The engraving is an artistic discipline in which the artist uses different techniques printing, they have in common the draw an image on a rigid surface, called matrix, leaving a trail after staying ink to be transferred by pressure to another surface such as paper or fabric, which allows to obtain several reproductions of the prints.
Engraving is the practice of incising a design onto a hard, usually flat surface by cutting grooves into it with a burin. The result may be a decorated object in itself, as when silver, gold, steel, or glass are engraved, or may provide an intaglio printing plate, of copper or another metal, for printing images on paper as prints or illustrations; these images are also called “engravings”. Engraving is one of the oldest and most important techniques in printmaking.
Engraving was a historically important method of producing images on paper in artistic printmaking, in mapmaking, and also for commercial reproductions and illustrations for books and magazines. It has long been replaced by various photographic processes in its commercial applications and, partly because of the difficulty of learning the technique, is much less common in printmaking, where it has been largely replaced by etching and other techniques.
Depending on the technique used, the matrix can be traditionally made of metal (copper or zinc ), wood, linoleum or stone, on whose surface it is drawn with sharp, sharp instruments or by chemical processes. Currently, plates of different synthetic materials are also used that can be engraved in a traditional way with punches or by photographic, digital or laser procedures.
“Engraving” is also loosely but incorrectly used for any old black and white print; it requires a degree of expertise to distinguish engravings from prints using other techniques such as etching in particular, but also mezzotint and other techniques. It is also called engraving to the inscription of text made on a plate, stone or metal, although it is not intended to make copies.
Many old master prints also combine techniques on the same plate, further confusing matters. Line engraving and steel engraving cover use for reproductive prints, illustrations in books and magazines, and similar uses, mostly in the 19th century, and often not actually using engraving.
Traditional engraving, by burin or with the use of machines, continues to be practised by goldsmiths, glass engravers, gunsmiths and others, while modern industrial techniques such as photoengraving and laser engraving have many important applications. Engraved gems were an important art in the ancient world, revived at the Renaissance, although the term traditionally covers relief as well as intaglio carvings, and is essentially a branch of sculpture rather than engraving, as drills were the usual tools.
The techniques related to obtaining multiple copies of the same image are usually classified according to the materials and media used to achieve the image. In general, they are usually divided into three large groups, depending on how the artist works on the matrix to prepare the drawing that will be printed later:
The image is achieved by removing material from the plate or matrix with different tools: among them, the buril, with which we will engrave the image we want by helping us with other tools such as asphalt paint so that the acid does not eat, so that the remaining part in the upper plane corresponds to the drawing. The embossed shape will therefore be inked, using a rubber roller and the gaps will be blank in the printout.
It is the oldest engraving technique, in which a wooden surface is used as a matrix, usually hardwoods such as boxwood, pear tree or cherry tree. The drawing on the plate can be done in two ways; making the strokes in the direction of the grain, following the direction of the “fibers” that make up the tree’s stem, or transversely, making cuts perpendicular to the direction of the fibers that make up the tree’s stem. In the first case we will be doing a fiber or wire woodcut, and in the second case a counterfibre or testa woodcut.
On the wooden matrix the image is constructed by carving it with tools with which the surface of the matrix is lowered, obtaining gaps corresponding to the white color or the absence of color. Knives and gouges are usually used for fiber engraving, while for the counter-fiber engraving the buril is used, which allows working on harder surfaces and obtaining thinner and more precise grooves. When the image is finished carving, the matrix is inked with a roller, which deposits the ink on the entire surface of the matrix, except in the holes carved with the gouges (the whites). The image is passed to the paper using a vertical press or a torch.
It is a modern variant of woodcut, in which linoleum is used as a matrix. The procedure to obtain the image is identical to that of wood engraving, affecting the linoleum with gouges, so that the empty parts will remain blank and the areas in relief will be those that receive the application of the ink. Being a soft material, linoleum does not present the difficulties of the wood grain, but it also does not allow the fineness of the stroke that can be achieved in counter-woodcut woodcut.
