Michael Atkin      Printmaker

etcher - block printer - wood engraver

Etching & how to do it

Etching a method of making prints from a metal plate, usually zinc or copper, into which the design has been incised by acid.

The plate is first coated with an acid-resistant substance, called the etching ground, through which the design is drawn with a sharp tool.

The ground is usually a compound of beeswax, bitumen and resin. The plate is then exposed to nitric acid or dutch mordant, which eats away those areas of the plate unprotected by the ground, forming a pattern of recessed lines. These lines hold the ink. and, when the plate is applied to moist paper, the design transfers to the paper, making a finished print.The practice of making prints from etched metal plates grew out of the custom of etching designs on armour and was adopted by printmakers as an easy way of engraving a process of making prints from metal plates incised with a tool called a burin.

The first dated etching was made in 1513 by the Swiss artist Urs Graf who printed from iron plates. The process of etching has remained unchanged since those times, the metals are perhaps more pure and consistent, the acids stronger, the presses are made of metal rather than wood, but principally the method is unchanged. Any artist from the past 600 years who is knowledgeable about etching would feel at home in my workshop.

During the late 18th and early 19th centuries, soft ground etching or vernis mou, became current. This technique involves drawing with a pencil on a sheet of paper placed on a copperplate coated with an extremely soft, sticky ground. The ground adheres to the paper wherever the pencil passes, leaving the metal exposed in broad, soft lines. The plate is exposed to acid and, when printed, yields results similar to pencil or chalk drawings.


A Rochat etching press
A Rochat etching press
Clearing the bubbles 
that are created when t
he plate is immersed in acid
Clearing the bubbles
that are created when t
he plate is immersed in acid
Laying the inked etching 
plate on the press bed
Laying the inked etching
plate on the press bed
Drawn plate with stopping out varnish
Drawn plate with stopping out varnish
Printing an etching, paper drawn back from the plate.
Printing an etching, paper drawn back from the plate.
Plate and proof
Plate and proof
Cleaning the plate with brass prior to printing
Cleaning the plate with brass prior to printing
Burning on the aquatint
Burning on the aquatint
Drawn plate before etching
Drawn plate before etching