History and usage of printing
In antiquity, the only engraving that could be carried out is evident in the shallow grooves found in some jewellery after the beginning of the 1st Millennium B.C. The majority of so-called engraved designs on ancient gold rings or other items were produced by chasing or sometimes a combination of lost-wax casting and chasing.
In the European Middle Ages goldsmiths used engraving to decorate and inscribe metalwork. It is thought that they began to print impressions of their designs to record them. From this grew the engraving of copper printing plates to produce artistic images on paper, known as old master prints in Germany in the 1430s. Italy soon followed. Many early engravers came from a goldsmith background. The first and greatest period of the engraving in Europe was from about 1470 to 1530, with such masters as Martin Schongauer, Albrecht Dürer, and Lucas van Leiden.
Thereafter engraving tended to lose ground to etching, which was a much easier technique for the artist to learn. But many prints combined the two techniques – although Rembrandts prints are generally all called etchings for convenience, many of them have some burin or dry point work, and some have nothing else. By the nineteenth century, most engraving was for commercial illustration.
Before the advent of photography, engraving was used to reproduce other forms of art, for example paintings. Engravings continued to be common in newspapers and many books into the early 20th century, as they were long cheaper to use in printing than photographic images. Engraving has also always been used as a method of original artistic expression. Traditionally, engravers created darker areas by making an area of many very thin parallel lines (called hatching). When two sets of parallel line-hatching’s intersected each other for higher density, the resultant pattern was known as cross-hatching.
Because of the high level of microscopic detail that can be achieved by a master engraver, counterfeiting of engraved designs is almost impossible, and modern banknotes are almost always engraved. Many classic postage stamps were engraved, although the practice is now mostly confined to particular countries, and/or used when a more “elegant” design is desired and a limited colour range is acceptable.
In most of the industrial uses like production of Intaglio plates for commercial applications, hand engraving was replaced with milling using CNC engraving/milling machines.
Another application of modern engraving is found in the printing industry. There, every day thousands of pages are engraved in photogravure cylinders, typically a steel base with a copper layer of about .1 mm in which the image is transferred. After engraving, the image is protected with an approximately 6 µm chrome layer. Using this process, the image will survive a million plus copies in high speed printing presses.
Today laser engraving machines are in development but the mechanical cutting still proves its strength in economic terms and quality. More than 4,000 engravers make approx. 8 Mio printing cylinders worldwide per year.
Soon these plates might be past history as computer based printing is taken over the industry and printing craftsmanship might be only passed on by artists in the future.
Find more info about the different graphic techniques of printmaking>>>>>
Visit our webshop
Find great examples of graphic artworks of numerous graphic techniques.