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Aquatint by Karl Bodmer : The City of Traben-Trarbach and Grevenburg on the Moselle (1841)

The aquatint , also known as ink etching , bistro style or etched lavender , is a special method of artistic printmaking in which halftones are created by etching surfaces. It is considered to be one of the most picturesque gravure printing techniques .

The aquatint technique was invented by Jean Baptiste Leprince between 1765 and 1768 and used extensively by artists such as Francisco de Goya , Joan Miró and Hans Körnig . The aquatint process is often combined with etching . The aquatint graphics are similar to washed ink drawings.

The procedure for the aquatint

Aquatint etching by Wolfram Gothe (1988)
Aquatint dust box

A metal plate, usually made of zinc or copper, is used as the starting material for an aquatint etching. This plate is degreased and dusted with powdered resin , rosin or asphalt so that only a very thin layer of dust lies on the plate. This is usually done in a dust box, in which the dust lying on the floor is blown up by a blowpipe on the side of the box so that it can be deposited evenly on the plate. The plate is now carefully heated from below so that the resin granules melt onto the plate. However, the resin particles must not flow apart. Ideally, the result is a surface that is similar to fine sandpaper - with open and covered points. The painterly covering with masking varnish takes place before each further etching process. This covers the areas that are supposed to print white, and tones that have already been etched are protected and retained in a condensing sequence. With an etching solution , small depressions are then etched into the plate around the resin granules and a raster grain is created on the plate, in which printing ink adheres when the printing plate is wiped off.

Different shades of gray can be achieved by drying the plate after the first etching and covering other areas. As a result of the second etching that now takes place, the depressions that are still open and previously created by etching are deepened and widened and can thus absorb more ink during printing than the depressions that have been covered in the meantime. With each subsequent masking and etching process, a darker halftone (gray level) is added.

After the single or “multi-stage etching” has been carried out, the resin or asphalt grains and all cover layers are removed. The printing plate is then colored and the surface of the ink is cleaned again. However, the color remains in the depressions, whereby the color absorption is determined by the fineness of the screen grain, its density and the depth of the etching . With the gravure press, the color is transferred to dampened paper. For each individual print, the plate must be freshly colored and wiped off - as with etching and copper engraving .

Since aquatint plates are particularly sensitive, no more than 100 high-quality prints can be made without stealing . A larger edition can be achieved by stealing, but at the same time the delicacy of this technique, which often determines its artistic appeal, is often lost again.

Other forms of the aquatint process

The sleep of reason gives birth to monsters , aquatint etching from the Los Caprichos series by Goya

Salt aquatint

An even layer of salt is sprinkled on a thinly applied wax base. When the plate is heated, the salt sinks through the melting layer of wax down to the metal plate. The salt dissolves in the water bath and leaves a network of holes in the top layer, through which the acid acts on the metal plate and creates an even, network-like surface tone.

Sandpaper aquatint

A sandpaper is placed on a copper plate covered with an etching base and both are rotated through the printing press. The etching base is perforated, the acid bath can attack the metal. A pointillist granulated surface is created.

Spirit of wine or craquelure aquatint

Resin is dissolved in alcohol (ethanol) and poured onto the metal plate; When the alcohol evaporates, a lively network of cracks is created through which the acid bath can attack. The result is a lively surface tone.


If no deep etching is to be carried out, a coating with rosin or asphalt must first be carried out as with the aquatint. The Reservage uses concentrated sugar and gum arabic solutions drawn on the metal plate with a brush. An etching base placed on top of this is blasted off in hot water by the dissolving sugar or the swelling rubber at the points shown, which are thereby exposed for etching. Overall, this technique creates slightly rougher contours than other aquatint techniques.


Also known as synthetic resin aquatint or painter's manner . Silicon carbide (carborundum) or sand is mixed with synthetic resin and applied (painted) to the plate. This creates a point grid without etching. The paint is applied to the plate and adheres to all places where the carborundum layer is present. The ink can be wiped off again on the blank areas of the printing plate. Carborundum prints are characterized by rich colors, because a lot of color can adhere to the surfaces.


  • Wolfgang Autenrieth: New and old techniques of etching and fine printing processes - An alchemistic workshop book for erasers: From 'witch's meal and dragon's blood' to the photopolymer layer. Tips, tricks, instructions and recipes from five centuries , Krauchenwies 2010, 230 pages, ISBN 978-3-00-035619-3 , (→ excerpts online)
  • Walter Koschatzky ; The art of graphics . dtv, Munich 1985, ISBN 3-4230-2868-8
  • Volker Steinbacher : Workshop etching, engraving, printing, coloring . English, Wiesbaden 2006, ISBN 3-8241-1337-6
  • Christiane Wiebel: Aquatint, or the art of engraving in copper with a brush . Deutscher Kunstverlag, Munich Berlin 2007, ISBN 978-3-422-06693-9 .
  • Aleš Krejča: The techniques of graphic arts. Handbook of work processes and the history of printmaking (translation from the Czech by Brigitta Rokytová), Artia, Prague 1980; 3rd edition, Dausien, Hanau 1991, ISBN 3-7684-1071-4 .
  • Hermann Struck : The art of etching , manual with many illustrations, published in 1923 by Paul Cassirer in Berlin, 325 pages.

Web links

Commons : Aquatint  - collection of images, videos, and audio files
Wiktionary: Aquatint  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations