Gravure printing is a very old process, the principles of which started in China in 100 AD: printing plates were prepared by hand using engraving tools. In the 16th century chemical etching was invented, whereby the image could be scratched into a resistant coating on the metal surface of a printing plate, and then etched into the metal using acid.

By 1838 the principles of photography had been established and this challenged the printing industry to find ways to reproduce these direct images of the real world in a fast and accurate manner. In 1875 gravure was able to duplicate the photographic films by using gelatine which hardened when exposed to light: the un-hardened areas were then washed away and etched using acid.