A printmaking technique where – as opposed to etching them -- one creates lines in a plate by scratching them into the surface with a metal stylus. The act of dragging the stylus over the plate throws up a metal burr all along the length of the line. The burr, which sticks up above the surface of the plate, traps and holds the ink, making for rich, deep lines that are distinctive of this particular technique.
One notable disadvantage of drypoint is that the plates tend to lose their freshness very quickly, and it is often impossible to edition large sets of a drypoint print. Repeated printings cause the burr from the drypoint to collapse from the pressure of the press, making finer lines almost disappear over time, and taking the life and drama out of deeper ones. Artists will frequently make their drypoint prints in the harder metals, such as copper or steel to try to preserve them. Zinc plates, which are much easier to scratch into because of their relative softness, can be steel-faced to lengthen their overall life-span.
Because of the direct nature of scratching the lines into the plate, drypoint marks typically convey a greater degree of energy and freedom than do etched lines. There is an exciting sort of immediacy to building an entire image in drypoint, but this is really only practical for use with smaller plates, as the drypoint technique can tend to be labor-intensive. Drypoint is often a very useful method for making quick, dramatic changes to an etching without the tedium or risk of going back into it with hard-ground etching.