Glass or metal surfaces can be etched with acid. An acid resistant coating can be applied to a surface. Beeswax, that bees produce from scales on their abdomens, was adopted for this purpose. A pattern can be made by removing the beeswax with a stylus. The coated object is dipped in acid, the acid removes some of the metal from the exposed surface which is “etched”. This process leaves grooves in the metal that can be used to stamp ink patterns onto paper.
Beeswax could be mixed with other substances to produce a higher quality surface that could accommodate the finest lines. This process allowed scientific books to be illustrated with drawings that were much less ambiguous than verbal descriptions.