Photogravure (etching)

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Page Information
Date initiated March 2012
Contributors Saori Kawasumi Lewis

Photogravure[edit | edit source]

Photogravure is arguably the finest photomechanical process, and it was used extensively for illustrations in books and newspaper as well as artistic prints. This process has a variety in the way they are executed, and a print may be referred to as "gravure," "hand gravure," "aquatint gravure," "grain gravure," "flat-plate gravure," "heliogravure," "rotogravure," and "roto" among others. (Benson, Crawford)

Historical Facts[edit | edit source]

Invented: 1879, Karel Klič (1841-1926)
Important Development Dates:

  • 1879 Klič exhibited photogravures at the Vienna Photographic Society.
  • 1883 A British firm purchased license to produce photogravure from Klič and introduced the process to England.
  • 1890 Klič introduced the use of cross-line screen instead of aquatint and the use of copper cylinder in place of copper sheet. This process is distinguished from photogravure by the name "rotogravure".
  • 1892 Details of rotogravure process was published.

Historic Practitioners: Peter Henry Emerson, Edward Curtis, Alvin Langdon Coburn, Alfred Stieglitz, Paul Strand
Photogravure was favored by pictorialists in the late 19th century and early 20th century. Camera Work, published by Alfred Stieglitz between 1903 and 1917, is known as one of the best examples of a publication with high-quality photogravure illustrations.

Identification Characteristics[edit | edit source]

Image layer[edit | edit source]

Intaglio printing ink on paper

Color[edit | edit source]

Ordinarily black, but varies depending on the color of the ink used

Support[edit | edit source]


Analysis[edit | edit source]

Aquatint-like grain pattern or screen pattern via visual examination under moderate magnification (~15x)

Contemporary Process Overview[edit | edit source]

A copper plate is dusted with resin powder, then the plate is heated to melt the resin, creating aquatint grain pattern. A thin tissue is coated with gelatin, then sensitized with dichromate. When this tissue is exposed to light in contact with a positive image, gelatin in the area that receives more light (highlights) becomes more insoluble to water than the areas with less light exposure. Gelatin layer is transferred to the aquatint-coated copper plate by pressing the gelatin side of the tissue against the plate. The plate is, then washed with warm water to remove soluble gelatin, leaving a thicker layer in highlights and thiner layer in shadows. Upon immersion of the copper plate in ferric chloride solution, the area with less gelatin is etched more quickly, thus deeply than the area with thicker layer. The rest is identical to any intaglio printing process. The plate is inked, depositing more ink in the deeply etched areas and less in shallowly etched areas, thus creating tonal range, then printed on paper as positive image.

See also instructional video documenting Jon Goodman's photogravure printing process produced for the FAIC photogravure workshop held in Washington DC in October 2023 as part of the Photomechanical Prints: History, Technology, Aesthetics, and Use symposium.

Housing and Storage[edit | edit source]

  • Photogravures should be stored in good quality paper-board folders, to protect from light, dust, and handling. Materials passing the Photographic Activity Test (P.A.T.) are suitable for use.
  • An ideal temperature and humidity are 68 degrees F (20 degrees C) +/- 2 degree drift and 50% +/-5% variation over 24 hours.
  • Housing and storage guidelines suitable for intaglio prints are applicable to photogravures.

Emergency Recovery Tips[edit | edit source]

  • Handling wet paper can cause damage such as nicks, abrasions, and tearing.
  • Mold can develop on or within the papers.
  • Find step-by-step salvage technique for moldy paper in Preservation Leaflet 3.8: Emergency Salvage of Moldy Books and Paper[1]by Northeast Document Conservation Center (

Treatment[edit | edit source]

  • Treatment techniques used for for intaglio prints are suitable for photogravures.

Further Reading[edit | edit source]

Copyright 2024. Photographic Materials Group Wiki is a publication of the Photographic Materials Group of the American Institute for Conservation. It is published as a convenience for the members of thePhotographic Materials Group. Publication does not endorse nor recommend any treatments, methods, or techniques described herein. Please follow PMG Wiki guidelines for citing PMG Wiki content, keeping in mind that it is a work in progress and is frequently updated.

Cite this page: Photographic Materials Group Wiki. 2024. Photographic Materials Group Wiki. American Institute for Conservation (AIC). Accessed [MONTH DAY YEAR].

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