Engraving is an old technique used to decorate metal armours, weapons and other object. The process of making an impression of an engraved metal plate dates back to the early 15th century.
It was invented to print gold- and silversmith’s engraved ornaments onto paper, making it possible to distribute original designs and make money from them. Engraving was much finer in the lines than woodcut and made it possibly to render textures and shapes in amazing detail. It quickly became the medium of choice for all high-end prints.
For an engraving, a tool called a burin is used to carve a line directly into the surface of a plate. The burin cuts a spool of copper out of the line you engrave, leaving a clean incision. The width of the line can be varied considerably by applying more or less pressure to the burin. An engraving is usually composed of well-defined fine, smooth lines forming a complex motive.
Engraving demands a high degree of skill and care, as the movement of the burin through the metal is difficult to control. Professional engravers were in high demand. They made engravings after paintings and drawings by artists, and often received higher pay than the artist doing the original artwork. Some artists, like Albrecht Dürer, learned the skill themselves and made their own plates.
Today very few craftsmen have the skills to execute this technique properly.