What Is a Photogravure?

Developed in the 1850’s, an Intaglio Photogravure is produced through a complex, painstaking, multi-step hand-made process.  First, a highly detailed continuous tone positive film of the original photographic image with the correct density values is placed flush on a copper or other metal  plate that has been coated with a photosensitive chemical that will react according to how much light it receives during exposure. After exposing, the plate receives a delicate acid tint wash leaving a negative image etched into it allowing the plate to hold ink. Several oil based inks are mixed to achieve the right sepia tone and carefully applied to the engraved plate in an hour-long series of steps so that the ink is evenly pushed down into the etched grooves of the plate that range in depth from deep (dark) to shallow (light). Fine quality Japanese tissue or European cotton paper that has been moistened just the right amount is placed on the inked plate under special printing blankets, and then hand cranked through a press at 10,000 lbs. of pressure causing the paper to squeeze down into the grooves of the plate. After the paper fibers have absorbed all the ink, the paper is carefully peeled off the plate leaving the image deeply and permanently embossed into the paper fibers creating an archival fine art print that has the subtle detail of a photograph, the velvety texture of an etching and richness of an oil painting.

The technical difficulties of the process can seem infinite and insurmountable at times, prompting Ansel Adams to quip, “Photogravure is a most beautiful technique, but I would not recommend anyone do it”.


There are only a handful of master printers in the world today who make hand-made photogravure plates and prints. And of these few, Paul Unks of Mountain Hawk is the only one producing Curtis’ original photographs as he did, as intaglio photogravures, each archival print individually hand-made, one at a time, restoring Curtis’ original fine photographic detail that had previously been lost, to new plates. Using this traditional classic method, Mountain Hawk is faithfully and authentically completing the edition Curtis started, but wasn’t able to finish in his life time.

Types of Prints and Sizes ? or Mountain Hawk Print Types and Size Selections ?


Mountain Hawk makes two categories of prints:

In the first category are the high end pieces, A) the Gold Tones (and Platinum) on Glass, and B) the Photogravures.

These are the type of prints Curtis made over a hundred years ago, and for which Mountain Hawk is primarily known.

Paul Unks is the only one today making photogravures of Curtis’s original photographs, and custom size gold tones with custom framing. These are highly specialized photographic printing techniques, the most sophisticated and nuanced, with unmatched visual qualities. They have the highest archival rating, and as authentic hand-made pieces faithful to Curtis’s techniques, are the most collectible with the best investment value.

In the second category are high resolution digital sepia prints; A), giclees and B), photographs. 

These are archival prints made with stable pigmented inks using fine weave conservation cotton rag paper and classic photographic emulsion paper. They are made utilizing state of the art digital scanning technology combined with modern production equipment using ultra- high precision printing heads to create beautiful high resolution prints that are significantly less costly to make, and therefore, more affordable.

All Mountain Hawk prints come with Certificate of Authenticity


In addition to the standard sizes, we can also make custom sizes on request, including very large, of all the prints except for the photogravures, which are made in Curtis’ original sizes only*, and as a limited edition.

* Note, exception: In addition to the original folio size, we made a unique one-of-a-kind large copper photogravure plate of “Canon De Chelly” twice as big as the original folio size, the largest copper plate photogravure of a Curtis original photograph ever made.

Category I:  The Photogravures and Gold Tones (and Platinum) on Glass  or organize by “Gallery”  or “Store” names instead of Category I and II.?

Intaglio (Hand-Made) Photogravures

Intaglio Photogravure is a traditional technique developed in the 1850’s. It is a very intricate and time-consuming process where the original photographic image is etched into a copper plate to be hand inked and pressed into the paper of choice. Photogravure was the process Curtis used to produce The North American Indian. From the original negative, a glass positive is made, and then the image is transferred chemically to a copper plate. Surprisingly, it is much harder to achieve the full range of sepia tones of a photogravure than printing the multiple colors of a painting, particularly when it comes to the subtle distinction of shadow detail.

Intaglio means hand made and refers to the photogravures which are made with an analog process that renders rich tones, antique aesthetics, and exude a wonderful sense of light, depth, and realism. They are more three-dimensional, tangible and more likely to evoke an emotional response from the viewer. They have a palpable presence. Because they are hand pressed under a lot of pressure, you can see the embossed mark on the edge of the plate where it dug into the paper after it is dried, showing clearly that is indeed an actual intaglio photogravure. It is called the “strike mark”. Collectors photogravures because  they are a “real print” of superior quality, the most genuine, authentic, and  faithful to the way Curtis and Jon Andrew printed them over a hundred years ago.

