MAU Art & Design Glossary




Drypoint is a type of direct intaglio technique (direct carving method) in which a metal plate is carved out directly to create a drawing. The image is carved directly on the plate surface using steel needles etc. which are harder than the plate itself. Plates produced this way hold ink not only on the incised lines but also on the burrs around them so that when printed, these produce distinctly soft, blurred lines.

Drypoint has a long history and the earliest work is believed to have been made in Germany around 1480. Compared to engraving in the same direct intaglio family, the lines can be drawn with greater ease and freedom because drypoint requires less technical knowledge and skills in the use of tools.
Because the lines are scored directly on the plate, the needle displaces metal on either side of the lines. These are called burrs. When ink is packed on the plate, some of the ink collects behind these burrs and because this is printed too, soft blurred lines appear on the paper. The size and shape of burrs vary depending on the hardness of the needles and cutting edges, the amount of pressure applied and the angle of the needle. Various expressions can be created in this way.

Burrs produced in drypoint can be modified with relative ease. Excess burr is removed with a scraper and then polished with a burnisher. For slight modifications, burr can be easily removed using wet and dry sandpaper. To check the print of a half-finished plate, pack it with ink as you would when printing, wipe off the excess ink, put a semi-transparent film over the top, and then look at the plate through the film to get a rough idea of what it would look like in print. By nature, only a few prints can be obtained from a drypoint plate. This is because the burrs on the plate are destroyed relatively quickly by the pressure of printing in a press. For this reason, test prints should be kept to a minimum. If more prints are required, coating the plate with steel or chrome will increase the printing output to around 50 sheets.