History of Etching and Printing

Etching Printing Press

Etching Printing Press

Etch printing and Etching Printing Presses can trace their roots back to the 1500’s where the process of etching was used to decorate armour and weapons such as swords and cannons. The earliest examples of this were created in Germany where there are examples on display in the Real Armeria of Madrid.

The same person Daniel Hopfer who created these early etchings is believed to have been one of the first to use etching combined with the new to Europe printing process. These early etch printing examples were created using iron as the plate making material and acid to create the etch lines. It is thought that around this time the Italians started to use etching and are said to be the first to use copper as the plate material.

There have been many famous and celebrated artists over the years who have used the etching printing press to great effect for example Rembrandt. Who is said to have stopped using engraving completely to concentrate on his etchings and is known to have produced over 300 hundred etchings.

Over the next couple of hundred years acid was still used although thankfully there are alternatives to this in use today. The actual material used for the plates has of course changed over time with many being tried throughout the years. Nowadays the majority of etching printers use either copper, zinc or steel all of these have there own unique properties and can produce different results. Although many etching printers will prefer to use copper, nowadays though the expense of the raw materials can be prohibitive to some and many use steel with acceptable results.

The presses used for this have also developed over the years and obviously the materials used in the construction of them. Early presses would have been screw down type presses as developed by Johannes Gutenberg in the mid 1400’s. These presses are famous for the development and growth of printing from a cottage industry to more mainstream this style of press was in constant use for over 300 years.

It was the early 1800’s when the industrial revolution started to speed things up that the Gutenberg press was under threat from newly developing mechanised presses that were being developed in London. These monstrous machines were steam powered and massively sped up the whole printmaking industry. Of course over time the printing industry has changed dramatically going from being a slow process to printing thousands of pages per hour with modern computerised printing machines.

All that maybe well and good for the big companies this doesn’t really help the artist’s out there.

While many people still use a screw down type Gutenberg etching press they can be restrictive in particular the size of print that they can produce. The other option is to use a hand etching press design which uses a large roller at the top which applies constant and even pressure to the plate and paper. This still can be restrictive but far less than the Gutenberg type etching presses.


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