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Etching process printmaking – Step by Step

Etching process printmaking – Step by Step

Etching process printmaking – Step by Step

by Maryana Myroshnychenko

Etching is one of the most popular and widely used media from all intaglio techniques. Intaglio is the family of printing and printmaking techniques in which the image is incised into a surface and the incised line or sunken area holds the ink. It is the direct opposite of a relief print. Such techniques as engraving, drypoint, aquatint, mezzotint, soft ground, and collagraph are also included to intaglio. The artist can use them separately or combine some of them together in one work, called mixed technique.

Albrecht Dürer. The Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. C3. 1515.

Metropolitan Museum of Art (NY, USA).

The oldest dated etching is by Albrecht Dürer in 1515. The switch to copper plates was probably made in Italy, and thereafter etching soon came to challenge engraving as the most popular medium for artists in printmaking.

Get to know more about Albrecht Dürer here.

The process of creating etching is very exciting because every step is a new stage of creation done by the artist.

1- Drawing a sketch

2- Preparing a plate

In traditional pure etching, a metal plate (usually copper, less often zinc or steel) is covered with a waxy ground which is resistant to acid.

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Charbonnel Etching Grounds

Before applying these grounds, it is imperative that all grease be removed from the plate. To do this, thin some Marly white with a small quantity of water and rub the plate with a soft cloth or a piece of cotton. Rinse under flowing water. Pour a soured solution of vinegar and salt on the plate. Rinse once again. Avoid putting fingers on the plate while carrying out this operation.

Charbonnel hard black ball ground (solid)

Wrapped in a piece of taffeta which serves as a filter, the ball is rubbed on the pre-heated metal plate.
Dab on the ground to obtain an even surface before smoking.
The matt black finish obtained makes etching work very clear.

Charbonnel soft black ball ground (solid)

A painting dabber is recommended for application. It is applied hot.

3- Transfer drawing on a plate

4- Engraving a plate

After transferring a line drawing on a plate, the artist scratches off the ground with a pointed etching needle, revealing the plate underneath.

5- Acid’s etching

The plate is then dipped in a bath of acid (ferric chloride), technically called the mordant or etchant.

The thickness of the lines depends on the time of being the plate in acid. The lines are thinner when the plate stays 10-20 minutes in acid. And the lines are deeper and wider when the plate stays 40-60 minutes in acid. Except for lines the artist can use points as well. Different intensity of points provides a great scale of tune.

6- Cleaning off a plate

The acid “bites” into the metal (it dissolves part of the metal) where it is exposed, leaving behind lines sunk into the plate. The remaining ground is then cleaned off the plate.

7- Finishing a plate

To enrich the plate in tones and textures artist can use different instruments such as burin, roulettes, scrapers, burnishers, and rockers.

8- Filling a plate with ink

The plate is inked all over, and then the ink wiped off the surface, leaving only the ink in the etched lines and points.

All printmakers know that CHARBONNEL is a high-quality ink.
Click here and get to know this magnificent brand better.

9- Printing

The plate is then put through a high-pressure printing press together with a sheet of paper (often moistened to soften it). The paper picks up the ink from the etched lines, making a print.

Find out a little more about the paper you use here.

10- Drying prints

The process can be repeated many times, typically several dozen copies. By the way, every copy is accepted as an original graphic work.

11- Signing a print

Also, the main part is signing the prints. There are international marking symbols of all intaglio techniques:

C1 – Steel engraving

C2 – Burin engraving

C3 – Etching

C4 – Drypoint

C5 – Aquatint

C6 – Soft-ground or other ground-based etching

C7 – Mezzotint

Mixed techniques must be indicated as individual symbols separated by plus signs, e.g. C2+C3+C5.

“In Vino Veritas” C3+C5 2018

The filigree and detailed work by etching are the highest of all graphic techniques. This jewelry technique is using only simple lines and points, combines all beauty of drawing, wide palette of tones, different types of texture with an unusual composition in one small piece of metal. Etching is an amazing technique! It is quite obvious why such great art masters like A. Dürer, Rembrandt, Piranesi, Tiepolo, F. Goya also created their masterpieces by this technique. And that’s why I love it.

“Icarus” C3+C5 2015

“The Tower of Babel” C3+C5+C7 2013

“The Tower of Babel” C3+C5+C7 2013

“Femida” C3+C5 2017

“Cognition” C3+C5 2014

This article was written by Maryana Myroshnychenko and all images copyright © maryanamyroshnychenko 2019

You can get to know her on her Facebook page.

You can also leave comments below, she will respond as soon as possible.

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  • Junanne September 7, 2018 at 3:35 pm

    Thank you Maryana Myroshnychenko and Top Printmaking for this article….I will share it with my students….

    • TOP Team September 7, 2018 at 4:21 pm

      Hi Junanne. Thanks for your comment and visit.
      Can you please share it with your contacts also? It is a great help to us. 😉

  • Maryana Myroshnychenko September 8, 2018 at 9:10 am

    Hi, Junanne. Thanks a lot.
    Best wishes

  • Alfredo Garavaglia September 23, 2018 at 11:00 am

    Muy bueno el artículo sobre la técnica del grabado , desde Buenos Aires ¡¡ FELICITACIONES !!!

    • TOP Team September 24, 2018 at 10:55 am

      Muchas gracias por su visita y comentario. 😉


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