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When making an intaglio print.. don’t make these 15 mistakes

The word intaglio comes from the Italian intagliare, which means “to engrave”. In printmaking, intaglio is a family of processes in which an image is incised or cut into a plate. The ink resides in the grooves and is transferred to paper when the plate and paper are passed through a printing press.

Intaglio techniques include engraving, etching, mezzotint, aquatint, and drypoint. All these techniques involve cutting or carving lines into a metal plate.

When the ink is applied to the raised surface of the metal and then wiped clean, it leaves ink only in the recessed lines.

The main advantage of intaglio over relief printing is that it allows for much finer detail in the printed image.

Intaglio print from the 90s 1

Is intaglio the same as lino printing?

Intaglio is the same as intaglio in that you are creating an etching, engraving, or other design on a metal plate. The main difference is that intaglio uses acid to eat into the metal while lino printing uses a carving tool to cut into the lino.

What is the process of intaglio printing?

The Intaglio printing process involves scratching, cutting, or etching into areas of a plate to be printed rather than having raised areas. 

The plate is then rolled over with ink and a surface such as paper is applied and pressed. Examples of intaglio printing are etching, drypoint, engraving, photogravure, heliogravure, aquatint, mezzotint and more.

What ink is used for intaglio printing?

Any kind of black ink is used for intaglio printing, however, it is recommended that you use an oil-based ink as it will not dry out as quickly as a water-based ink.

What paper is used for intaglio printing?

The type of paper you use for intaglio printing is dependent on the kind of intaglio print you are making.

For example, etching paper is different from lithography paper. However, generally speaking, any kind of smooth paper can be used for intaglio printing.

Can you use relief ink for intaglio printing?

Relief ink is a little thinner or viscous than etching ink which tends to be a thicker less runny ink.

You can use relief ink for intaglio printing, in fact, some printers state that the two types of inks can be used interchangeably and it comes down to personal preference.

Now don’t make these mistakes when making an intaglio print

Now that we have covered some of the basics, let’s look into some common mistakes that artists make when making an intaglio print.

  1. Don’t use too much ink. Using too much ink when inking your plate will make the etched lines appear too thick, blurred, or muddy. When in doubt, use less ink. You can always add more if needed.
  2. Don’t use too little ink when inking your plate. Using too little ink when inking your plate will result in weak or faint lines that may not print well. When in doubt, use a little more ink. You can always remove excess ink with a rag or paper towel if needed.
  3. Don’t etch for too long. When you etch for too long, the lines will become too deep and may start to bleed into each other. If this happens, you won’t be able to remove the excess ink without ruining your print. When in doubt, etch for less time. You can always go back and etch more if needed.
  4. Do clean your plate thoroughly before printing. Any dirt, grease, or grime that is on your plate will transfer to your paper and ruin your print. When in doubt, clean your plate with soap and water and dry it thoroughly before starting to print. The term commonly used is Degrease, Deoxidize and Degrease again.
  5. Don’t use too much pressure when printing. Applying too much pressure when printing will cause the lines to bleed and smudge, ruining your print.
  6. Do take your time preparing the plate, etching and inking. Intaglio printmaking is a slow and delicate process. rushing through it will only result in mistakes that will ruin your prints. When in doubt, take your time and be patient. The results will be worth it!
  7. Don’t forget to clean your tools after each use. If your tools are dirty, your prints will be too.
  8. If you’re using a soft lead pencil, be sure to use a hard lead pencil to transfer your design onto the plate. This will prevent smudging and damage to the plate.
  9. Be sure to wipe excess ink off of your plate before printing. Having excess ink will cause your lines to bleed and smudge, ruining your print.
  10. Don’t forget to clean your brayer after each use. If your brayer is dirty, your prints will be too. A brayer is basically the roller that you use to roll the ink onto the plate.
  11. Don’t print on regular printer paper. Regular printer paper is not thick enough and the ink won’t stay in place. A good paper to use is either watercolor paper or printmaking paper.
  12. Don’t use a dull blade to cut into or etch the plate. A dull blade will make your cuts uneven and difficult to print.
  13. Don’t use old or damaged paper. Old or damaged paper won’t hold the ink properly and your print will be ruined. But if you are looking for a unique distressed look, this may work for you.
  14. Don’t use a damp cloth to clean your finished prints. Damp cloths will cause your finished prints to warp as they will take on the extra water or humidity and that will cause the paper fibers to expand when dry. It may also make any non permanent ink run or smudge.
  15. Don’t leave or store your finished prints in direct sunlight. The UV rays will cause the print to fade over time.

Intaglio steps

If you would like to see some detailed steps to producing an intaglio print, I have linked to a source file that you can refer to and alternatively, you can view the following video.


Supporting video – making an intaglio print

Making an intaglio print video 1
Making an intaglio print video 2

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