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Stipple Engraving

Updated: Jun 11, 2021

Stipple engraving uses dots and flecks instead of lines to hold the ink in copper plate intaglio printing. By varying the size of the dots and their density it is possible to achieve huge range of tones.

In the eighteenth century as the drawings of artist such as Watteau, Boucher and Fragonard became popular, stipple engraving was particularly favourable.


As with other etching technique the first thing to do is to cover a copper plate with an hard-ground acid resist. Then, onto that ground the design would be outlined either in a series of pricks with the etching needle or with slanting flicks. , the first requirement was a copper plate covered with a hard-ground acid resist. The design was outlined by piercing the ground to allow acid to reach and corrode the copper surface in a series of vertical pricks or slanting flicks. Ink retained in these acid-formed hollows was conveyed to damp paper by intense pressure. Sometimes an etching needle was used - or two together - but more often a time saving roulette. This consisted of a tiny wheel on the end of a handle which could be drawn over the waxy ground. Small teeth in the wheel rim produced a regular dotted line.

Alternatively, irregular cuttings of the roulette wheel rim could produce a coarser form of stipple. As with other forms of intaglio printing the size of the hollows and their exact grouping closely or widely spread determined the effect of shade, varied as required by applying hand tools to the etched plates. Large dots close together could achieve considerable depth of tone and delicate pricks give bloom to the cheek or suggest the gloss of costly silks. Moreover, the English etcher in stipple usually introduced needle lines when he required greater emphasis. This may be seen in a portrait where they give the eyes a luminous brilliance.

By the end of the 18th century hundreds of pounds werde paid for a plate etched in stipple. Italian born, but lived in England Francesco Bartolozzi became the most well known exponent of stipple prints and they were sometimes printed in colour. The "Cries of London" provide the best known series of stipple and exist in brown or colour.

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