Gold and Platinum Tones on Glass

Old Well of Acoma gold tone image, sm
Curtis made the gold tone so much his own that he affixed his name to the process and dubbed it the “Curt-tone”!.  The glass Curtis used, that Kodak used to make, is no longer made. Initially, Paul told that if he wanted to recreate that glass, he would have to build his own factory. At first, he was a bit dismayed, but it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. It took a while, but he has now discovered glass that has superior utility, aesthetic quality, and durability.
Mountain Hawk uses an extremely clear, high-quality optical glass with unparalleled 99% UV protection. Ten years in the making, this remarkable glass is uniquely able to allow the custom emulsion to smoothly and cohesively adhere to the back of the glass so that the photograph is printed, or fused, on the back of the glass. Once the special emulsion is applied smoothly and evenly to the back of the glass, the Gold Tone photographs take on a magical luminosity and great depth.

They reveal a level of detail and possess a glow and presence unequaled by any other technique. It is Paul’s belief that if Curtis were alive today, he would be using the same material.

Curtis’ Gold Tones, sometimes called Oro Tones, are prized by collectors. The custom photographic emulsion Mountain Hawk makes for creating Gold Tones contains some extraordinary ingredients and qualities. Naturally occurring elements including mica crystals are introduced into the classic photographic emulsion, then coated with a thin layer of precious metal particles (Curtis used gold dust and banana oil). Through an interplay of refraction and multiple reflections, one can discern a mixture of gold, platinum, nickel and copper creating a wonderful luminous “autumnal” glow matching Curtis’ vintage Gold Tones. This sophisticated, laborious technique lends Curtis’ photographs such an intense warmth and depth that they become a true sensation for the eye.

Note: The Platinum Tones are made the same way as the Gold Tones, the only difference being that the emulsion is modified by using a different metallic composition to give them their own special tonality. Instead of gold, platinum, nickel and copper, we use a mixture of platinum, nickel and silver with only a dash of copper. They have the same wonderful luminosity, detail and depth as the gold tones, but with a more classic black and white photographic appearance, only warmer and with a slight hint of sepia, due to the amount of platinum, nickel and copper used in the emulsion.

Category II:  Sepia Tone Giclee’ and Photographic Prints Using High-Resolution Digital Technology Giclee’

In giclee’ printing, no screen or other mechanical devices are used and therefore there is no visible dot screen pattern. The image has all the tonalities and hues of the original print or painting. Giclee’ (pronounced Gee’clay) is a French term meaning to spray, which is how an inkjet printer works. However, it is not the same as a standard desktop inkjet printer, and is much larger. Our $85,000 state-of-the-art printer is equipped with the latest in photographic inkjet technology, including Stylus Pro 9900 printing heads for the greatest micro precision. We have modified it with more sophisticated software and a combination of superior sepia tone inks to achieve greater resolution and smoother gradient transitions. We use a 10-color high density pigmented ink system. These are very stable inks with a uniquely High Dynamic Range (HDR), capable of achieving an extremely wide color gamut. We are very pleased with the extraordinary print quality rendered by the combination of our high resolution printer, exceptional inks and paper we use at Mountain Hawk.

A giclee’ is a digital technique (not dark room) where the original film is scanned at an extremely high resolution. The image is then transferred from the computer onto fine art smooth cotton rag paper using a mixture of quality inks that are mixed and sprayed onto the substrate (paper or canvas). The inks are stable up to 150 120 years giving it a respectable archival rating, though nowhere near the archival rating of an actual intaglio photogravure or gold tone. Paul likes to use a super fine weave and velvety textured 100% cotton rag watercolor paper from Somerset England, as it has a wonderfully rich texture and smooth surface that absorbs ink without blurring, capable of fine distinctions in the dark shadow detail areas  so that high resolution is maintained, resulting in beautiful prints.  They have the additional advantage of being more economical and can be custom sized. Because the giclees are ink applied to the paper, they look very much like photogravures or paintings. When printed onto canvas, they have an even more painterly look, are more durable than paper, and can go much larger, including mural sizes.

(Perhaps we could hyper link “cotton rag” paper to a description of what it is for people who want to click on it to know more about it)

Photographic Prints

The making of the sepia tone photographic prints begins the same way as do the giclees, with a high-resolution digital scan of the original. The image is then printed from a specialized computer designed for fine art production, with sophisticated hardware and software, onto classic archival photographic emulsion paper. Because they are photographs, they are very rich in tone and detail. Compared to the ink on paper methods, we can “push” the photographic printing process further, enhancing tonality, light and contrast so that the qualities and details of the original become more immediately apparent. While the giclees have a softer warmth and richness resembling photogravures or paintings, the photographic prints pop more with striking vibrancy and precise detail.

