Village of Kadugannawa, habitation of the Rodiyas, outcasts from the times of the kings of Kandy.  By Prince Soltykoff.  1841.
To view Prints


Dr. R K de Silva

Prints may be broadly divided into three principle groups.

Relief Prints e.g. woodcuts, metal cuts and wood engravings

In wood cuts, a design is left in relief by chiselling or cutting away from small blocks of wood.  The print is made by applying ink to the surface and pressing the block down on to the paper.  Wood cuts and wood engravings, which can achieve very finely detailed lines are usually printed in black and white.  This is the oldest method of printing and was a popular way of illustrating books.

Intaglio Prints e.g. engravings, etchings, mezzotints and aquatints

In an engraving, the design is cut directly into a metal plate with a sharp pointed tool called a graver.  In etchings, the design is drawn (with an etching needle) on the metal, through a thin layer of wax.  The plate is next immersed in acid, which 'bites' only where the metal is exposed; it is then inked and wiped so that the ink which remains in the incisions or 'bitten' areas is forced out on printing under pressure.

In mezzotints, the metal plate is first pitted or roughened all over with a tool called the rocker which has a curved, serrated edge.  Each pit will hold ink, producing an even, velvety, black surface which is then rubbed down in varying degrees, to diminish the amount of ink held, in order to achieve the lightness of tone required.   Characteristic of the process is that the engraver works from dark to light, so that the design emerges from the black background.  It is used chiefly for the reproduction of portraits.

In aquatints, powdered resin is sprinkled on to a metal plate and 'fixed' on to it by heating.  When etched, the acid bites around the tiny resinous particles.  On printing, usually in two, or at most three, colours, a fine crazy-paved effect is obtained.  Gradations of tone are achieved by different thickness of resin.


The drawing is made on stone (or more commonly a zinc plate) with greasy crayons.   The surface is then dampened with water, which, due to the repellent effects of the grease, settles in the undrawn areas.  Next the plate is rolled over with greasy, coloured printing ink; this adheres only to the greasy drawings, the water repelling the ink from the rest of the surface.  One plate is required for each colour printed.   The ink is then transferred by laying the sheet of paper face down on the inked stone and rubbing its back.

Lithography superseded aquatinting about the 1840s.  Unlike relief or intaglio prints, lithographs do not have a plate impression.