Engraving is a printing method using a plate, also called a die, with an image cut into its surface. The plate or die is a hardened steel engraving stamp used to print an inked image. Images such as copy or art are etched onto the plate or die. When ink is applied to the plate, these etched areas act as small wells to hold the ink. Through the engraving process, paper is forced against this die and lifts the ink out of the etched areas, creating raised images on the paper. This process produces a unique and recognizable quality of line that is characterized by its steady, deliberate appearance and clean edges. This type of appearance is coveted for very high quality letter headings and printed materials for special events.
Historically, the earliest engravers, in Germany in the 1430s, used copper printing plates to produce what are known as old master prints. It is thought that the practice grew out of a desire to keep records on paper of engraving that was done to decorate and inscribe metalwork. Some of the greatest engravings in Western history come to us from this period and the century that followed, including a body of engravings by Rembrandt.
By the 1800s most engraving was done, as it is now, for commercial purposes – engravings could commonly be seen in newspapers and books, and as a means of reproducing paintings.
As a final point of interest, the high quality of engravings and the microscopic level of detail that can be achieved make engravings almost impossible to counterfeit – making the Engraving process a natural choice for the production of paper currency and stock certificates.