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The Engraving Process

St Jerome by Albrecht Dürer 1514

Engravers use a steel tool called a burin to cut the picture or pattern into the surface, mostly a copper plate.[1] Gravers come in a variety of shapes and sizes that give different line types when used. The burin gives us a line that is unique because of its steady appearance and smooth edges. The angle tint tool has a slightly curved tip that is commonly used in printmaking. Florentine liners are flat-bottomed tools with multiple lines on them, used to do work on larger areas. Flat gravers are used for doing work on letters, as well as most musical instrument engraving work. Round gravers are commonly used on silver as well as other hard-to-cut metals such as nickel and steel.

History and usage

In ancient history, the only engraving that could be made were the shallow grooves found in some jewellery after 1000 B.C.

In the European Middle Ages goldsmiths used engraving to decorate metal. 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 make artistic images on paper in Germany in the 1430s. The first and greatest period of engraving was from about 1470 to 1530, with such masters as Martin Schongauer, Albrecht Dürer, and Lucas van Leiden.

Thereafter engraving tended to lose popularity to etching, which was a much easier technique for an artist to learn. By the nineteenth century, most engraving was for commercial picture-making.

Before the invention 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, because they were cheap to use in printing.


Sudarium of Saint Veronica by Claude Mellan (1649)

When two sets of parallel line hatchings crossed each other for higher density, the pattern was known as cross-hatching. Claude Mellan is well known for his technique of using lines of different thicknesses. One example is his Sudarium of Saint Veronica, an engraving of the face of Jesus from a single spiralling line that starts at the tip Jesus's nose (pictured).