Etching. Etching is traditionally the process of using strong acid or mordant to cut into the unprotected parts of a metal surface to create a design in intaglio in the metal. In modern manufacturing, other chemicals may be used on other types of material. As a method of printmaking, it is, along with engraving, the most important technique for old master prints, and remains in wide use today. In a number of modern variants such as microfabrication etching and photochemical milling it is a crucial technique in much modern technology, including circuit boards. In traditional pure etching, a metal plate is covered with a waxy ground which is resistant to acid. The artist then scratches off the ground with a pointed etching needle where he or she wants a line to appear in the finished piece, so exposing the bare metal. The échoppe, a tool with a slanted oval section, is also used for swelling lines. The plate is then dipped in a bath of acid, technically called the mordant or etchant, or has acid washed over it. The acid bites into the metal where it is exposed, leaving behind lines sunk into the plate. 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 plate is then put through a high-pressure printing press together with a sheet of paper. The paper picks up the ink from the etched lines, making a print. The process can be repeated many times; typically several hundred impressions could be printed before the plate shows much sign of wear. The work on the plate can also be added to by repeating the whole process; this creates an etching which exists in more than one state. Etching has often been combined with other intaglio techniques such as engraving or aquatint. Main article: Old master print 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 at least, 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 of Augsburg, Germany. Hopfer was a craftsman who decorated armour in this way, and applied the method to printmaking, using iron plates. Apart from his prints, there are two proven examples of his work on armour: a shield from 1536 now in the Real Armeria of Madrid and a sword in the Germanisches Nationalmuseum of Nuremberg. An Augsburg horse armour in the German Historical Museum, Berlin, dating to between 1512 and 1515, is decorated with motifs from Hopfer's etchings and woodcuts, but this is no evidence that Hopfer himself worked on it, as his decorative prints were largely produced as patterns for other craftsmen in various media. The switch to copper plates was probably made in Italy, and thereafter etching soon came to challenge engraving as the most popular medium for artists in printmaking. Its great advantage was that, unlike engraving where the difficult technique for using the burin requires special skill in metalworking, the basic technique for creating the image on the plate in etching is relatively easy to learn for an artist trained in drawing. On the other hand, the handling of the ground and acid need skill and experience, and are not without health and safety risks, as well as the risk of a ruined plate. Prior to 1100 AD, the New World Hohokam independently utilized the technique of acid etching in marine shell designs. Jacques Callot from Nancy in Lorraine made important technical advances in etching technique. He developed the échoppe, a type of etching-needle with a slanting oval section at the end, which enabled etchers to create a swelling line, as engravers were able to do. Callot also appears to have been responsible for an improved, harder, recipe for the etching ground, using lute-makers' varnish rather than a wax-based formula. This enabled lines to be more deeply bitten, prolonging the life of the plate in printing, and also greatly reducing the risk of foul-biting, where acid gets through the ground to the plate where it is not intended to, producing spots or blotches on the image. Previously the risk of foul-biting had always been at the back of an etcher's mind, preventing too much time on a single plate that risked being ruined in the biting process. Now etchers could do the highly detailed work that was previously the monopoly of engravers, and Callot made full use of the new possibilities. Callot also made more extens
more...