The intaglio process is the reverse of the woodcut process; here the image is engraved into a polished metal surface. In order to print the engraved image, ink must be rubbed into the fine cuts that have been made in the surface. Areas that have not been cut will be wiped clean and will not print. When placed under the great pressure of the printing press, the incised lines filled with ink will print onto paper.

Copper was initially the engraver’s preferred medium because it was a soft metal and easy to engrave. The softness of the metal was also its largest disadvantage as copper engravings would wear down and needed to be repeatedly refurbished.

Steel engraving was introduced in 1792. Steel began to replace copper not only because of steel’s hardness and longevity but also because it produced prints with sharper lines and finer detail.

The task of inscribing the artist’s design into a metal surface would have been done by someone other than the artist with a high degree of skill in the use of the engraving tool. Some engravers became so proficient as to be considered artists in their own right, able to replicate the artist’s image and style in their engravings.

Color was added to engravings by hand until the 19th century, and even after it became technologically feasible to add color during the printing process, many higher quality books continued to use hand coloring.

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