An educational resource based on the holdings of HKOP, covering the various techniques in Relief printing, Intaglio, Planography, Screenprint and Others.

Intaglio Printing

Intaglio is a printmaking method where the printmaker carves out a design on the matrix, fills the carved space with ink, wipes away any remaining ink from the untouched part of the matrix, and covers the matrix with paper for pressing. There are two types of intaglio printmaking methods: the first is where designs are directly carved onto the matrix, and the second is where chemicals are used to corrode the design onto the matrix.


Engraving falls under the first type of intaglio printmaking technique, where the printmaker uses a short steel rod (burin) to make thin lines on the matrix. The printmaker then uses a three-faced steel knife (scraper) and rounded steel rod (burnisher) to polish the rough edges of the carved lines (burr).


Drypoint is another intaglio printmaking technique that does not use chemicals to corrode the matrix. This is where the printmaker uses a metal or diamond-tipped pen to carve directly on the matrix. The rough edges of these lines are not removed before printing, and as a result, the ink penetrates into the rough edges and creates a soft and feathered line.


Etching falls under the second type of intaglio technique, and is one of the most popular methods of printmaking. The printmaker first polishes the matrix before adding a layer of waxy material (ground). This ground is then scraped off by the printmaker using a needle-like tool to create the design. The scraped-off parts will be corroded by acid when the matrix is put into the acid bath. After cleaning and inking the matrix, the corroded parts will hold ink, which will transfer onto the pre-wetted paper when pressure is applied from the printing press.


Aquatint, also known as fine-point etching, can create rich tonal effects. The printmaker first spray paints the matrix with an anti-corrosive material such as resin, before putting it into acid baths of different intensities which will corrode the uncovered parts, and leave the layout with colour blocks of different sizes and shapes. Areas covered with less material will be printed in a darker printed color, whereas areas covered with more material will be printed in a lighter colour.
It goes without saying that in order to master aquatint, the printmaker must have experimented with many different acid concentrations and corrosion times in order to have a good understanding of their effects.


“Mezzo” means half, and “tint” means tone. Therefore mezzotint means “middletone.” The printmaker repeatedly rocks the toothed edge of a curved blade (rocker) into the matrix to create a dense concentration of small pits. The printmaker then uses a scraper and burnisher to even out some of the pits to create soft and subtle contrasting layers.


Chine is the French word for China, referring to the fact that the thin paper originally used with this technique was imported from China. In addition to China, paper was also imported from India or Japan. Collé is the French word for “to glue.” This process is common in intaglio and lithography printmaking, where the printmaker glues a thin layer of paper to a thicker paper, which is then glued together by the pressure of the printmaking machine. This process creates a delicate background for the patterned section.

Photogravure / Photo Etching

In photogravure, the matrix is coated with a light-sensitive layer which receives the desired image through a photographic transfer process. The resulting print has a delicate and soft velvety texture.
In the early 1900s, many pictorialist artists used photogravure to print a large number of high quality photography books or magazines, such as Camera Work, in order to help photography gain the same status as other visual arts.