The image is achieved by scratching a metal matrix, by mechanical or chemical means, so that the dark parts of the image correspond to the incisions, where the ink will be deposited, leaving the parts of the paper that remain in contact with the non-white areas blank. emptied, exactly the opposite of what happens with embossing. The hollow procedures are classified, in turn, in direct method procedures, if the engraver intervenes on the plate making incisions to trace the image, or indirect method, if the imprint on the plate is achieved using chemical products.
Direct method procedures
To the buril
It is the technique in which the drawing is constructed by digging lines on a metal matrix, helping exclusively with the buril, which is a tool composed of a handle on whose end a square section steel bar has been attached, to which has obliquely carved the tip, so that it leaves a “V” shaped mark. The buril remembers a plow in its form, and the engraver uses it in a similar way; making grooves on the plate, so that the greater the pressure exerted, the deeper the incision is made, which will cause it to lodge in it a greater amount of ink.
On both sides of the furrows metal filings are raised, which are crushed with specific tools called scraper and burnisher. Buril engraving is the most difficult artistic technique to capture a drawing, link or letter; It is related to jewelry because it is a great source of engravings. It is engraved mainly on silver and gold, as they are softer materials, although harder materials can also be engraved even on steel.
This technique takes its name from the tool used, a fine and sharp punch that is used by scratching a copper plate with more or less pressure depending on the desired line intensity. The tip of this instrument can be made of steel, diamond or ruby, it is shaped like a needle and with it you work freehand, as if it were a pencil, the lines produced being thinner than those of the buril.
As with the previous procedure, filings or burrs remain on both sides of the line, which can be removed with the scraper; however, they are often left, so that the print appears slightly blurred, leaving a characteristic veil on the prints. Since the burr ends up crushing with the press, it is difficult to make long editions.
The name comes from the Italian “Mezzatinta”, and is also called “engraved in the black way”. It consists of achieving a dark and uniform tone in the entire plate, which becomes colored until the white is achieved, by means of a surface burnishing process. The iron is prepared using the tool called berceau (or raedor) and the targets are achieved on the black using the “burnisher”. Black can also be achieved by repeatedly using the aquatint technique on the plate until a deep black tone is achieved. This last technique is often called “False Black Way.”
Indirect method procedures
It is the process according to which the matrix is protected in its entirety with a varnish composed of Judea bitumen and beeswax that can be applied in a liquid or solid state, and that is allowed to dry. When it is dry, it is lifted with a punch or other utensil capable of removing the varnish, following the drawing you want to make, and leaving the surface of the iron exposed. Once the varnish has been lifted with the shape of the drawing, the metal plate is introduced into a solution of water and nitric acid in the case of a zinc matrix, which will act by corroding the plate in the areas where the varnish has been removed and engraving the surface of the metal, which will be deeper the longer the time the acid acts, and the concentration of the solution used is greater.
This technique is generally used in combination with others and is used to achieve flat tones and textures, the process is similar to etching. The iron is protected by sprinkling on its surface very fine powder, rosin resin. The iron is then heated until the rosin powder melts and adheres to the surface of the die. The iron thus prepared is covered with hard varnish to protect the parts that do not want to be attacked by the acid, generally what is wanted to remain blank and subsequently introduced into the acid solution, which digs around the resin grains, This procedure is repeated as many times and as necessary as necessary, gradually protecting the plate, until the objective is achieved. As in etching technique,
Other indirect techniques
This technique consists in using a varnish that, when dried, maintains a sticky texture and is covered with a very thin paper, called “silk”, on which it is drawn by squeezing with a graphite pencil. With this it is achieved that the tissue paper remains especially glued to the varnish in the areas where it has been drawn on it, so that when it has finished drawing, the paper is removed, and glued to it the varnish of the areas where It has been drawn, leaving the iron unprotected. Then the plate is introduced into the acid, the engraving being achieved on the surface of the plate. This technique is basically used to obtain smooth lines that mimic the texture of the pencil.
Chinese ink with sugar
This technique is a variation of the aquatint and constitutes an artifice to draw on the plate using flat tones. It arises to solve the difficulty of having to draw on the plate, prepared for ink water, reserving the areas where you do not want the acid to act. To use this technique it is necessary to prepare the metal matrix by covering it with rosin resin.
