Friday, November 14, 2014

Etching and Engraving: Two Historical Art Forms

When buying someone a gift, whether you are celebrating a particular occasion or just showing your appreciation and love, personalization adds an extra level of care, detail, and distinctiveness. Many of us are guilty of asking to have products “etched” or “engraved” and use the words interchangeably. Both are methods of cutting shapes, lines, and words into a hard surface, such as a silver or metal gift or glassware, one by using sharp tools to cut directly into a surface and the other by burning lines into the surface with acid. However, the true difference between the two art forms lies in their deep histories.

Personalized Silver Photo FrameEngraving
You may be surprised to learn that engraving is one of the oldest art forms we know. In fact, early humans who scraped primitive drawings into cave walls were essentially using the same techniques that we use today. Ancient gemstones, family seals, and sculptures also used engraving methods. While we have many modern technologies that make engraving a rapid and highly customizable possibility, hand engravers formerly used a hammer and chisel, creating some remarkably complex designs and images into metal. Prior to the invention of photography, etching was a tried and true way to reproduce artwork and images to distribute around the world.

Today, engraving is most popular for gifts and keepsakes, such as engraving your ceremony date or initials into a wedding band or to customize items like awards and picture frames. Many engraving projects are done with the aid of computer automation, whereby the operator can easily design text or images, which the computer will translate into digital signals. This allows for an item to be engraved in a matter of minutes! Because engraving allows for more defined lines, it is the preferred art form for more precise objects that are smaller in size or require a more detailed touch.

A newer art form, etching is a more complicated process than engraving, but with the potential for equally stunning results. Etching uses a strong acid to cut into metal or glass. In its simplest form, an artist covers the object being etched with a layer of wax, and then scratching the desired design through the wax with sharp tools. When finished, the object is dipped into an acid bath, which eats away at any exposed metal, and leaves behind the beautiful detail. Because the acid is burning under the wax, a wider and rougher line than the artist originally drew is produced, causing etching to leave behind slightly fuzzier lines and shapes than engraving. Fortunately, although etching is estimated to be traced back to the year 1515, more modern developments have yielded nontoxic acids and solvents.

Etching is typically preferred when items are being customized in bulk, for it can achieve a lower cost for longer production runs. It is also the more popular option for glassware, especially for novice etchers wanting to work on their own projects at home.

So, the next time you hunt for the perfect engraved or etched gift, remember that you are not just buying a gift or token, but continuing the evolving history of an art form that is as old as mankind.

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