The history of photogravure reaches back to the first photographic
experiments of Nicéphore Niépce in 1816 in France,
as he attempted to capture an image in such a way that it could
be converted into a printable form. Although rather primitive, his
first photomechanical process, called Gravure Héliographique,
was developed ten years before the public announcement of the Daguerreotype
process in 1839.
After it became known in 1839 that dichromates in combination with
certain kinds of glues become light sensitive, Henry Fox-Talbot,
in 1850, discovered the light-sensitivity of the gelatin-dichromate
mixture. He named the process Photoglyphic Engraving and patented
it in 1852 and 1858. Talbot spread his gelatin-dichromate mixture
directly onto a copper plate and etched it through the gelatin layer
after exposure, first using platinum chloride, later ferric chloride.
In doing this, he observed that the rate of penetration through
the partially tanned gelatin could be precisely controlled by means
of changing the ferric chloride concentration.
After the carbon printing technique became known in the 1860s,
whereby a negative placed over a pigment paper was transferred to
another paper backing for development, Karel Klic in Vienna, towards
the end of the 1870s, combined carbon printing with Fox-Talbots
photoglyphic procedure to produce the ultimate photogravure process.
A rapid spread of its use can be seen between 1884 and 1886, when
details of the process became publicly known. Although used primarily
as a reproduction technique, the process attracted the attention
of many photographers and printmakers who manipulated their plates
to give special artistic effects to their prints.
In 1895, Klic adapted his process for printing gravures from a cylinder
on a rotary press. In place of a dustgrain ground, a screen was
copied in, and excess ink on the cylinder was wiped off mechanically,
instead of wiping off by hand. By 1920, Klics process now
called rotogravure, had become widespread and dustgrain photogravure
began to disappear slowly as too expensive a technique. The process
was lost for over forty years until a handful of artists started
to revive it in the late 1970s.