A solution of Chinese ink with sugar is prepared, with which the drawing is done on the plate, applying it with a brush. The Chinese ink is allowed to dry with sugar and the plate is covered with varnish. When the set is dry, it is introduced into water and the Chinese ink and water are diluted in it, exposing the plate and the resin in the areas that we had drawn with the Chinese ink and sugar. When the plate is introduced into the acid, it will act in the areas where the Chinese ink with sugar was applied and will now be unprotected by the varnish.
Technique used to achieve the reproduction of an image, in which the matrix is a limestonepolished In this technique the stone is not etched, but the characteristic that has a certain variety of limestone is used to chemically react to the presence of fats. The image is made on the stone drawing with a fatty pencil that is called “lithographic pencil” or with special inks for lithography. Once the drawing is done, the stone is processed with a solution of acid and gum arabic, making the drawing fixed to the stone and stable.
The stone is moistened and the ink is applied with a roller, the rejection that the drawn area (grease) exerts on the water, and the rejection of the water on the applied ink (also grease) causes the ink to only deposit on the drawing. To obtain the copies a lithographic press is used.
It is a printing procedure that allows a single reproduction, although it can be considered an engraving technique because it uses as a base an iron with which, as with lithography, it works on a plane. The iron must be a smooth and non-absorbent surface, usually porcelain, polished copper or glass. The drawing is done with oil, printing ink or watercolor, and on it the paper is placed, then pressing with the engraving press to obtain an inverted image.
The enamelling is a technique of producing graphic works by applying low temperature enamel on steel, copper or zinc sheets, which allows to achieve different textures that can be used for printing prints.
Each graver is different and has its own use. Engravers use a hardened steel tool called a burin, or graver, to cut the design into the surface, most traditionally a copper plate. However, modern hand engraving artists use burins or gravers to cut a variety of metals such as silver, nickel, steel, brass, gold, titanium, and more, in applications from weaponry to jewellery to motorcycles to found objects. Modern professional engravers can engrave with a resolution of up to 40 lines per mm in high grade work creating game scenes and scrollwork. Dies used in mass production of molded parts are sometimes hand engraved to add special touches or certain information such as part numbers.
In addition to hand engraving, there are engraving machines that require less human finesse and are not directly controlled by hand. They are usually used for lettering, using a pantographic system. There are versions for the insides of rings and also the outsides of larger pieces. Such machines are commonly used for inscriptions on rings, lockets and presentation pieces.
Tools and gravers or burins
Gravers come in a variety of shapes and sizes that yield different line types. The burin produces a unique and recognizable quality of line that is characterized by its steady, deliberate appearance and clean edges. The angle tint tool has a slightly curved tip that is commonly used in printmaking. Florentine liners are flat-bottomed tools with multiple lines incised into them, used to do fill work on larger areas or to create uniform shade lines that are fast to execute.
Ring gravers are made with particular shapes that are used by jewelry engravers in order to cut inscriptions inside rings. Flat gravers are used for fill work on letters, as well as “wriggle” cuts on most musical instrument engraving work, remove background, or create bright cuts.
Knife gravers are for line engraving and very deep cuts. Round gravers, and flat gravers with a radius, are commonly used on silver to create bright cuts (also called bright-cut engraving), as well as other hard-to-cut metals such as nickel and steel. Square or V-point gravers are typically square or elongated diamond-shaped and used for cutting straight lines. V-point can be anywhere from 60 to 130 degrees, depending on purpose and effect. These gravers have very small cutting points. Other tools such as mezzotint rockers, roulets and burnishers are used for texturing effects. Burnishing tools can also be used for certain stone setting techniques.
Musical instrument engraving on American-made brass instruments flourished in the 1920s and utilizes a specialized engraving technique where a flat graver is “walked” across the surface of the instrument to make zig-zag lines and patterns. The method for “walking” the graver may also be referred to as “wriggle” or “wiggle” cuts. This technique is necessary due to the thinness of metal used to make musical instruments versus firearms or jewelry. Wriggle cuts are commonly found on silver Western jewelry and other Western metal work.
