Intaglio is used to describe a specific family of printmaking that utilizes the incised line in a surface (usually a metal like copper or zinc) to retain ink which is then transferred to a special paper by way of extreme pressure. It is the direct opposite of relief printmaking. The method originates from antiquity, when metalsmiths would transfer designs engraved in armor to show examples of their work.
Intaglio printmaking has many different subcategories, at Antiquated Press, we primarily work within the "Etching" realm.
A relevant definition of an Original Etching comes from E.S. Lumsden's The Art of Etching "Our English word is derived from the Dutch etzen to eat; therefore, in order to make an etching at all one must employ an eating-away, or as it is technically called, a biting process….. It is the impression which is printed from a bitten plate on any suitable material such as paper, vellum, parchment or silk which is termed an "etching" not the etched metal itself. It follows that every impression or "proof" is equally an original etching."
Identifying an Intaglio print
Many digital and other prints try and replicate key features of an intaglio print. But in these areas one can easily spot the difference:
Plate mark - The process of printing a copper plate under extreme pressures creates a "plate mark", an embossed frame reflecting the edge of the plate on the paper. Many paper companies make sheets with fake plate marks, but they, comparatively, are far too precise and generally too shallow due to the need to pass through a printer.
Plate Tone - In an intaglio print there is a printed tone on the unbitten fields created by the ink still left on the plate in the wiping process. To wipe the plate completely clean would eliminate the plate tone, taking away from the beauty of an intaglio print (unless this is the artists true intent). The plate tone is very difficult to reproduce outside of intaglio due to the fact that every single print has its own unique plate tone.
Paper - In order to be processed by a machine or printer - the paper of contemporary prints need to have precise machine cut edges. This is not the case with hand pulled printing. A natural torn or mould made deckled edge is an indication that the print is a hand pulled etching. Additionally, the paper used in intaglio printmaking is dense and of high quality to endure the process and pressures of the press without tearing.
Embossing - When the dampened paper is compressed against the plate in the printing process embossing occurs. The paper actually conforms to the incised lines. This not only transfers the ink from the plate to the paper but also embosses the paper with the form and depth of the incised lines. This is impossible to replicate through other means and is truly unique to an intaglio print.