whereby the etching plate is coated with porous resin resulting in prints
with granulated effects, giving impression similar to wash drawings.
Aquatint is an intaglio printmaking
technique, a variant of etching.
Intaglio printmaking makes marks on the
matrix (in the case of aquatint, a copper or zinc plate) that are
capable of holding ink. The inked plate is passed through a printing
press together with a sheet of paper, resulting in a transfer of the ink
to the paper. This can be repeated a number of times, depending on the
Like etching, aquatint uses the application of acid to make the marks in
the metal plate. Where the etching technique uses a needle to make lines
that print in black (or whatever colour ink is used), aquatint uses
powdered resin which is acid resistant in the ground to create a tonal
effect. The tonal variation is controlled by the level of acid exposure
over large areas, and thus the image is shaped by large sections at a
time. Another tonal technique, mezzotint, begins with a plate surface
that is evenly indented so that it will carry a fairly dark tone of ink,
then smoothing areas to make them carry less ink and thus print a
lighter shade; or, beginning with a smooth plate, areas are roughened to
make them darker; or, these two techniques may be combined.
The technique of aquatint
An aquatint begins with a copper or zinc plate. The artist applies a
ground by either dissolving powdered resin in spirits or applying the
powder directly to the surface of the plate.
The plate is then heated; if the plate
is covered with powder, the resin melts forming a fine and even coat; if
it is in spirits, the spirits evaporate and the result is essentially
the same. Now the plate is dipped in acid, producing an even and fine
level of corrosion (the "bite") sufficient to hold ink. At this point,
the plate is said to carry about a 50% halftone. This means that, were
the plate printed with no further biting, the paper would display a gray
color more or less directly in between white (no ink) and black (full
At some point the artist will then etch
an outline of any aspects of the drawing he wishes to establish with
line; this provides the basis and guide for his later tone work. He may
also have applied (at the very start, before any biting occurs) an
acid-resistant "stop out" (also called an asphaltum or hard ground) if
he intends to keep any areas totally white and free of ink, such as
The artist then begins immersing the
plate in the acid bath, progressively stopping out (protecting from
acid) any areas that have achieved the designed tonality. These tones,
combined with the limited line elements, give aquatints a distinctive,
watery look. Also, aquatints, like mezzotints, provide ease in creating
large areas of tone without laborious cross-hatching; but aquatint
plates, it is noted, are generally more durable than mezzotint plates.
The first etch should be for a short
period of time (30 seconds to 1 minute, with a wide variation depending
on how light the lightest tones are meant to be). A test piece may be
made with etching times noted, as the strength of the etchant will vary.
More than thirty minutes should produce a very dark area. Etching for
many hours (up to 24) will be as dark as etching for one hour, but the
deep etch would produce raised ink on the paper.
Contemporary printmakers often use
spraypaint instead of a powder.