Art Term

Engraving

Engraving is a printmaking technique that involves making incisions into a metal plate which retain the ink and form the printed image

William Hogarth, ‘The Enraged Musician’ 1741
William Hogarth
The Enraged Musician 1741
Tate

The design is manually incised into an engraving plate using a burin, an engraving tool like a very fine chisel with a lozenge-shaped tip. The burin makes incisions into the metal at various angles and with varying pressure which dictates the quantity of ink the line can hold – hence variations in width and darkness when printed. The technique of engraving metal dates from classical antiquity as a method of decorating objects. However it was not until about 1430 in Germany that engraved plates began to be used for making prints. Photoengraving is a process using acid to etch a photographically produced image onto a metal plate that can then be printed from.

Like etching and aquatint, engraving is an intaglio technique. Intaglio refers to all printing and printmaking techniques in which the image is incised into a surface, and the incised line or sunken area holds the ink.

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