Glossary

Drypoint:  is a printmaking technique of the intaglio family, in which an image is cut into a plate with a hard-pointed “needle” of sharp metal or diamond point. In principle the method is practically identical to engraving. The difference is in the tools and that the raised ridge along the furrow is not scraped or filed away as it is in engraving. Traditionally the plate was copper but now acetate, zinc or plexiglas are also commonly used.

Engraving:  A plate of soft metal is used, most often copper, and the design engraved (cut into) into the surface using a tool called a “burin” which is a square tool-steel rod, sharpened diagonally at one end, such that the prominent corner becomes an effective and controllable cutting edge.  The engraver uses the burin to cut an image, as a series of lines of varying width and depth, that are a translation of the tones and shadings of the artists original work. Deep lines hold more ink than shallow ones, producing a darker tone when printed.

Etching:  The key difference from engraving, is the use of acid to remove the metal, rather than to cut into the surface with a tool. The most basic form of etching, starts with a layer of wax, which is resistant to the acids used, being applied to the cleaned surface of a flat metal plate. The desired image is then drawn through the wax using a pointed metal tool called an “etchers needle” so that the surface of the metal is exposed through gaps in the wax. Acid is applied to the exposed metal surface and it “bites” into the plate  producing lines and crevices that correspond to the image drawn.

Giclee:  (Apparently it’s pronounced ‘Zhee-Clay’   from the French words ‘la giclée’ – that which is sprayed or squirted’.)  Originally, this described digital reproductions of conventional artworks (painting or drawing) or photographs. Today, a giclee print can also be a digitally created image.  To be a true giclee print the following minimum three requirements must be met

  • needs to be created at a resolution of no less than 300 dots per inch (DPI).
  • the paper or substrate used for the final print must be of “archival” quality – acid free and consists of a 100 per cent cotton or rag base.
  • The last element is the type of ink and printer used. Giclees are inkjet printed using pigment-based inks rather than the dye-based inks found in lower-cost inkjets.

Photogravura:  The process involves the use of a light sensitive gelatin applied to the copper plate. A positive image of the design to be etched is placed in contact with the gelatin and exposed to light. The special properties the gelatin ensure that where much light is received (the light areas of the design), the gelatin hardens, and remains softer in areas where less light is received.

The gelatin is washed with water and the softer parts are dissolved away. The plate with the hardened gelatin is then placed in an acid bath and the acid gradually eats away at the gelatin surface and consequently the plate. Those areas of the gelatin that remained soft from exposure are relatively unresistant to the acid and so allow the plate to be etched fairly soon into the etching process; these are the darker areas of the plate which will consequently hold more ink. The areas of gelatin which received much light will remain hard throughout the etching and will only let acid onto the plate towards the end, or perhaps not at all; in these areas ink will not be held in any great quantity, if at all, and therefore will be very light or white in the corresponding impression.

The gravure etching process is extremely difficult, more of a craft skill than the art of an engraver, demanding in the etcher a unique knowledge and feel for the length of time that the plate must remain in the acid bath: too long and the plate will produce prints with too much contrast, too short and the prints will have a grey appearance. Often it can take several attempts and wasted plates before a satisfactory result is achieved. Various highlights will be added by selective wiping of the acid across the plate and by further work on the plate with a burnisher or burin.

Roulette:  is a copper plate printing tool for making areas of regular lines and dots on the plate surface by rolling and pushing the toothed metal wheel on its tip.

Intaglio:   is the collective term for the the print making techniques that encompass engraving and etching.

Synthetic Polymer:  This is just another way of saying that a painting has been made using acrylic paint.  Apparently acrylic paint was considered a poor second cousin to oil paint and so the shift.  There has been some discussion among artists as to why some galleries (mis)label works as synthetic polymer instead of acrylic paint. Personally I’ll stick with acrylic paint.  When I see “synthetic polymer” I think plastic bags and bottles.