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Printmaking terms


A small steel rod with a sharpened point used for engraving a metal plate. It leaves a distinctive V-shaped groove in the plate's surface. Printmakers used it to add heavier accents to a plate started in etching.


Engraving is a form of intaglio printing, meaning an image is printed by inking an incised (engraved) surface. The engraver uses a tool called a burin to incise lines into the plate. To print an image the plate is inked, and the surface wiped clean so that only the grooves retain any ink. To ensure that all the ink is transferred to the paper they must both be placed in a press which can apply great pressure. To facilitate the transferral the paper is dampened. This process means that the paper is left with an indentation called a plate mark from where the edges of the metal plate were pressed into the sheet. It is a much more physically demanding technique than etching because it not only requires great physical strength but also great skill to incise an even line.


Etching is also an intaglio technique, but the recesses in the plate are achieved chemically rather than manually. The plate is heated and coated with an acid-resistant ground (in Van Dyck's day this was done with a feather). The artist then draws with an etching needle, which easily scrapes through the ground leaving lines of exposed metal. Van Dyck used a soft ground as he was able to move the etching needle very easily. The disadvantage of the softer ground is that it can be dislodged more easily. Excessive contact with the ground will remove it, and allow the acid to reach the plate, resulting in foul biting. The plate is then immersed in acid, which bites (corrodes) into the copper plate where it has been exposed. If the artist wants some lines to appear deeper than others so that they will print more heavily, these lines can be exposed for a second immersion whilst protecting the other lines with an acid-resistant varnish. When the ground has been cleaned off, the plate is then ready for printing. The etchings by Van Dyck appear in lettered states with the signature line Ant. Van Dyck fecit aqua forti (i.e. 'etched by Anthony Van Dyck', or literally, 'Van Dyck made this with strong water').


An impression is a single pull printed from a plate.


Confusingly, 'margins' refers to the unprinted edges of the paper outside the plate-mark, while the term 'margin' denotes the space between the image and the lower edge of the plate, which is usually reserved for inscriptions such as titles and makers' names.


A type of falsification that disguises an impression as an earlier state. Areas of the plate are covered with paper to prevent them from printing.


The means by which lines in a plate are altered. If the surface of a plate is smoothed and polished it tends to retain less ink.


The condition and appearance of the plate when a number of impressions were printed. If alterations were subsequently made to the plate, any further impressions would represent a different or later state.


Marks in paper caused during manufacture by a pattern formed of wire attached to the wires of the mould. The mark usually denotes maker, size, or place of origin.