Tool geometry is extremely important for accuracy in hand engraving. When sharpened for most applications, a graver has a “face”, which is the top of the graver, and a “heel”, which is the bottom of the graver; not all tools or application require a heel. These two surfaces meet to form a point that cuts the metal. The geometry and length of the heel helps to guide the graver smoothly as it cuts the surface of the metal. When the tool’s point breaks or chips, even on a microscopic level, the graver can become hard to control and produces unexpected results. Modern innovations have brought about new types of carbide that resist chipping and breakage, which hold a very sharp point longer between resharpening than traditional metal tools.
Sharpening a graver or burin requires either a sharpening stone or wheel. Harder carbide and steel gravers require diamond-grade sharpening wheels; these gravers can be polished to a mirror finish using a ceramic or cast iron lap, which is essential in creating bright cuts. Several low-speed, reversible sharpening system made specifically for hand engravers are available that reduce sharpening time. Fixtures that secure the tool in place at certain angles and geometries are also available to take the guesswork from sharpening to produce accurate points.
Very few master engravers exist today who rely solely on “feel” and muscle memory to sharpen tools. These master engravers typically worked for many years as an apprentice, most often learning techniques decades before modern machinery was available for hand engravers. These engravers typically trained in such countries as Italy and Belgium, where hand engraving has a rich and long heritage of masters.
Design or artwork is generally prepared in advance, although some professional and highly experienced hand engravers are able to draw out minimal outlines either on paper or directly on the metal surface just prior to engraving. The work to be engraved may be lightly scribed on the surface with a sharp point, laser marked, drawn with a fine permanent marker (removable with acetone) or pencil, transferred using various chemicals in conjunction with inkjet or laser printouts, or stippled. Engraving artists may rely on hand drawing skills, copyright-free designs and images, computer-generated artwork, or common design elements when creating artwork.
Originally, handpieces varied little in design as the common use was to push with the handle placed firmly in the center of the palm. With modern pneumatic engraving systems, handpieces are designed and created in a variety of shapes and power ranges. Handpieces are made using various methods and materials. Knobs may be handmade from wood, molded and engineered from plastic, or machine-made from brass, steel, or other metals. The most widely known hand engraving tool maker, GRS Tools in Kansas is an American-owned and operated company that manufacture handpieces as well as many other tools for various applications in metal engraving.
Cutting the surface
The actual engraving is traditionally done by a combination of pressure and manipulating the work-piece. The traditional “hand push” process is still practiced today, but modern technology has brought various mechanically assisted engraving systems. Most pneumatic engraving systems require an air source that drives air through a hose into a handpiece, which resembles a traditional engraving handle in many cases, that powers a mechanism (usually a piston). The air is actuated by either a foot control (like a gas pedal or sewing machine) or newer palm / hand control. This mechanism replaces either the “hand push” effort or the effects of a hammer.
The internal mechanisms move at speeds up to 15,000 strokes per minute, thereby greatly reducing the effort needed in traditional hand engraving. These types of pneumatic systems are used for power assistance only and do not guide or control the engraving artist. One of the major benefits of using a pneumatic system for hand engraving is the reduction of fatigue and decrease in time spent working.
Hand engraving artists today employ a combination of hand push, pneumatic, rotary, or hammer and chisel methods. Hand push is still commonly used by modern hand engraving artists who create “bulino” style work, which is highly detailed and delicate, fine work; a great majority, if not all, traditional printmakers today rely solely upon hand push methods. Pneumatic systems greatly reduce the effort required for removing large amounts of metal, such as in deep relief engraving or Western bright cut techniques.
Finishing the work is often necessary when working in metal that may rust or where a colored finish is desirable, such as a firearm. A variety of spray lacquers and finishing techniques exist to seal and protect the work from exposure to the elements and time. Finishing also may include lightly sanding the surface to remove small chips of metal called “burrs” that are very sharp and unsightly. Some engravers prefer high contrast to the work or design, using black paints or inks to darken removed (and lower) areas of exposed metal. The excess paint or ink is wiped away and allowed to dry before lacquering or sealing, which may or may not be desired by the artist.
