Engraving is the practice of engraving a design onto a hard, usually flat surface by cutting grooves into it with a burin. The result may be a decorated object in itself, as when silver, gold, steel, or glass are engraved, or may provide an intaglio printing plate, of copper or another metal, for printing images on paper as prints or illustrations; these images are also called “engravings”. Engraving is one of the ancient and most important techniques in printmaking. Wood engraving is a form of relief printing. This fine-art intaglio printmaking process, derived from goldsmith engraving techniques, dates from pioneering work by Northern Renaissance German printers during the first half of the 15th century. Engraving involves the incision of a design onto a metal surface (usually copper), by making grooves using a steel tool with a square or diamond-shaped end, called a burin. This produces a high quality line with a clean edge. Other tools – like mezzotint rockers, roulettes and burnishes – are employed by the printmaker to create additional textured effects.
Up until the mid-19th century, engraving (also called copper-plate engraving or line engraving) achieved widespread popularity as a method of replicating fine art images on paper, as well as illustrations for books and magazines. Since then it has been almost completely replaced by etching and other techniques.
Once the lines of the drawing have been cut out of the copper, the plate is inked. Then the surface is wiped clean, leaving only the incisions containing ink. The plate is then put into a printing-press, along with a sheet of paper. The paper picks up the impression of the ink from the grooves, thus completing the print.