the niello technique, which involved rubbing an alloy into the lines to give a contrasting colour, also goes back to late antiquity. It has been suggested that goldsmiths began to print impressions of their work to record the design, and that printmaking developed from that.

Martin Schongauer was one of the earliest known artists to exploit the copper-engraving technique, and Albrecht Dürer is one of the most famous intaglio artists. Italian and Netherlandish engraving began slightly after the Germans, but were well developed by 1500. Drypoint and etching were also German inventions of the fifteenth century, probably by the Housebook Master and Daniel Hopfer respectively. The golden age of artists engraving was 1450-1550, after which the technique lost ground to etching as a medium for artists, although engravings continued to be produced in huge numbers until after the invention of photography. Today intaglio engraving is largely used for currency, banknotes, passports and occasionally for high-value postage stamps. The appearance of engraving is sometimes mimicked for items such as wedding invitations by producing an embossment around lettering printed by another process (such as lithography or offset) to suggest the edges of an engraving plate.

  • Plates are usually made from copper or zinc
  • Formerly used extensively for high quality magazines, fabrics and wall papers
  • Common uses still include some postage stamps and paper currency, at one time used for all mass-printed materials including bank notes, stock certificates, newspapers, etc.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Intaglio (printmaking)" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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