How to Identify an Engraving Compared to a Print

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Using a magnifying glass can help identify the subtle hints that a print may be an engraving.
Using a magnifying glass can help identify the subtle hints that a print may be an engraving. (Image: Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images)

A keen eye for art will be able to distinguish the subtle differences between prints produced through an engraving process rather than the use of etched plates or lithography. Engraved pieces of artwork are still considered "prints," however they are produced by engraving a design onto a steel or copper plate. Once the design is on the metal, ink is applied and pressure transfers the image from the plate to the paper. In modern times, antique engraved prints have become popular collection pieces and the ability to quickly spot engravings is an invaluable skill for art enthusiasts.

Remove the print from its frame or protective covering, if possible, to examine the print without any barriers.

Hold a magnifying glass up to the print and examine the pattern of the lines in the print. Look for the parallel lines and cross-hatching used in the design of engraved images.

Examine the print for crisp, defined lines. Engraving plates required artists to create precise line designs, giving the final engraved print a clean, crisp appearance. Prints using other methods of creation will typically feature rougher, less defined lines that may appear to have a grainy quality.

Look for a plate mark around the edge of the printed area. Engraved prints should display some type of indented plate mark around the perimeter of the inked area, unless it has been cut off to frame or otherwise size the piece. Note that other types of prints completed with an intaglio process, which requires using an inked plate to transfer an image, will also display plate marks. It is therefore imperative to look for the distinct parallel lines of an engraving coupled with the plate mark to identify an actual engraving.

Research any text on the print. Take note of the artist's name, the title of the print and when it was created, if this information is available. Collect information on the typical work of the artist and any historical value of the print to help determine if the piece is an engraving or other type of print. This type of research can also help determine the value of an antique piece.

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