Antique Printmaking Methods


  • Engraving is the practice of incising a design onto a hard, usually flat surface, by cutting grooves into it. The result in an intaglio printing plate, of copper or another metal, for printing images on paper as prints or illustrations; these images are also called engravings.
  • Wood engravings were used for newspapers – such as “Harpers Weekly”
  • Engraving was a historically important method of producing images on paper in artistic printmaking, in mapmaking, and also for commercial reproductions and illustrations for books and magazines.
  • 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.


An etching is created by covering a metal plate with an acid-resistant layer of wax called a ground and drawing a design through the ground using an etching needle. The plate is then placed in an acid bath for 3-15 minutes, which bites into the exposed lines, thus etching the design into the plate.

After dipping the plate in acid, sections of the design can be stopped out with varnish and the plate immersed in the acid again. This creates a deeper bite, and thus darker lines, for those areas not stopped out. Etching is an intaglio process, so prints made in this manner will have a platemark. Etching allows for a freer artistic hand than does engraving.


  • Woodblocks entail creating a relief image like a stamp on a block of wood by cutting away the parts that are not part of the image. The design is usually drawn directly onto the block and then all other parts are cut away. In a woodcut the image is cut from the block parallel to the grain using a knife or a pointed tool called a graver.
  • A relief print is one whose image is printed from a design on the raised surface of a block. In this type of print the ink lies on the top of the block and is transferred to the paper under light pressure.
  • A chromoxylograph is an image printed in color from a wood block. Because these processes print in relief, like moveable type mounted on wooden blocks, they were often used to illustrate relief typeface books and newspapers.
  • Woodcuts were introduced to Europe in the early fifteenth century (the earliest European woodcut is the “Brussels Madonna” of 1418), but were executed in the Orient as early as the ninth century. The use of woodcuts was spread by the inventions of moveable type and of the printing press in the 1450s.


  • Mezzotint can be thought of as the inverse of the other intaglio processes, for a mezzotint design is created working from black to white, rather than vice versa. In a mezzotint the metal plate is worked using a rocker, which roughens the entire surface of the plate with tiny holes and burrs.
  • If the plate were printed at this time the image would be completely velvet black. Areas that are to appear in lighter tones or in white are polished out on the surface so that they will hold less ink.
  • Mezzotint is an intaglio process, so prints made in this manner will have a platemark. The mezzotint process makes a very richly textured image and was used particularly for portraits. Used primarily in the eighteenth century, it was especially popular in England and was often called la manière anglaise.


  • A Lithograph is created by drawing an image onto a stone slab (lithography = “stone-drawing”) using a grease crayon or a greasy ink called tusche. The process is based on the principle that grease and water do not mix.
  • To create a lithograph, the stone or plate is washed with water –which is repelled by the crayon– and then with ink –which is absorbed by the crayon. The image is printed onto the paper from the stone or plate, which can be re-inked many times without wear.
  • Lithography is a planographic process and so no platemark is created when a lithograph is printed.
  • Because lithographer’s stones have become rare, metal plates are more often used these days.


  • A Chromolithograph is a colored lithograph, with at least three colors, in which each color is printed from a separate stone and where the image is composed from those colors.
  • Chromolithography upon its discovery became the prime means of image production due to its durability and its incredible richness and depth of color. It was used not only for fine art imagery, but for advertisements and informational flyers. The purity and beauty of its images are impressive even today.

Four Color Offset Lithograph

  • A Four Color Offset Lithograph depends on photographic processes, and flexible aluminum, polyester, mylar or paper printing plates are used instead of stone tablets. Modern printing plates are covered with a photosensitive emulsion.
  • A photographic negative of the desired image is placed in contact with the emulsion and the plate is exposed to ultraviolet light. After development, the emulsion shows a reverse of the negative image, which is thus a duplicate of the original (positive) image.
  • The plate rolls against a cylinder covered with a rubber blanket, which squeezes away the water, picks up the ink and transfers it to the paper with uniform pressure. Because the image is first transferred, or offset to the rubber blanket cylinder, this reproduction method is known as offset lithography or offset printing.


Hand Coloured Lithograph

A Hand Coloured Lithograph is a lithograph as described above, that has been filled in with watercolour, inks, or another colored markmaking instrument, to make the image multi-coloured.

Traditional Paper Making

In the thirteenth century, paper was produced from linen rags. The rags would reach the papermakers after a long life of use – going from fine clothing, to maids garb, to scullery garb, to household rags, and, when finally beyond saving, the rags would be bought up by Ragmen, who would venture from house to house, buying and selling old rags, which they would then sell to papermakers. Papermaking as a craft that required a long and often expensive apprenticeship. Workers were frequently sworn to secrecy because no craftsman wished to share their knowledge with competitors.

Upon receiving the rags the women at the papermakers facilities would carefully sort them by quality of linen and then clean the rags of buttons, excess threads, and any other earthly detritus. The rags were then washed and piled high to ferment before being pulped. The pulping process was one during which women would stomp on the rags in deep vats until the rags broke down to mere fibers. The pulped fibers were then thoroughly mixed so that the vatman could dip a wire mesh tray into the mixture and lift out upon the screens surface the correct amount of pulp to produce the required thickness of paper.

A wooden frame called a deckle was then fitted over the tray to form a raised edge and prevent the watery pulp from escaping. Pulp flowing between the frame and the deckle produced an irregular feathery edge around the paper hence the term “deckle-edged” paper. As soon as possible the newly formed sheet of paper was removed from the tray and placed between two pieces of felt. The paper-and-felt “sandwiches” were then pressed to remove surplus water and then the fresh paper was hung to dry.

This method of papermaking produced paper that would never yellow because all the lignin found in linen fibers (lignin causes paper to yellow over time due to its natural acidic content) would have been washed away over the years of use before the rags reached the papermakers. European papermaking didn’t blossom until the 15th century. When Gutenberg produced his first Bible in 1456, most manuscripts were still made from parchment – the skin of a sheep or goat that’s been prepared for writing – or vellum, the skin of a calf. It took the skins of 300 sheep to print one copy of Gutenberg’s Bible. However, by the sixteenth century, paper mills using old cloth rags were springing up all over Europe. Linen was the predominant source of material for paper, although cotton began to show up in paper by the 18th century, as American production began to recycle cotton rags. In 1588 the first paper mill in England to produce good quality white paper on a commercially viable basis was opened by John Spilman.

This began a new era of paper production with tones ranging from brown to pure white, and literature and information began to spread across Europe at an exponential rate. However, recycled rags were virtually the only source of papermaking fiber in the Western world for over 700 years, until wood pulp processes were developed in the mid-nineteen century.

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