Mezzotint

Mezzotint (mezzo = half and tinta = tone) is a reverse engraving process used on a copper or steel plate to produce illustrations in relief with effects of light and shadow. The surface of a master plate is roughened with a tool called a rocker so that if inked, it will print solid black. The areas to be white or gray in the print are rubbed down so as not to take ink. Mezzoting was the favorite method of reproducing paintings in the 18th and the 19th centuries because of its range of tone. It was invented in Holland, and first used in a book in 1662. It became popular in England during the eighteenth century and was known abroad as the maniere anglaise. It became obsolete with the introduction of photoengraving. The rich quality of the print depends on the sophistication of physical relief on the plate, but even despite the highest quality artisanal work, the plate is worn away after a very few impressions. This is why later prints are much inferior to the first taken from the plate. This made the process unsuitable for mass-produced books, although its quality was considered tolerable for the reproduction of paintings. During the nineteenth century steel was used instead of copper for mezzotinting and this allowed a larger number of impressions.