Intaglio is a print process where lines and areas are sunk into the plate to take the ink instead of a relief method, where the printing areas are left upstanding.


A Brief History

Originating in Italy, the word “intaglio,” with a silent “g,” referred to prints made from plates in which the areas that carry the ink are recessed below the surface of the plate. The method of creating the recessed areas differs from the technique. Plates were often made of copper, although zinc, brass, and other materials were also used. There are five traditional intaglio processes: engraving, etching, drypoint, aquatint, and mezzotint. Each produces prints with a distinct look and feel.

First, the artist applies ink to the entire surface of the finished plate, often using a roller. The ink is then squeezed across the plate, forcing the ink into every recessed line and area. The plate is then wiped with a rag called a tarlatan. This removes the ink from the raised portions of the plate, leaving only the ink in the recessed areas to be printed.

The plate is then placed onto the bed of an etching press, a rectangular steel slab. A dampened sheet of etching paper, more significant than the plate itself, is laid on top. Two felt blankets are placed on top of the paper.

The bed is then cranked between two steel rollers, pressing the blankets into the softened paper and forcing the paper down into the recessed areas of the metal plate, where it grabs the ink. After the bed rests at the other end of the press, the blankets are lifted off. The paper is removed to reveal the finished print or impression.

The look of the final print is affected by numerous factors, including the choice of ink, the method of wiping the ink from the plate, and the choice of paper — in addition to the choice of printmaking process and the artist’s treatment of the image. The contours of the plate leave an embossment on the paper called the platemark, and the residual ink on the surface is called plate tone.


Pantell, Richard. Intaglio Explained. Drawing Magazine. (Winter 2017). pages 70 - 75.

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