Intaglio Editions

Glossary of Printmaking Techniques


Sometimes loosely referred to as photo etching, the photogravure process creates a type of intaglio print. Using this method, a metal plate gets coated with photosensitive medium. This light-sensitive coating is prepared to first recieve ink by treating it with an aquatint, according to the platemaking method being used. The prepared plate is then exposed to a film positive under industrial ultra-violet light, before being etched. This type of intaglio print can produce the continuous tones and sharp details associated with photographs. Photogravure has historically been among the most difficult and expensive traditional printmaking processes to master. The process was brought to popularity in the early 1900's, primarily thanks to the work of photographer and anthropologist Edward S. Curtis.

Polymer Photogravure

Polymer Photogravure is a term coined by David Hoptman around 2003 to describe polymer plates with the goal of getting more continuous tone from them, akin to traditional photogravure in copper. Polymer photogravure is distinct from the more generic term "photo etching", where the intent is more to achieve anything recognizable as a photograph, rather than creating one with intentional elegance requiring technical skill.

Bon a Tirir

French for the phrase "Good to Work", the Bon a Tirir is the master proof referenced when printing an edition to ensure each print matches closely to the master. It is decided upon by the Artist and Printmaker during the proofing stage. Assignment of a Bon a Tirir indicates the end to the proofing session, which can sometimes take many iterations to get the ink color and methods of wiping just right. Having a reference print allows the printmaker to spot check prints during production to ensure the colors and wiping techniques are consistent, and an identical set of prints is produced.

Chine Colle

Chine colle is a printmaking technique in which the image is transferred to a surface that is bonded to a heavier support during the printing process. This allows the printmaker to print onto more delicate surfaces and to pull finer details off the plate. Thin Japanese papers are especially compatible with this method.

This printmaking method also allows for a background color that is different from the surrounding backing sheet. The final image will be determined by the design and ink color, the color and opacity of the paper on which the image is printed, and the color of the backing sheet itself.

A La Poupee

A la poupee is an intaglio printmaking technique that allows one to apply different colored inks in different areas of the plate manually. The printmaker blends ink on the plate, in a localized manner, using a ball-shaped wad of felt, or some other fabric tool. This can be done in conjunction with using tarlatan to distrubute the ink naturally and evenly, as desired.


Retroussage is a technique used in traditional etching and engraving that involves drawing ink up from within the incised lines of an ink plate by passing a soft cloth or tarlatan across its surface to spread it into the adjacent area.


Tarlatan is cheese cloth fabric that has been treated with starch, to give it structure. It is used to distribute ink across the surface, and into the microscopic pits or incisions in the printmaking plate. Tarlatan comes in several different levels of starchiness. We at Intaglio Editions specially treat the tarlatan we use to wipe our plates by taking lightly starched tarlatan, and soaking it in a bath of warm water for 15-20 minutes, agitating every few minutes. Drain and wring out the fabric, but do not re-rinse. Hang to dry, then pull apart, to make maleable.

Tarlatain is best suited for wiping when shaped into a flat pad.


Intaglio is a graphic arts technique that involves incising or scratching a design onto a metal plate. There are two different ways to do this: manually or chemically. Engraving and drypoint are manual techniques. Etching uses chemicals to achieve a similar result. The intaglio process is the reverse of the woodcut technique of printing because the incised lines of the design take the ink and show up as positive images in the print.

Artist Proof

Artist Proofs are prints kept by the artist from the edition which may or may not have slight variations or imperfections in them. They may be sold or given away at the artist's discretion and are counted in addition to the total number of prints in the edition. For example, a print edition may include 50 signed prints, 5 Printer's Proofs and 5 Artist Proofs.

Printer's Proof

Printer's proofs are customarily given to the printmaker and signed by the artist as part of the payment due to the printmaker, in addition to any monetary fees agreed upon. Printer's Proofs generally make up no more than 5-10% of the edition. Origins of this tradition were probably to allow the printmaker to provide testimonial to his work, and (we suspect) as added incentive to the printmaker to do his or her finest work for the commissioner!


An etching is a type of engraving in which the design is incised into a layer of wax or varnish on a metal plate. The parts of the plates left exposed are then etched (eaten away) by the acid in which the plate is immersed after incising.


Drypoint is an engraving in which the design, instead of being cut into the plate with a burin, is scratched into the surface with a hard steel "pencil" or needle. The process is very conducive to designs that feature lots of small details and when done well can produce magnificent tonality, second only to Mezzotint.


Mezzotint is a printmaking technique that involves taking a metal plate prepared by rocking the plate with a metal hand-tool called a rocker, that creates a very thin series of lines in the plate. By rocking this tool over the plate many, many times, and in the correct pattern, a fine matrix of lines is created in the metal. The artist/printmaker then uses burnishing tools, roulettes, and needles to create various types of lines and patterns. By pushing over and cutting through the metal lines rocked into the plate, an image can be crafted. Mezzotints, when done well, are among some of the richest styles of traditional printmaking that fall under the classification of intaglio.


Aquatint is an intaglio printmaking technique that uses a copper or zinc plate in which the image is etched. The ink plate is passed through a printing press together with a sheet of paper, resulting in a transfer of the ink to the paper. This can be repeated a number of times depending on the particular technique and is generally used to create shading and density. Traditional aquatint uses rosen that is first dusted, then baked onto the surface of the plate to cause a resist when etched, resulting in tiny pits.

Similarly, an "aquatint screen" is a piece of film with fine dots, used in polymer photogravure to create a matrix of dots which become etched into the polymer. The new plate first exposted to an aquatint screen prior to exposing it to the film positive.

