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Printed Image Types.

Antique engravings are generally grouped under the following main catagories:

Wood Engraving

Wood engravings require the creation of a relief image on a block of wood by cutting away the parts that are not to hold ink. A design is usually drawn directly onto a wooden block and then all other parts are cut away to leave only the design. The image is therefore the result of the raised surface. Because these processes print in relief, they were often used to illustrate relief typeface books and newspapers.

Woodcuts are known to have been used in China as early as the ninth century but it was not until some 500 years later that they became used in Europe.

One distinctive characteristic between early wood cuts and the latter 19th century versions is that early woodcuts where cut along the grain on the block’s workable surface with the desired image being cut in a way that it remained level with the surface of the block. Later day woodcuts where cut against the grain often in hardwoods.

More difficult to work, than traditional woodcuts, this had the advantage of produced highly detailed images. In addition, becuse wood engraving is a relief process the resulting plates could be used in print presses and thus made it possible for 19th century artists to be able to reach a much wider audience than had previously been possible and for illustrations to become more widespread.

Copper and Steel Engravings

Copper and Steel Engravings were made by incising a design into a metal plate such that the image is recessed.

This is an intaglio process with the image being the result of the recessed parts. The image in copper and steel engravings are generally incised into the matrix in a series of lines hence the term ‘line engraving’ that is sometimes used. Prints made in this way require considerable pressure and this pressure creates the plate mark.

Some of the earliest line engravings were issued in the 1600’s using copper plates with steel plates allowing for yet finer detail being used in the 1800’s.


Etchings are similar in concept to copper and steel engravings with the main difference being that the image is engraved in the plate using acid.

A metal plate is covered in acid resistant material with the required design being drawn through this acid and in a manner that exposes the plate. The plate is subsequently immersed in acid which eats away the metal in the exposed parts. The process is repeated as often as necessary with darker lines being created by stopping out or covering those parts that the engraver would not want to darken and immersing again. Etchings are also the product of an intaglio process and will have a plate mark.

Existing as early as the 1500’s the technique was fully developed and perfected in the middle of the 1600’s by Rembrandt.


A lithograph is created by drawing an image onto a stone (lithography = “stone-drawing”) or metal plate using a grease crayon or a greasy ink called tusche.

The process is based on the principle that grease and water do not mix. A lithograph is created by drawing an image on a stone using grease. The stone or plate is wet with water and immediately after with ink. Because grease and water do not mix, the image drawn by grease repels the water but absorbs the ink the image is then printed on paper. The process became popular around the mid 1800’s.

A chromolithograph is a coloured lithograph with colours being printed from a separate stone with the image being composed from those colours one of the most noted Maltese artists to have developed and used this medium to a high degree was Count Amadeo Preziosi whose chromolithographed costume plates of Turkey and Cairo are highly desirable and collectable. The printing of a lithograph does not create a plate mark.

A tinted lithograph is a lithograph whose image is printed from one stone and which has wash colour for tinting applied from one or two other stones. Lithography is a pantographic process and so no plate mark is created when a lithograph is printed.

Lithography was invented by Alois Senefelder in 1798 but didn’t come into general use until the 1820s. After that time lithography quickly replaced intaglio processes for most illustrative and commercial applications, for the design was easier to apply to the stone or plate, it was much easier to rework or correct a design, and many more images could be produced without loss of quality than in any of the intaglio processes.


Similar in process to an etching, the acid resistant material is grainy. This graininess is created by dissolving resin in spirit, applying this to a metal plate and heating it. The spirit evaporates and the resin is left stuck to the metal plate. This creates the effect of graininess to the plate and provides a more textured effect. The rest of the process is similar to that of an etching.

Popular in the 1st part of the 1800’s, their popularity did not last due to the high cost of production.


A stipple print is created from a metal plate upon which the design has been produced using different sized small dots grouped more or less closely together in order to create areas of tone.

A stipple etching is made in the same manner as a line etching, except that the design is composed in the waxy ground with dots created by an etching needle or some other tool.

A stipple engraving is created in the same manner as a line engraving, except the design is engraved into the plate using dots made with a stippling burin. Stipple is an intaglio process, so prints made in this manner will have a plate mark.

The stipple method was used occasionally as early as the fifteenth century, but became popular in the last decade of the eighteenth century.


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 smoothed 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 plate mark. The mezzotint process makes a very richly textured image and was used particularly for portraits.

Mezzotint was invented by a German soldier named Ludwig von Siegen around 1642 but was refined later in that century by Abraham Blooteling.

Used primarily in the eighteenth century, it was especially popular in England and was often called la manière anglaise.

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