Joseph Whitworth popularized the first practical method of making accurate flat surfaces, during the 1830s, by using engineer's blue and scraping techniques on three trial surfaces. Prior to his scraping technique, the same three plate method was employed using polishing techniques, giving less accurate results. This improvement led to an explosion of development of precision instruments using these flat surface generation techniques as a basis for further construction of precise shapes.
Engineer's blue is prepared by mixing Prussian blue with a non drying oily material (for example, grease). The coloured oil is rubbed onto a reference surface, and the workpiece is then rubbed against the coloured reference; the transfer (by contact) of the pigment indicates the position of high spots on the workpiece. This method has been used to test the flatness of surfaces and the trueness of a bearing assembly.
When Prussian blue is mixed with methylated spirits it forms a quick drying stain which is known as marking blue or layout dye. This stain is used in the marking out operation in metalworking. Both the "marking out" blue, and the "scraping blue" may be referred to as engineer's blue, which can lead to substantial confusion.
Prussian blue is widely used by tool makers when the core and cavity of a mould is matched during final assembly. It is also used in other tooling applications - especially during assembly - such as stamping tools and pressure die casting tools. A thin coating of Prussian blue is applied (usually with a paint brush) on the 'insert' - regardless of the shape or contour - of the mould or tool before the matching is done with the mating part. If the Prussian blue (generally called as just "blue") appears evenly on the mating area, it is considered - by the tool makers - as "good matching" and thus expecting a good final product from the tool. Usually no tool would be transferred to testing or production without "blue matching", a term generally used by the tool makers in Asia. In other words, Prussian blue is considered as an integral part of precision tool making.
Note: in the US, the terms machinist's blue, scraping blue, or simply bluing are used instead of engineer's blue.