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shadow imageCopper-plate engraving tips

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Useful tips for artists:
Basic copper-plate engraving... is really not that basic!

Engraving first involves the cutting to size of the copper plate, and then dressing and polishing it, mostly by hand!. Then the work of creating the image is carried out by very carefully cutting into the polished surface with a burin (a purpose-made tiny blade with a handle that fits into the palm of your hand, designed to be pushed across the surface of the copper to create a thinly gouged line. These can be bought from specialist suppliers or made yourself. Those you see below I made from bits of seasoned ash branch and some old files).
The cut image must then be transferred to paper to produce the (almost-) finished article. A plate image comprises lots of incised lines, which eventually hold the ink. The plate will be inked and wiped (by hand), and aligned accurately with pre-prepared printing paper, before it is passed between the rollers of a press, under pressure, to properly transfer the image. The inking and wiping must be done before each and every pass through the press. And, after all that, each print is carefully tinted by hand if necessary.

Set of four burins for copperplate engraving Copper plate and scraping and scribing tools High Force engraving detail from work by Eiann Cosgrove
A set of burins
An engraved plate
A finished print


After you have polished the plate, it reflects the light and this can result in a strain on the eyes while you are working on it.To prevent this, spray the plate surface with an aerosol primer paint (the type used for car body repairs-it used to be cellulose paint- use the modern eqivalent). When it is dry you can draw your image on the painted surface with a pencil, then just work with the burin or other tool in the normal way. When the cutting is done, just use cellulose thinners on a cloth (or with a brush) to wipe it clean. Easy!

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