A complete etched printing plate along with an etching print of a crow in a nest.

What is Etching? – A Complete Etching Printing Process.


The etching is an intaglio printing technique that is a captivating and time-honoured intaglio process that has intricate and versatile methods. This Printmaking process allows artists to create finely detailed, expressive, and richly textured images on a variety of surfaces, most commonly on metal plates through a combination of artistic skills and chemical reactions. Etching stands as one of the four major intaglio techniques in printmaking, alongside engravingdry point, and aquatint.

A bird is drawn and etched on a copper metal plate drawn with a sharp tool needle.
An Etching Plate.

Etching Printing Process

The Etching printing process involves creating images on a metal plate, typically copper or zinc, through the use of acid.

Here’s a brief overview of the etching printing process.

Plate Preparation

To start the etching printing process, a metal plate usually copper or zinc is cleaned and polished to create a smooth surface. Secondly, the plate is often coated with an acid-resistant ground; such as Asphaltum or Wax, which will protect the areas that should remain un-etched.

Drawing or Incising

Various etching tools are used to create the image on the plate by drawing directly onto the ground. The artist incises lines and textures into the plate according to their desire

Stopping Out Varnish

To control the depth of the etch, we can selectively block areas we want to preserve by applying an acid-resistant stop-out varnish for etching. This can achieve various tones and effects.


Afterwards, you then immerse the incised plate in an acid bath, as a matter of fact, it’s a weak solution of nitric acid. The acid “bites” into the exposed areas of the metal, creating grooves. The longer the plate remains in the acid, the deeper the lines and textures will be to achieve the desired effect.


After achieving the desired level of etching, we clean the plate and apply ink to the surface of the etched plate. The ink sticks to the groves of etched lines and areas.

Wiping the Ink

Wipe the surface of the plate to remove excess ink, leaving ink only in the etched lines and textures. Typically, artists use a net cloth or tarlatan fabric to wipe the plate.


Place the etched-inked plate on a printing press along with dampened paper. The etching press machine applies great pressure against the plate, transferring the ink from the plate to the paper.

Repeating the Etching Printmaking Process

You can repeat the etching printmaking process multiple times, with variations in inking and wiping, to create multiple editions of prints. Therefore, each print will have slight variations making each print unique and different from the rest as well.

A complete etched printing plate along with an etching print of a crow in a nest.
An etched plate with print.

Etching printmaking is a versatile intaglio printmaking technique that allows for intricate details and a wide range of tonal values. Valued is its ability to create fine lines, rich textures, and unique, expressive effects. It’s a process that combines artistic skill with chemistry and can yield striking and detailed printed artwork.

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