Reference Library: Mezzotint
'Mezzotint' is a printing process of the intaglio family, in which the surface of a metal plate is roughened evenly; the image is then brought out by smoothing the surface, creating the image by working from dark to light.
Plates can be mechanically roughened, but the classical way is to rub fine metal filings over the surface with a piece of glass; the finer the filings, the smaller the grain of the surface. The method commonly in use today is to use a steel rocker approximately five inches wide, which has between 45 and 120 teeth per inch on the face of a blade in the shape of a shallow arc, with a wooden handle projecting upwards in a T-shape. Rocked steadily from side to side at the correct angle, the rocker will proceed forward creating burrs in the surface of the copper. The plate is then moved - either rotated by a set number of degrees or through 90 degrees according to preference - and then rocked in another pass. This is repeated until the plate is roughened evenly and will print a completely solid tone. Carol Wax's book The Mezzotint: History and Technique (Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1990) is the best available text on the subject, covering history, development, methods and materials for the whole process.
Mezzotint is known for the luxurious quality of its tones: first, because an evenly, finely roughened surface holds a lot of ink, allowing deep solid colors to be printed; secondly because the process of smoothing the texture with burin, burnisher and scraper allows fine gradations in tone to be developed.
The mezzotint printing method was invented by Ludwig von Siegen (1609-1680). His earliest surviving mezzotint print dates to 1642 and is a portrait of Amelia Elizabeth, Landgravine of Hesse-Cassel.
The word 'mezzotint' is derived from the Italian mezzo-tinto, meaning half-painted.
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Mezzotint".