Paul D. Fleming III, Paper Engineering, Chemical Engineering and Imaging
The origins of gravure printing were with the creative artists of the Italian Renaissance in the 1300s. Fine engravings and etchings were cut by hand into soft copper.
The engraved surface consisted of channels or sunken areas. The Italian word intaglio (in-tal-yo) means engraved or cut in.
Intaglio refers to a method of printing whose image carrier consists of lines or dots recessed below the surface.
Intaglio reproduces an original design by pressing paper into the recesses.
The first intaglio plate was used for printing in Germany in 1446 about the same time as Gutenberg. Unfortunately, the intaglio process was not compatible with Gutenberg’s letterpress, so it wasn’t adopted by early printers.
The modern gravure printing press resulted from the invention of photography and the adoption of rotary printing from cylinders.
William Henry Fox Talbot invented the halftone screen in 1860, as a method of breaking up continuous tone images into a series of discrete dots.
This method is used to reproduce photographic images in all printing processes. Auguste Godchaux received a patent for a reel-fed rotary gravure perfector press in 1860.
This press was still in use in 1940. The process was refined by the German Karl Klic (Klietsch) and the Englishman Samuel Fawcett.
Klic and Fawcett didn’t have patents on their process, so they tried to keep the process secret. They sold prints from their press as “heliogravure” prints, even though they were really rotogravure as we know it today.
Their process remained a trade secret until an employee emigrated to the United States and made it public.
The process continued to improve and gravure presses were used to print Jell-O cartons starting in 1938.
Engraving continued to improve with electromechanical engravers being introduced in 1968 with digital controls added in 1983.