The advantages of the digital photographic process (and giclees) are 1), we can offer more custom size options, including all the way up to mural size, and 2), are more affordable, as they are less costly and labor intensive to make compared to our hand-made prints in Category I.

Camp in the Foothills ~ Piegan, giclee, sm        Atsina Warriors, giclee, sm

Murals and Custom Design Projects ?

When a very large piece is desired, we can provide them by using an expanded version of the high res digital photographic or giclee processes, depending on the look one wants to achieve. They can be done using the digital photographic printing technique and then mounted on very strong supportive museum acid free “Gator” board. Another excellent option is to use the giclee’ process to print on cotton rag, or canvas that is then stretch mounted on a wooden frame. These larger prints can be framed or float mounted in a number of traditional, or contemporary ways, as desired to fit your particular décor. We can make pieces as large as 48” w. x 65” w., and wider panoramic prints if needed. If desired, we can ship your extra- large prints unframed, rolled in a protective tube and you have them framed with your local framer. Besides working with your own personal framer, the other advantage to having your prints shipped unframed is that it is much less costly as it avoids the significant additional expense of shipping a very heavy large framed piece in a special art box with more insurance. We love to work with you on designing custom projects. Let us know how we can help you achieve the look, size and framing treatment you desire that best meets your design requirements.

 Frame Selections and Custom Options

Black Eagle Platinum framed, sm     Bear's Belly gold framed, sm     Canon Del Muerto Gold Tone framed, sm     Mosa gold framed, sm

Mountain Hawk’s Museum Quality conservation framing package ranges from traditional classic period styles to contemporary treatments. You may choose frame styles carefully selected to be period consistent. You can have your special piece placed in an Arts & Crafts style frame that is hand-made with quarter sawn oak using mortise and tenon corner joints. In addition to the Arts & Crafts style, we make other historic period consistent frames with an aged antique look. We can also float mount your fine art piece in wood, or a solid steel frame with a gun metal patina finish.  The Platinum Tone photographic prints on glass with beveled and polished edges look especially stunning when float mounted in the patinaed steel frame. It creates a timeless classic look that is, at once, historic and contemporary in its presentation.

Our prints are mounted on acid-free boards, and then carefully placed behind ultra-clear conservation UV protected glass. The master prints made with their stable pigmented inks and conservation fine art paper in conjunction with conservation framing achieve an unparalleled archival rating, so they will become treasured family heirlooms. Certificates of authenticity, embossed with the Mountain Hawk master printer’s mark, are included with each piece.

Paul works with the finest frame crafters in the country, often meeting with them personally to make frames specifically designed to enhance particular print types and images, as well as to go well with his clients’ décor. Let us know how we can work with you to design your special fine art piece.

Original Works of Art, “Ancestral Passages ~ Then and Now”

Several years ago Mountain Hawk founder, Paul Unks had an idea and a vision that has now come to fruition. Mountain Hawk introduces a ground breaking series of original multi-media hand-made prints that places one of Curtis’s photogravures in the center flanked on either side by plates made from photographs taken today in the same place where Curtis stood over a hundred years ago. 

These are original, one-of -a-kind, works of art constituting a series entitled “Ancestral Passages ~ Then and Now”, incorporating traditional and modern abstract art formsThey are all hand-made multi-media prints incorporating five different types of techniques, oil based inks and fine art papers layered one upon the other. The small center piece image is a photogravure from an original 19th century Native American Curtis photograph. The larger middle square panel surrounding the small central photogravure is made from an original dry point copper plate, hand etched and inked. The hand painted rectangular side panels are pressed using “mono type” plates etched from original contemporary photographs of landscapes, trees, plant life, rock formations and bodies of water indigenous to the local area, right next to where the central photograph was taken by Curtis over a 100 years ago, creating a “then and now effect” connecting the past to the present. Strips of various custom hand-made papers with natural elements and textures in them are then woven into the piece using a technique called colle’. Finally, all these pieces are laid on top of each other, overlapping and/or adjacent to one another, over Japanese tissue paper, and then pressed at 10,000 lbs. per square inch onto Arches water color paper that supports the whole ensemble. The result is a multi-layered and highly textural blend of harmonious elements of nature, accompanied by old and new images echoing the Native American spirit.