Prints: the techniques

Hard ground etching

Hard ground etching is the indirect technique par excellence of intaglio engraving. It consists in applying a wax-based protective varnish on a metal plate -normally copper or zinc- which, once dry, is drawn on with a metal point. Subsequently, the fully drawn plate is introduced in a bath of acid or mordant, in such a way that the lines opened by the point in the varnish allow the acid to bite the metal. The operating time of the acid determines the lower or higher intensity of the bite of the strokes. For this, areas that require little intensity are covered with varnish shortly after the acid acts, while areas where a greater depth is needed are submerged again until the desired effect is achieved.


This technique, known since the 18th century, is usually used as a complement for the etching and aims to achieve various shades on the metal plate. The procedure consists of covering the plate with a uniform layer of pulverized and filtered resin that is then heated so that the microscopic resin grains remain attached to the metal. The heat causes a dilation of the resin grains which, once cooled, are separated by small cracks that are where the acid will act. After successive acid baths, protecting those parts of the plate that we want to preserve, we will get the desired effect.

A subsequent action consists of using a polisher-scraper to reduce the bite’s intensity of the plate in order for the surface to pick up less ink and thereby achieving lighter shades in the final engraving.

Dry point

This is a technique which consists of incising directly on the metal with a steel needle or dry point. Depending on the angle of inclination and the pressure exerted on the point, an incision of different depth is achieved. The metal scraped off when the incision is remains on both sides of the carving, forming a kind of ridge, called deckles. When the plate is inked, these deckles retain more ink giving a characteristic velvety appearance.


The engraved plate is intended to be printed and the recorded image transferred to the paper. For this the plate is inked by introducing the ink into the carvings with the help of a crankpin, then cleaning the surface of the plate with a cloth and finally, in some cases, gently moving the palm of the hand carefully avoiding taking the ink out of the carvings. Once the metal plate is inked, it is stamped by a type of a press which applies pressure on a base on which the engraved plate is placed with a sheet of paper on top. The pressure makes the ink in the carvings of the plate pass onto the paper, producing an engraving.

The edition is done in a limited number, indicated in the lower left corner of the engraving; once it is completed, the plate is disabled by scratching or perforating it, thus preventing further printings.

In memoriam Julio Toquero

In my case the workshop technician has always been a crucial factor when planning the work strategy in my engravings. I have learned from all of those whom I have worked with, but here I want to pay tribute to the memory of Julio Toquero, excellent printmaker and engraver, with whom I did three engravings in 2001 and 2002, and to whom I owe much of what I know today about intaglio engraving. Julio passed away shortly after our last collaboration.