Intaglio is a series of printing techniques that involve incising (engraving or etching) a surface, inking the grooves, and then compressing the surface. The grooves print with ink and the surface is reproduced as whitespace.
This is as opposed to a relief print, where the ink is laid on the surface and the sunken areas are reproduced inklessly.
When making an intaglio print, lines or grooves are incised into metal surfaces called plates by hand or by using acid. When cut by hand, a cutting tool known as a burin is used (fig. 1) and the grooves left are engravings.
When grooves are made using acid, the process is called etching. When etching, parts of the plate is covered in an acid-resistant material and then the uncovered areas are etched. When acid cuts grooves in the surface of the plate, it’s called biting.
To reproduce an image from an intaglio plate, the plate is painted and the grooves are filled with ink. Then the surface ink is removed, often wiped away by hand using a rag. Finally, the plate is pressed against the new surface and the ink is transferred from the grooves to the new surface. The finished print, which appears in reverse, is called an impression.
While the intaglio method dates back to 1400s, this method was repopularized in the 1800s, and artist etchings can be found in some little magazines, such as The Dial (fig. 2 and 3).
“Intaglio | Printing.” Encyclopedia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, inc, 21 Jan. 2019, www.britannica.com/topic/intaglio-printing.
National Museums Liverpool. “How to Make an Etching.” YouTube, uploaded by John Moores University Print Studio, 5 June 2018, www.youtube.com/watch?v=0jzVjjRudfo.
Ricketts, Charles. “Illustration to the Great Worm.” The Dial, vol. 1, 1889, AE. Dial Digital Edition, edited by Lorraine Janzen Kooistra 2019-2020. The Yellow Nineties 2.0, Ryerson University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2019. https://1890s.ca/dialv1-ricketts-wormetched-ae/
Shannon, Charles. “Illustration to A Glimpse of Heaven.” The Dial, vol. 1, 1889, AF. Dial Digital Edition, edited by Lorraine Janzen Kooistra 2019-2020. The Yellow Nineties 2.0, Ryerson University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2019. https://1890s.ca/dialv1-shannon-heaven-af