How an etching is made

Line Etching

The metal etching plate — copper, zinc or steel — is coated with an acid resistant wax ground and the design is drawn through the wax with a fine needle. The plate is then immersed in an acid bath. After several minutes the plate is removed then stopout varnish is painted on the fine lines so they are retained at that depth. Then the plate is reimmersed to give a deeper etch. This process is repeated as many times as necessary to obtain a variety of depth, the longer the plate is etched the deeper and blacker the lines will print.

1 Degreasing the plate

2 Applying a wax ground

3 Drawing on the plate

4 Etching the plate


A process to obtain various tones. A fine resin powder is dusted onto the plate and fused by means of heat. Each resin dot becomes an acid-resist. The same principle as line etching applies, i.e. the longer the plate is immersed in the acid the deeper and darker the tone becomes. A complicated plate therefore can take several weeks to complete. Careful study of an etching will reveal white spots which are the marks made by the resin powder.The above are two basic principles of etching but there are many more.

5 Applying the ink

6 Partially Removing the ink

7 Hand wiping the plate

8 Placing the plate on the press

9 Removing the final print

To print an etching

The ink is forced into the etched parts on the plate, and the surplus ink is removed by wiping with muslin and the hand. An etching is printed on an etching press which is similar to an old-fashioned mangle. Dampened paper is placed on top of the plate with felt blankets. It is then passed between the rollers which exert tremendous pressure, effecting transfer of ink from the plate onto the paper. Inspection of the back of an etching reveals the plate mark.

Colour Printing

There are various methods of coloured printing using one plate, or if several are used careful registration is then required. Glynn Thomas generally uses the method ‘a la poupee’. This utilises one plate. Small pieces of muslin are used to ink up various colours on the plate, which can be merged to give subtle colour variation. Each inking enables the artist to print one copy only. Great patience and skill are therefore required to achieve the desired effect, especially for editioning as each etching must be inked up the same as its predecessor in an edition.

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