For footage of the processes involved in printmaking, including aquatint, drypoint, engraving and etching please see the video of Alfons Bytautas from Edinburgh Printmakers.

Aqua fortis: Nitric acid – an agent used in the etching process.

Aquatint: A process where powdered resin is spread across the plate prior to its biting. Once cleaned it leaves a textured area of tone.

Biting: Term used to describe the process of the acid eating into the plate.

Burin: Steel tool with a lozenge shaped point; the main tool of an engraver.

Burr: Name applied to the ridge of copper which is raised by a drypoint needle which, when printed, leaves a softer, more velvety, line.

Drypoint: An etching process where the image is incised directly onto the dry plate using an etching needle.

Chine-collé: A process where, prior to the printing, the paper to be printed is mounted on a heavier paper. This provides support to thin papers and allows more detail to be printed.

Engraving: The method of working the plate with a burin directly into the metal which is in contrast to the process of etching.

Etching: An intaglio printing process where the image is cut into the plate. The plate, usually copper, is first coated with an acid-resistant mixture (ground). Using an etching needle the artist then draws through the waxy coating revealing the plate beneath. Once complete the plate is dipped into acid which then ‘bites’ into the exposed areas. The ground is then removed and ink applied to the whole plate. When wiped off the ink remains only in the etched lines. The design can then be transferred to paper when passed through a printing press.

Foul biting: A term to describe the area where the acid has bite into the plate usually accidently leaving pitted marks on the print.

Herkomergravure: Occasionally also termed Herkotypic. A process developed by Hubert von Herkomer in which the ink is applied by hand on a lithographic stone. A monotype is then taken from it and transferred by means of photogravure onto a copper plate. This would produce a softer effect.

Impression: The print on paper of which a large number could be made, i.e. twelve impressions from one plate.

Intaglio: The process of metal-plate printing where the image is incised into the plate and the ink pulled from the incisions.

Lettering: The inclusion of any printed letters on the print, often this identifies the name of the printer and where it was published.

Line-engraving: Typically used for illustrations this is a process where the image is created by linear means alone rather than including suggestions of tone, etc.

Lithography: A process in which the image is drawn onto the plate or stone which has been chemically treated so that ink only stays on the areas where the drawing has been done.

Mezzotint: An intaglio process where the plate is textured by rubbing it with a metal tool known as a ‘rocker’ which is essentially a long, curved chisel with a series of teeth along its edge. Through the process of rocking the plate is covered with a series of fine dots or stipples. The artist then works into this ridge surface only etching the areas which are to remain light. Greater surface tone can be achieved via this process depending on how deep the lines are etched. See John Le Conte James Watt.

Monotype: A print taken from a wet painting. The image is painted onto the plate of stone and a single print then taken from it.

Photogravure (or Heliogravure): A photomechanical and rather complex process which produces quite subtle tonal effects in the finished print. A light-sensitive gelatin film is applied to the copper plate and a transparent photographic plate of the required image is then placed upon it. This is then exposed to light effectively transferring the image to the plate. Any gelatin exposed to the light becomes hardened and acts as an etching’s ground. The plate can then be bitten and printed in the established etching process.

Plate mark: The indented ridge around the print where the impression of plate has been pushed into the paper by the etching press.

Proof: The impression. Often limited to describe early impressions which have been produced before ones chosen for wide publication; hence trial proof, artist’s proof, etc.

Remarque: A sketch made in the margin of the print by the etcher. As it was often limited to only a few impressions this made the print more valuable.

Reproductive Print: prints based on other paintings, e.g. see Sir Francis Seymour Haden’s Calais Pier, After Turner

Retroussage: Term used to describe the technique of teasing some ink from the etched lines after the plate had been wiped with the intention of producing a softer, and richer, line on the final print. This was often done by using a feather to ‘drag up’ the ink.

Roulette: A toothed tool on wheels which could be run across the plate before printing and which would produce a dotted, textured area. Useful for suggesting tone.

State: To check a prints progress, artists would often print a few proofs at different stages. These prints would be known as ‘states’. Early states are usually the most collectable.

Steel engraving: Prints were usually produced using copper plates but towards the end of the 19th century the much harder material of steel was also used. This enabled many more prints to be taken from one plate and was typically used for reproductions. In addition it was also possible to apply, by electroplating, a thin layer of iron to the surface of a copper plate. This would be done after the plate had been etched but before it was printed.

Stipple: Term used to describe the process of applying a series of dots (e.g. though the use of a roulette) to suggest tone.


For further terms see;

  • Emma Chambers, An Indolent and Blundering Art? The Etching Revival and the Redefinition of Etching in England 1838-1892. Aldershot, Ashgate, 1999
  • Bamber Gascoigne, How to Identify Prints. A Complete Guide to Manual and Mechanical Processes from Woodcut to Ink Jet. New York, Thames and Hudson, 2004.
  • Anthony Griffiths, Prints and Printmaking: An Introduction to the History and Techniques. London, British Museum Press, 1980