Etching was discovered in the early 16th century. Rembrandt was the first to
popularize this method. With this new technique available, engraving suffered a
rapid decline. The artist does not have to cut directly into the plate - the
acid does it for him. A metal plate (usually copper, zinc or steel) is covered
with a thin layer of acid resistant black waxy ground. Using an etching needle,
roulette (rotating wheel to rack) or mule (spinning roller rough) the artist
draws through the ground freely (almost like pencil on paper) into the ground,
exposing the bright metal below. The plate is then immersed in an acid bath
(nitric acid or ferric chloride) which cuts lines ("bites") into the plate. The
acid eats the plate where the protective ground was removed. The longer the acid
bath, the deeper the lines (tones) will be. When different parts of the plate is
left for different times in the acid depth and quality of the lines can be
controlled. The remaining ground is then cleaned off the plate. The plate is
inked all over, and then the ink wiped off the surface, leaving only the ink in
the etched lines. The finished plate is then printed in the same way as
engraving. The plate is then put through a high-pressure printing press together
with a sheet of paper (often moistened to soften it). The paper picks up the ink
from the etched lines, making a print. The process can be repeated many times;
typically several hundred impressions (copies) could be printed before the plate
shows much sign of wear.
Colour Etching is achieved in two ways, either by using a separate plate for
each colour or by carefully applying several colours on the same plate.
Therefore the artist has to decide at the beginning which technique he wants to
Etching has often been combined with other intaglio techniques such as engraving
(e.g. Rembrandt) or aquatint (e.g. Goya).
Etching by goldsmiths and other metal-workers in order to decorate metal items
such as guns, armour, cups and plates has been known in Europe since the Middle
Ages at least, and may go back to antiquity. The elaborate decoration of armour,
in Germany anyway, was an art probably imported from Italy around the end of the
15th century.little earlier than the birth of etching as a printmaking
technique. The process as applied to printmaking is believed to have been
invented by Daniel Hopfer (circa 1470.1536) of Augsburg, Germany. Hopfer was a
craftsman who decorated armour in this way, and applied the method to
printmaking, using iron plates (many of which still exist).
The 17th century is the great age of etching, with Rembrandt, Giovanni Benedetto
Castiglione and many other masters. In the 18th Piranesi, Tiepolo and Daniel
Chodowiecki are the best of a smaller number of fine etchers. In the 19th and
early-20th century the Etching revival produced a host of lesser artists, but no
really major figures. Etching is still widely practiced today.
Soft Ground Etching
The artist prepares the plate in much the same way as an etching, using a
different kind of ground. This soft ground allows the artist, after laying a
piece of paper on top, to draw the image with a hard pencil. The coating under
the pressure of the pencil adheres to the paper which is then lifted off,
exposing the metal underneath hereby creating an impression on the plate of the
crayon marks. The paper with the attached ground is carefully removed and the
plate is bitten. It is possible to reproduce any kind of texture with this
method: textiles, rough papers, netting or leather can be pressed into a soft
ground in a similar fashion. The print resembles a drawing.
There exist: Relief etching, Non-toxic etching, Photo-etching.