Past & Present

History of Artistry and Prestige

The first way to
enlighten the masses,
engraving’s modest
beginning produced a
system enabling mass
communication and the
spread of priceless art.

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A Brief History

  • Function Over Fashion

    As early as 60,000 BC, humans engraved ostrich eggshells used as water containers. These eggs are the first sign of humans engraving patterns.

  • Walk Like an Egyptian, Print Like the Chinese

    Engravers cut patterns into wood blocks, which were used for printing onto cloth. Egyptians also used engraving on pottery and architecture.

  • Stop (or Start) the Presses!

    Paper arrives in Europe during the 1300’s. Italy begins manufacturing paper in the late thirteenth century.

  • Hallelujah!

    Engravers are used to mass produce devotional art in the fifteenth century.

  • Engraving Starts to Sing a Different Tune

    Around 1446, sheet music was printed using engraving techniques.

  • Poker Face

    In the mid 1400’s, French engravers printed playing cards with designs that are still used today.

  • Renaissance Men

    Between 1470-1530 lived the Golden Age of engraving. Artists such as Albrecht Dürer, Martin Schongauer and Lucas von Leiden emerged, changing engraving from simply a means for mass production to an art form.

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Albrecht Durer Portrait

The German Gamechanger

Albrecht Dürer’s printmaking style was copied by many artists during the Renaissance, more so than any other engraver of that era. His detailed engravings are responsible for the rise of the reproductive print, which served as the only way many Renaissance artists (and beyond) could share artwork with the public. Painters relied on the ability to reproduce their artwork through engraving in order to gain fame and revenue. Those artists have engravers like Dürer to thank.


For many years, engraving was a process mostly done by skilled craftsmen such as goldsmiths or carpenters, depending on the materials used in the press.

Prior to the fifteenth century, engravers were not trained painters. Instead, prints of drawings or paintings were copied, then etched onto wood or metal.

Once paper became readily available, the quality of engraving declined until the late fifteenth century, when art reproduction rose to prominence.

Regardless of whether or not the artist was also the engraver, often times detailing, signatures or colors were added to prints after leaving the press.

Plates were made from wood for many years. In time, goldsmiths began to engrave in metal.

Like today’s process, ink was rolled across the plate (regardless of material), wiped clean, and pressed against damp paper.

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& Heavy

Engraving today pays
homage to the
craftsmen of the past
with a modern twist.

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Modern Process

Forget hard labor, embrace your computer and acid baths. Starting in the 1970’s, the art of engraving began to mimic the way circuit boards are made. This streamlined approach brought engraving back to relevancy, and later to prominence. Here’s how engravers craft unforgettable paper products today:

  • The design is up to you. Even though Dürer didn’t have a computer (or electricity), you can design and engrave like him. Vector images, resized up to a 4.5" x 9" area, are made into a film and are projected onto an engraving surface.

  • Slather your plate surface, either zinc or copper, with an acid resistant wax called counter or ground. Your desired image can then be etched away (in reverse), revealing the naked metal.

  • Can Ya Dig? Your design style calls for a specific kind of engraving technique. Decide what’s going to work best for you:

    • Hand Etching - A process that’s truly an art, hand etching takes the most time, but is the best way to achieve hatching and intricate lines.
    • Modern Machine Engraving - Heavy machinery is a designer’s best friend. Machine engraving requires less labor and can produce engraved work faster than hand etching.
  • Acid Baths: The science behind easy and perfect etching. Science!

    • Different metals require different acids. Copper plates react to ferric chloride while zinc reacts to nitric acid.
    • Submerge your plate into an acid bath. Remember your high school chemistry class, wear proper safety gear.
    • Cuts dig deeper into the metal the longer your plate is in the acid bath.
    • Once the acid eats away the exposed areas of your designs, your plate (die) is ready to use.
  • Ink is rolled over the plate, like paint, one color at a time.

