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Intaglio Prints

Intaglio prints are varied and versatile and include techniques to enhance detail and tone. Such techniques include engraving, etching, drypoint, aquatint, and mezzotint. All intaglio prints, however, share one particular characteristic: they have an indentation in the paper called a plate mark, left as a result of the press pushing the surface of the plate into the damp paper.

Intaglio fine printmaking describes the process of incising lines into a surface, usually a copper or zinc metal plate through chemical or mechanical means. Thick printing ink is then applied to the surface, and the incised lines hold the ink that will be used to create the resulting image.

Next, excess ink is wiped from the surface, and then pressure is applied to squeeze the ink from the grooves in the plate and simultaneously emboss the paper into the lines. Typically printmakers use a heavy rolling press to print the image evenly with a uniform pressure across the surface, but other methods of applying pressure can be used.

Quick Facts

  • Intaglio techniques developed from the metalworker and goldsmith practice of making a rubbing impression of their work to create a record of their designs
  • Rembrandt van Rjin favored intaglio techniques, and experimented extensively with the relationship between the depth of incision into a plate and the resulting tone and texture
  • Master 20th century artist Pablo Picasso used nearly every method of intaglio printmaking to create over 1,000 prints, choosing different techniques based on the desired expressive quality

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