The etching process is an old one, basically unchanged since Rembrant's time. The artist begins with a metal plate, usually copper or zinc, which she coats with an acid-resistant ground. Using a needle tool she then scratches through the ground to expose the metal. When she feels her image is complete, the artist places the plate in an acid bath. The acid bites into the metal where the artist has exposed it, eating lines and textures into the plate. The process can be repeated until the artist is satisfied with the image.
To print the etching the artist inks the plate, making sure the ink is forced into every line and texture she has etched into the metal. Then she wipes all ink off the surface of the plate, leaving it only in the etched lines. She places the inked, wiped plate on the bed of the etching press with dampened paper on top of it. As the artist rolls the plate through the press, the pressure of the rollers forces the paper down into the inked lines and the ink is transferred to the paper. Thus the image etched into the metal is printed onto the paper.
The Artist decides how many prints she will pull from the plate. This is an "edition". Each print in the edition is individually printed, signed and numbered. For instance, if the number on a print is 4/50, that means the print is the fourth one printed out of a total of fifty. Once the artist has printed all the prints in the edition, The metal plate is destroyed.