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A brief introduction to etching

George Drought & Simon Roodhouse in the Bluecoat Print Studio, 1977

Etching is one of the oldest methods of printing still used today. In order to find out a bit more about this technique, we asked Print Studio Manager and Abacus artist Frances Disley to explain the process used in creating an etching print. As well as being the Bluecoat Print Studio Manager, Frances is also a practicing artist, based at The Royal Standard in Liverpool.


Etching is a printmaking technique that utilises the ability of certain chemicals to eat away (bite) the surface of metal plates. Prints are created by allowing these chemicals to bite into either copper, steel or zinc plates, creating grooves which are then inked and printed. An important part of the process is controlling the placement of these chemicals.

On our Introduction to Etching workshop we use a technique called hard and soft ground etching, this process involves coating your metal plate with a mixture of beeswax and bitumen (the ground) which protects it from the chemical. The ground can then be gently removed using pointed tools which act as your drawing implement (your pen or pencil). This exposed metal becomes linear grooves, when the metal plate is placed in the chemical tray. These grooves are filled with ink, covered with damp paper and rolled through a press to create a print.

Etching is one of the oldest forms of printing. The earliest examples of the etching process can be found in the decorative lines on body armour, which would have previously been created using hand engraving. The first signed and dated etching onto paper was produced by the Swiss Renaissance goldsmith and printer Urs Graf in 1513.

Traditionally acids are used as the chemical to bite into the metal plates, however, at the Bluecoat Print Studio we use a copper sulphate solution which offers a safe and effective alternative, with no loss in quality of line and print.

On the Introduction to Etching workshop you will be taken through the etching process, from start to finish. You will produce a print, from your own drawings and designs, on our 100 year old etching press, which has been used by many great artists including Augustus John. No prior experience is required for this workshop and once you have attended the course you will be able to come back and hire the space to create more prints.

If the thought of etching intrigues you, come along to one of our Introduction to Etching workshops and have a go yourself.

We run a variety of different workshops at the Bluecoat Print Studio, to find out about the variety of classes available or about hiring the studio, click here.

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About the Bluecoat

Liverpool’s centre for the contemporary arts, Bluecoat showcases talent across visual art, music, dance, live art and literature. As the most ...

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