Intaglio printing nowadays tends to mean photogravure. But before the invention of photography and photoengraving, the means of getting to a plate able to hold ink in recessed areas were laborious and involved highly skilled hand-work. They include engraving, etching, aquatint, mezzotint, and a sort of subdivision of engraving called drypoint.

Drypoint is described by the Metropolitan Museum of Art as “the simplest method for producing intaglio prints”. Take a metal, usually copper plate and scratch lines into it with a sharp needle. In engraving the burin will produce a clean, sharp cut, while in drypoint the needle will leave a burr of metal along the edge of the scratches. Ink will be caught in these burrs as well as deposited in the recessed cuts, and this can create a richer, more “atmospheric” effect than the cleaner lines do. Because these little frills of metal are very delicate, not many prints can be made from a drypoint plate before they get squashed down and begin to blur out. A careful printer might be able to get a dozen impressions from a drypoint plate.

As with other intaglio techniques drypoint was often used in conjunction with other plate-making techniques:

This print by Rembrandt from the Met’s collection involves etching, drypoint, and engraving. You can click on the image to enlarge it, but not enough I fear to enable you to detect the evidence of the different techniques.

When illustrations made by any one of these intaglio processes were incorporated into books they would be printed separately from the text which would of course be printed by letterpress, a relief process. In intaglio the ink is below the surface of the plate: in relief printing it’s the white background that’s cut away.

Artists of course continue to use the drypoint process, as they do all the other intaglio processes. Here’s useful video showing the entire process in action.

If you don’t see a video here, please click on the title of this post in order to view it in your browser.