Printmaking where the image is incised into the surface of a printing plate by etching or engraving. Note: this entry refers to the workshop skills of intaglio printing as distinct from fine art (see ‘Other information’ below).
|Historic area of significance
|Area currently practised
|Origin in the UK
Intaglio printmaking emerged in the wake of the woodcut print, and is thought to have begun in the 15th century. By the 16th century much mass printing was done using this technique including banknotes, stock certificates, newspapers, books, maps and magazines, fabrics, wallpapers and sheet music. Today, intaglio engraving is used largely for paper or plastic currency, banknotes, passports and occasionally for high-value postage stamps.
In the 19th century, Viennese printer Karel Klíč developed the process of photogravure, which produces a photograph-like image using a chemically etched copper plate.
Intaglio printmaking techniques work by incising into the surface of a plate (steel, copper etc.). Afterwards the plate is coated with ink. The surface is wiped clean so that the ink remains only in the incised areas. The printing relies on the pressure of a press to force damp paper into these recessed lines, to pick up ink.
Etching and engraving are intaglio methods of printmaking; etching uses acid where engraving does not. Drypoint, line engraving and mezzotint are a type of engraving.
Issues affecting the viability of the craft
Skills issues: Whilst intaglio printing as a fine art technique is taught widely in art schools and universities across the UK, the number of institutions with dedicated print shops is declining. Most of the large print studios have now closed.
Skills issues: Print workshops, where artists can collaborate with highly trained print technicians, are declining in number and there is risk that higher level skills could be lost or become scarce.
Training issues: There is a lack of specialist, work based training for workshop printers.
Market issues: There are cheaper alternatives to intaglio printing, which make it less commercially viable.
Royal Society of Painter Printmakers
V&A prints and drawing room
Ashmolean Print Collection
British Museum Print Collection
Craftspeople currently known
The Print Workshops Directory by Sean Rorke gives a list of around 70 print workshops in the UK.
There are many UK artists and printmakers using intaglio in their work at a highly skilled level. The process is widely used by artists and taught in art schools across the UK. However, the number of print workshops run by highly skilled print technicians is declining.