Film Positive

A film positive is a sheet of plastic film containing a specially prepared version of the photographic image to be used in the creation of a printing plate. Since transferring the image from film to a plate naturally causes it to lose fidelity and gain contrast, simply producing the film as you would want the print to look would not work. By preparing the film positive a head of time to compensate for these effects of the transfer, the image is generally made to look at little flatter on the film so it comes out with adequate contrast in the final print edition.

Solar Plate Etching

Solarplate™ is a brand of polymer plate which, since the 1970s, has been owned and run by Master Printmaker Dan Welden and distributed by his company Hampton Editions. Mr. Welden discovered the use of polymer plates in intaglio printmaking and introduced them to the world as Solarplate (around the same time as they were coming into public awarness for their promenence in the semiconductor industry. He has since been overseeing their formulation and production and holds solar plate printing workshops regularly on their use in printmaking, and demonstrating their proven versitility and ease-of-use in fine art printmaking.

ImagOn ™

ImagOn is a proprietary and relatively new type of image making that involves transferring a relatively thin, photosensitive film to plexiglass or some other substrate, which is then exposed and developed (rather than more deeply etched) in weak chemical solutions and water. The plate is then printed intaglio style. Like polymer photogravure, ImagOn is safer for the environment than traditional etching, and poses fewer health risks for artists. Unlike polymer plates, ImageOn is best suited for more graphical, high contrast imagery. It is not suitable for running large editions since the photosenstive film substrate breaks down after only a few printings.

Paper and Ink Terminology

Paper Calendaring

Calendaring is a method for flattening fine art paper by soaking, blotting, then running it through the press prior to printing on it. This ensures the fibers are smooth and will receive the ink in the smoothest way possible once printed on.

Alpha Cellulose

Alpha cellulose is a type of paper frequently used in bookplates, calligraphy and book printing. Because this type of media can be made without the use of acids, it provides acid-free protection when used as end papers in rare books. Other common uses include printing, typing, and xerographic copying.


Washi is the technical term for thin Japanese "tissue" paper, which is a handmade paper that is often used in bookmaking. The word itself means paper in Japanese, so there are a variety of paper types that are sometimes referred to as washi. Washi paper can be made using several different plant types. It is always a thin, strong type of handmade paper. The most common plant used to make Japanese paper is the kozo plant, although other types of plants are also used, including the gampi shrub and mitsumata. Washi is most often used in the preservation of books and manuscripts.

Rice Paper

Often used to describe thin asian paper, it is neither correct to call it "rice paper", nor "tissue paper". Intaglio Editions suggests you avoiding using these misleading terms alltogether and, when in doubt, instead refer to it as simply "asian paper", if not something more specific describing the paper's composition and country of origin.

Kozo is a type of plant used to make Japanese tissue-like paper, also called washi. Due to its long fibers and their strength, the papers produced using kozo are very strong and dimensionally stable. Tissue made from kozo is called kozogami, and it comes in varying thickness and colors. These papers are handmade and are frequently used in bookmaking.


Gampi is a shrub that is sometimes used to make Japanese tissue. The tissue is made from the inner bark of the Gampi bush. Japanese tissue paper made from gampi tends to be shiny like the plant itself.

Cotton Rag

Cotton rag is a type of paper made from the fibers of the cotton plant. Cotton rag is made from cotton textile remnants, as opposed to cotton linters. Rag fibers are longer than cotton linters, which are more commonly used in art quality papers, and longer fibers provide extra strength that is helpful in printmaking.


Viscosity refers to the thickness of a liquid. Liquids with low viscosity are extremely fluid, while high-viscosity liquids are thick. Paints with lower viscosity can be brushed onto a canvas more quickly and freely. In printmaking, inks with high viscosity can be more difficult to spread across a plate than inks with lower viscosity.


Translucency refers to the amount of light that is able to pass through an object. Using filters with different amounts of translucency can create various effects. Both ink and paper possess varying degrees of translucency. Mastering the nuances in the various combinations of ink and paper in printmaking can lead to richer,more pleasing and controlled results.

Photographic Terms

Continuous Tone

A continuous tone image is one where each color at any point in the image is reproduced as a single tone, and not as discrete halftones, such as one single color for monochromatic prints, or a combination of halftones for color prints.

The most common continuous tone images are digital photographs every single pixel of which can take a continuous range of colors depending on the quantity of captured radiance.


In photography, density refers to the relative opacity of a negative, transparency or print. Density of a film positive will affect how rich the blackest part of the image appears, similar to how the density of a 35mm negative will affect how black the darkest parts of the image are in the final, silver-gelatin print. Inadequate density leads to over-exposure of the image. The greater the density, the less light is allowed to pass through the medium.


Contrast is the range of difference between the highlighted and shadowy areas in an image. It can also refer to the range of brightness in a scene or in the light striking a subject. The contrast level of photographic papers is measured using a scale called contrast grade. This level can be measured in a number scale ranging from one to five. The contrast range of paper is sometimes referred to using the terms soft, medium, hard, extra hard and ultra-hard. The contrast ratio notes the difference between the largest and darkest areas in a photograph or image.

The Zone System

The Zone System is a technique for determining optimal film exposure and development, created by Ansel Adams and Fred Archer. Adams said it was not actually his invention, but a codification of the principles of sensitometry...

It provides photographers with a systematic method of precisely defining the relationship between the way they visualize the photographic subject and the final results. It originated with black and white sheet film, but is applicable to all form of photography, and can also be systematically applied to photogravure printmaking.

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