This section is from "Scientific American Supplement Volumes 275, 286, 288, 299, 303, 312, 315, 324, 344 and 358". Also available from Amazon: Scientific American Reference Book.
A new method of making bitumen plates by contact has also been introduced into the topographical studios. The plan, or the original drawing, is placed against a glass plate, coated with a mixture of bitumen and of marine-glue dissolved in benzine. The marine-glue gives the bitumen greater pliancy, and prevents it from scaling off when rubbed, particularly when the plate is retouched with a dry point. These bitumen plates are so thoroughly opaque to the penetration of the actinic rays, that the printing-frame may be left for any time in full sunlight without any fear of fog being produced on the zinc plate from which the prints are to be taken.
Method for Topographic Engraving by Commandant de la Noë.--Before leaving the interesting studios of which I have been speaking, I ought to mention a very ingenious application which has been made of a process called topogravure, invented by Commandant de la Noë, who is the director of this important department. A plate of polished zinc is coated with bitumen in the usual way, and then exposed directly to the light under an original drawing, or even under a printed plan. So soon as the light has sufficiently acted, which may be seen by means of photometric bands equally transparent at the plate, all the bitumen not acted upon is dissolved. As it is a positive which has acted as matrix, the uncovered zinc indicates the design, and the ground remains coated with insoluble bitumen. The plate is then etched with a weak solution of nitric acid in water, and the lines of the design are thus slightly engraved; the surface is then re-coated with another layer of bitumen, which fills up all the hollows, and is then rubbed down with charcoal. All the surface is thus cleaned off, and the only bitumen which remains is that in the lines, which, though not deep, are sufficiently so to protect the substance from the rubbing of the charcoal. When this is done we have an engraved plate which can be printed from, like a lithographic stone; it is gummed and wetted in the usual way, and it gives prints of much greater delicacy and purity than those taken directly from the bitumen. The ink is retained by the slight projection of the surface beyond the line, so that it cannot spread, and a kind of copper plate engraving is taken by lithographic printing. Besides, in arriving at this result, there is the advantage of being able to use directly the original plans and drawings, without being obliged to have recourse to a plate taken in the camera; the latter is indispensable for printing in the usual way on bitumen where the impression on the sensitive film is obtained by means of a negative. It will be seen that this process is exceedingly ingenious, and not only is its application very easy, but all its details are essentially practical.