Smith was one of the most highly-regarded and successful of English engravers. Born in Northampton, he first made mezzotints in 1683. For the first nine years of his career he produced prints for five main publishers and the majority of his output was portraiture. In 1687 he began publishing his own prints. Following the death of fellow engraver, Isaac Beckett, in 1688 Smith began producing prints of paintings by Godfrey Kneller, the leading portraitist in England in the late seventeenth – early eighteenth century. Kneller supplied him with a range of portraits of the most important people in Britain at the time, of whom many became his private patrons. Smith’s exceptional ability at the mezzotint process meant that he elevated it to a medium to rival traditional engraved portraits.