I have spent a large part of my professional career trying to transpose my traditional illustration and painting skills to my digital tools. Like many people have done during this pandemic, I tried new things.

One of those things was trying to approximate an intaglio, or engraving, effect to some of my digital illustrations. 

Albrecht Durer engraving

Over the years I have seen plugins for Adobe Photoshop that claimed to be able to replicate the look and feel of this technique, but none came close in my estimation. As I experimented with different looks and options I started to discover the importance of high quality patterns and brushes that could mimic the lines of the engraver’s scribe and stylus as a base for this technique.

I started out with a simple tutorial on patterns to begin with creating a baseline and then set out with a series of simple straight and wavy lines.

Wavy intaglio pattern

Initially I created full-sized patterns, to match the final scale, in Adobe Illustrator but the size of the files quickly grew out of hand in file size and memory usage due to the resolution of the illustrations being created.

These files killed the application on more than one occasion, so I pivoted to using smaller snippets of the patterns to leverage the tools capabilities rather than my first couple of attempts. Once I began pattern work, in the true sense, I was able to quickly proceed with my plans.

Once I exported these patterns, I created an entire library of these in widths and textures to complement the illustrative style I was intending with this technique.

Visual representation of the layering of patterns

When a theme is selected it is a matter of layering these patterns over one another, using masks and channel operations, to achieve the intaglio style in the digital space.

This series of layers, combined with the channel operations, and custom brushwork allow me to closely approximate the vision I had for this intaglio style of illustration. And as you can see from below, the resolution and style of the line being used is what helps create the intaglio effect. 

Illustration using various scaled patterns to create illustration

As you compare the image above with the finished illustration below, you can see the difference that resolution of the patterns has a direct impact on the final quality of the illustration. 

Portrait of Brad Pitt from Inglorious Bastards

Now that I have been able to transpose this technique, the next step is to continue to evolve it and implement it in a manner appropriate to the subject matter and medium.

Final portrait of Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones

I have already used portions of this technique within my paintings to provide a level of linework, as in the illustration of Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones above, that helps transcend the digital to imitate a bit of the traditional tooling to the work.

Other options will be different patterns with unique qualities that enhance the final piece. The options are truly boundless now that I have the baseline of this technique established.

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