Modern hand engraving
Because of the high level of microscopic detail that can be achieved by a master engraver, counterfeiting of engraved designs is well-nigh impossible, and modern banknotes are almost always engraved, as are plates for printing money, checks, bonds and other security-sensitive papers. The engraving is so fine that a normal printer cannot recreate the detail of hand engraved images, nor can it be scanned. In the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, more than one hand engraver will work on the same plate, making it nearly impossible for one person to duplicate all the engraving on a particular banknote or document.
The modern discipline of hand engraving, as it is called in a metalworking context, survives largely in a few specialized fields. The highest levels of the art are found on firearms and other metal weaponry, jewellery, and musical instruments.
In most commercial markets today, hand engraving has been replaced with milling using CNC engraving or milling machines. Still, there are certain applications where use of hand engraving tools cannot be replaced.
In some instances, images or designs can be transferred to metal surfaces via mechanical process. One such process is roll stamping or roller-die engraving. In this process, a hardened image die is pressed against the destination surface using extreme pressure to impart the image. In the 1800s pistol cylinders were often decorated via this process to impart a continuous scene around its surface.
Computer-aided machine engraving
Engraving machines such as the K500 (packaging) or K6 (publication) by Hell Gravure Systems use a diamond stylus to cut cells. Each cell creates one printing dot later in the process. A K6 can have up to 18 engraving heads each cutting 8.000 cells per second to an accuracy of.1 µm and below. They are fully computer-controlled and the whole process of cylinder-making is fully automated.
It is now common place for retail stores (mostly jewellery, silverware or award stores) to have a small computer controlled engrave on site. This enables them to personalise the products they sell. Retail engraving machines tend to be focused around ease of use for the operator and the ability to do a wide variety of items including flat metal plates, jewelry of different shapes and sizes, as well as cylindrical items such as mugs and tankards. They will typically be equipped with a computer dedicated to graphic design that will enable the operator to easily design a text or picture graphic which the software will translate into digital signals telling the engraver machine what to do.
Unlike industrial engravers, retail machines are smaller and only use one diamond head. This is interchangeable so the operator can use differently shaped diamonds for different finishing effects. They will typically be able to do a variety of metals and plastics. Glass and crystal engraving is possible, but the brittle nature of the material makes the process more time consuming.
Retail engravers mainly use two different processes. The first and most common ‘Diamond Drag’ pushes the diamond cutter through the surface of the material and then pulls to create scratches. These direction and depth are controlled by the computer input. The second is ‘Spindle Cutter’. This is similar to Diamond Drag, but the engraving head is shaped in a flat V shape, with a small diamond and the base. The machine uses an electronic spindle to quickly rotate the head as it pushes it into the material, then pulls it along whilst it continues to spin. This creates a much bolder impression than diamond drag. It is used mainly for brass plaques and pet tags.
With state-of-the-art machinery it is easy to have a simple, single item complete in under ten minutes. The engraving process with diamonds is state-of-the-art since the 1960s.
Today laser engraving machines are in development but still mechanical cutting has proven its strength in economical terms and quality. More than 4,000 engravers make approx. 8 Mio printing cylinders worldwide per year.
Examples of contemporary uses for engraving include creating text on jewellery, such as pendants or on the inside of engagement- and wedding rings to include text such as the name of the partner, or adding a winner’s name to a sports trophy. Another application of modern engraving is found in the printing industry. There, every day thousands of pages are mechanically engraved onto rotogravure cylinders, typically a steel base with a copper layer of about 0.1 mm in which the image is transferred. After engraving the image is protected with an approximately 6 µm chrome layer. Using this process the image will survive for over a million copies in high speed printing presses. Engraving machines such as GUN BOW (one of the leading engraving brands) are the best examples of hand engraving tools, although this type of machine is typically not used for fine hand engraving. Some schools throughout the world are renowned for their teaching of engraving, like the École Estienne in Paris.