The paper currency and most stamps we use are engraved in metal plates and are printed after a viscous ink (about the consistency of oil paint) is forced into grooves, scratches, etched lines or indentations. The polished surface is then wiped clean using newsprint and tarlatan, leaving ink only below the plate level. The plate is then covered with a dampened paper and felt blankets. It is run through the press where great pressure (nearly eight tons per square inch) pushes the paper down into the engraved or etched grooves to pick up ink. In other words, in intaglio we see printed what is below the surface of the plate and the ink is now embossed on the paper.

Among the greatest masters of engraving and etching are Durer, Holbien, Rembrandt, Goya, and Picasso. Color viscosity printing, developed by Stanley William Hayter in Paris during the 1960's, is among the latest developments in intaglio printmaking.


As a contrast to intaglio, relief printing deals with printing the surface of the block, for example in wood cut, wood engraving or linocut. The artist carves into the block of wood or linoleum using gouges or knives and then applies the ink to the top surface using an ink charged brayer. Some artists will print relief prints using a press, others use a wooden spoon but it takes much less pressure to pull a relief print than an intaglio print. Woodcut is perhaps the oldest of the print media dating back to 6th century China. Artists like Munch, Gauguin, the German Expressionists Nolde and Kirchner and others did woodcuts. Karen Kunc is a young American woman who today is widely known for her exceptionally colored large woodcuts.


A third type of printmaking to consider is Lithography. This is a Planographic approach. In lithographic printing the surface of the stone or metal plate is treated so that greasy ink will adhere only to certain lines or areas. The paper is pressed against the total surface but only lines or areas that were drawn with a greasy crayon or substance will accept the ink. This technique was invented in about 1787 by Alois Senefelder. Some of the best-known practitioners were Daumier, Lautrec, Munch, and Picasso.

Other Methods

Other methods employed to create original hand pulled prints are silkscreen prints, collographs, rubbings, and cast paper images. For my purposes I will not delve into explanations of these but will recommend a reading list of printmaking texts. Suffice it to emphasize that there is much chicanery in today's misunderstanding of what an original is. Too often an image that is run off on high-speed presses in editions of 500-pencil signed both in the image and below are passed off to an unknowing public as original.

Etching: The artist creating etchings does so on metal plates. These can be copper, zinc, or rarely steel. Ordinarily a polished metal such as 16, 18 or 20 gauge is ideal. I prefer working with copper because it can be more easily engraved than zinc. One needs to have access to an etching press on which to edition and proof the plate during its development. Other material requirements include an acid bath in which to etch the plate; good quality paper; tools,such as scrapers, burins, a burnisher, brushes, pencils, etc. materials such as tarlatan, felt blankets, inks, various grounds, rosin, asphaltum, wax ball grounds, brayers, putty knives, and razor blades.

There are many approaches to creating an etching. Rembrandt van Rijn, 17th Century painter and printmaker, produced prints that were printed in either brown or black. He created more than 300 plates in a wide range of subject matter-portraits, landscapes, religious works, and studies of everyday life. They usually were a combination of dry point and etched line combined with scraping and burnishing.

Color Viscosity

In all methods of hand pulled prints it is possible to print many colors. In most instances, a means of accurate registration of the paper has been used so that colors and lines are where they belong. Color Viscosity printing does away with that concern since all of the coloration is applied to the plate prior to the printing. The system involves three aspects: 1. The levels etched or scraped into the plate. 2.The different amounts of oil added to each color. 3.The hardness or softness of the rollers used to apply the ink.

The colors usually are applied to the plate in the following manner. First, the intaglio color is applied to the entire plate and it is wiped. (The plate could be inked a la poupee with several colors using small wads of tarlatan for each color.) In this first application the ink is of a consistency- that is-- it has sufficient oil added to it that approximately a teaspoon of it on the blade of a putty knife will "run" and "break"- "run" and "break" above the glass slab, and the plate is wiped!

Second, The hard roller is charged with the runniest ink. The hardness of the rubber roller is its "durometer." Ideally, a hard roller should be 35 durometer. The soft roller should be 15 durometer. By a runny ink I'm saying thinner than cream. In fact, Hayter used to say, "Think milk and honey" when you want to remember the order of ink application. Milk on the top level and honey in the lower level. The hard roller passes over the plate with little or no downward pressure. You don't want that color to go into the lower levels.

Thirdly, the soft roller is now charged with the third color. This color is thinned with the same oil but is not as runny as the previous color. It is applied with some downward pressure so that it inks the lower level. Voila! This color does not mix with that applied previously with the hard roller. Finally, a fourth color can be applied. This color should be mixed with plate oil where the others are mixed with either thin litho oil or boiled linseed oil. It is rolled out on the glass slab as a rather thin film. The plate with its three colors on it is placed face down on the ink film and the back of the plate is struck with your hand or a soft rubber hammer. This is called "contact printing" and in this instance only the highest parts of the surface will accept the "contact" color. Now, it is ready to be placed on the press bed, the dampened paper has been brushed and waved in the air to assure only dampness- no wetness-- is carefully lowered onto the plate, the felt blankets are placed over both the plate and paper-and the press bed is cranked thru and back out. The moment of truth has arrived. The proof is in the printing.


And now I feel it's time to talk about color and some of the magical things made possible with the use of Litho inks. Don't let those eyes glaze over yet. I prefer to use litho inks because they are transparent and in a sense act much like light. Two "secondary" colors can in combination create a "primary" color. For example, both green and purple contain blue. Both orange and purple have red and both orange and green are made with yellow. Not a pure yellow but more of an ochre. If you take a dab of these colors and mix two of them with a little turps or paint thinner you can prove it to yourself. If in an etching you have an area that is aquatinted and you ink that area with green and wipe it -- then roll a thin film of purple over it-it will likely print as a blue. I use the Handschy CS series and I have seen unbelievable colors created this way.

Then there are other effects possible with selective wiping using small bits of phonebook paper or even Q-tips. Editioning with a little practice can produce very consistent results. So far I haven't seen a really good written explanation of the above approach. I suggest you look at the prints of Krishna Reddy who was Hayter's Assistant when I was in Paris in 1969.