Etching is part of the intaglio family (along with engraving, dry point, mezzotint, and aquatint. The process is believed to have been invented by Daniel Hopfer (circa 1470-1536) of Augsburg, Germany, he decorated armour in this way, and applied the method to printmaking. Etching soon came to challenge engraving as the most popular printmaking medium. Its great advantage was that, unlike engraving which requires special skill in metalworking, etching is relatively easy to learn for an artist trained in drawing.
Etching prints are generally linear and often contain fine detail and contours. Lines can vary from smooth to sketchy. An etching is the opposite to a woodcut in that the raised portions of an etching remain blank while the crevices hold ink. In pure etching, a metal (usually copper, zinc or steel) plate is covered with a waxy ground. The artist then scratches off the ground with a pointed etching needle where he wants a line to appear in the finished piece, so exposing the bare metal. The plate is then dipped in a bath of acid, or has acid washed over it. The acid “bites” into the metal, where it is exposed, leaving behind lines to the plate. The remaining ground is then cleaned off the plate, and the printing process is then just the same as for engraving.
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