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The printing plate is made of metals such as copper, zinc, steel or iron, although copper is preferred due to its compactness, toughness, resistance and homogeneity. These properties improve the quality of the engraving as the incisions remain cleaner and the printing plate is more resistant to the striking of longer series. Zinc is softer and less resistant, and therefore requires better control, especially when a mordent is being applied. Steel and copper are less commonly used, and only for a limited range of effects –textured backgrounds, quick and deep incisions etc.—and with appropriate mordents . The metal printing plate, whether copper or zinc, has a smooth surface and a thickness of approximately 1 to 1.5 mm.

Metal engraving is based on incision or gouging in metal. The image is gouged into the plate and the design’s white areas are formed by the plate surface itself. The ink penetrates the incised recesses and mirrors the image onto paper.

A metal engraving print boosts some features that are not seen in any other printing technique, such as the relief of the lines on paper; the pressure marks of the plate around the printed composition, known as the plate mark etc.; and the characteristic lines achieved through the application of different techniques such as etching, aquatint, drypoint, burin, mezzotint etc..

Incision may be carried out directly, gouging in the metal with a tool, or indirectly, biting the metal with mordents. Both techniques can be applied onto the same metal plate.


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