(ART)icles – Etching & Drypoint

Gamblin Inks


Printmaking is one of the oldest forms of art in existence, dating back to prehistoric times. As a traditional form of art, it remains quite popular within the world of the artist. Etching and drypoint, which yield similar results after pulling the print, are two very different processes.

Etching, a form of intaglio printmaking, involves a number of solvents and acids to achieve the final image on a plate. It is done on thin metal plates, the most popular of which is copper as it is a very soft metal. A hard ground, normally made from asphaltum, is applied to the plate and left to dry. Once dry, any sharp tools can be used to create linework and imagery on the plate by lifting the asphaltum from the plate. Etching needles are a popular tool used for this, but there is a variety of etching tools to choose from, each yielding different types of lines or textures. After drawing out the image on the prepared plate using an etching tool, the plate is immersed in an acid bath. These acids can vary from highly toxic dangerous ones to safer, slower working acids that are less of a danger. The acid used will also affect the shape of the line it “bites” into the plate. For example, one acid might create deep v-like grooves in the plate while another will give straight grooves. The longer the plate is left in the acid bath, the deeper the lines will get, thus giving the artist the ability to achieve grey or black lines, depending on how long they let the acid bite the plate. Once the plate has been in the acid bath, had the edges filed and is ready to print, the artist can pull an edition of prints through the tedious process of inking and wiping their plate.

Drypoint can give similar results to an etching. However, many processes aren’t available to use with drypoint that can be used with etching, such as aquatint. Drypoint does not make use of any acids but involves the straightforward method of scratching lines and textures into a metal plate (i.e. copper, zinc) in order to achieve the desired image. This method takes a lot more elbow grease but is safer in that acids are not needed to prepare a plate. However, more graceful lines are achievable by doing etchings rather than drypoints. Once a drypoint plate has been completely etched, the edges are filed and the plate is inked similar to an etching plate.

Both methods require an etching press with the correct blankets (felted wool blankets used to provide a tighter pull and protect the press and plate), as well as wetting of whichever paper is being used. Heavyweight papers can be used by soaking them in clean water and then blotting the paper so it is damp; lightweight, delicate papers are wetted by using a spray bottle and then blotting. The wetting of the paper enables it to grab onto the ink held in the lines of the plate better, as well as allowing the embossment of the plate in the paper, a traditional etching and drypoint practice.

Etching and drypoint are just two of the numerous types of printmaking available – look for more blog entries about relief printing and silkscreening in the future!

The Art Supply Store

Written by: Mia Culbertson