    • The inks used in engraving are opaque, can be burnished for a light-reflecting effect, and can be layered.
    • Each ink is rolled across the plate, then wiped down so that the only ink remaining fills the etched areas.
    • The ink sits on top of the paper, is water based, and is very thick.
    • 4000 psi is applied to each sheet of paper, so choose your stock wisely! This pressure pulls the ink from the plate onto the paper.
    • Repeat the process for each desired color or burnish.

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It’s simple.
Engraving enhances
the look and feel of
virtually any product
it’s used on. Boost the
tactile experience and
emotional response of
your client base.
Ensure authenticity
and security. Engrave
your fine paper

  • Photo: British Engraved Stationery Association

    Engrave collateral, letterheads, business cards, and corporate stationery in order to connote prestige and distinction among competitors.

  • Photo: Nussmeier Engraving Company

    Engrave fine stationery, wedding invitations, and personal stationery for a refined, detailed, and unmatched presentation that recipients will remember for years to come.

  • Photo: R. A. Nonenmacher

    Engraving sensitive documents, passports, corporate checks, postage stamps, and currency ensures security and foils counterfeiters.

The Advantages of Engraving

  • Engraving allows for the sharpest detail work possible.
  • Engraving inks are perfect for light colors on dark stocks.
  • Images are vibrant and if burnished, can reflect light better than foil stamping.

honor the craft • print a superior product • experience the beauty of engraving

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Tricks of the Trade

Roll up your sleeves. Fire up the presses. Learn the tricks of the trade, the importance of quality materials, the tips that make the engraving process run smoothly. Just don’t forget your safety goggles.


An engraving is only as good as the paper it’s printed on.
Share your work effectively and proudly by printing with these specifications:

  • Engraving is often used in the production of identity systems. A smooth or slightly tactile 100% cotton fiber paper is the engravers preferred surface as it is both strong yet soft.
  • On heavily textured papers avoid fine type and lines to make sure all your art reproduces to your satisfaction.
  • The harder the paper finish the less noticeable bruise on the back of the sheet.
  • Coated paper will show bruising around lines and type (called a "cloud look"). Using uncoated paper helps avoid this problem.
  • The pressure from the printer can warp thin paper. Quality, heavier stock made with cotton fibers (such as CRANE® Papers) helps prevent this unwanted effect.


Inks that are anything but clear, but the facts that are:

  • Inks used in the engraving process are water based.
  • These inks are opaque, allowing for layering without colors showing through.
  • Inks react differently with different types of artwork. Fine details look great using matte inks, whereas broader designs work well with metallics.
  • More often than not, ink colors can be chosen from PANTONE® books, both metallic and matte. Consult with your engraver when choosing colors.


Heavy metals meant for fine details and extreme pressure:

  • Plates traditionally used in engraving are copper or zinc. Copper plates have a superior quality, "bites" evenly, does not distort ink colors when wiped, and holds a desired texture better than zinc.
  • Copper is a more expensive plate material. Zinc is cheaper and great for beginners.
  • Copper plates last longer than zinc plates.
  • Plates are often times hand-tooled by platemakers, even if the engraving process is machine driven.
  • Metal engraving plates can be recycled.

Some real life special effects
that only engraving can achieve

  • Engraving Effects - Burnishing Photo: Monday Collective, Alan Foster


    While metallic inks on their own look great, burnishing produces a sheen that is unmatched by any other printing technique.

  • Engraving Effects - Multiple Inks Photo: Artistry Engraving & Embossing Co. Inc.

    Multiple Inks

    A layered effect can be achieved with engraving because the inks are opaque.

  • Engraving Effects - Screening Photo: Two Paperdolls


    A pre-press function, screening isn’t just a technique used to print large blocks of color. Use screening to achieve unique textures, especially when using light colored matte inks on dark stocks.

  • Engraving Effects - Light Ink Photo: louella press

    Light ink on dark stocks

    Inks used in engraving "sit" on top of quality papers. Unlike any other printing method, light colored inks stand out on dark stocks.