How to make Photographic Cyanotype Prints

August 16, 2021

A Photographic Cyanotype Print of a man with long hair.

In this blog post I will explain how to make Photographic Cyanotype Prints my way. This is a super easy process and technique, but – like many things – can take a while to master. I’ve certainly made (and continue to make) lots of mistakes. I also continue to discover little tricks and new ways of working, so I thought I’d start to share what I learn.

What you’ll need

Essential Supplies

  • Cyanotype chemistry
  • Acetates
  • Paper (200gsm and greater)
  • Brush / sponge
  • Sunlight / UV light
  • Dark cupboard / box
  • Glass pane
  • Clips

Other Tools and Supplies

  • Hydrogen Peroxide (first-aid-kit-grade for cuts)
  • Water-tight trays (I often use cheap seed planters)
  • Timer (phone or watch or whatever)
  • Photo Printer
  • Light-proof bag
  • Measuring

Prepare the Chemicals and Paper for Cyanotypes

Do all of this out of direct light, ideally in the darkest place you can still see to work.

Mix the cyanotype chemicals as per the instructions, whether that’s mixing liquids at 1:1 or measuring powders and adding water and so on. Keep these in very subdued lighting. I tend to mix up about 10ml total if I’m only coating 3 or 4 pieces of paper. I limit to this because I like to keep an eye on how well a batch works but also my dark drying areas are limited.

Desk setup with Cyanotype chemicals, glass containers, foam brush and paper laid out explaining hot to make photographic cyanotype prints

Next paint the yellow chemical mixture onto your paper. How you do this is up to you, sometimes I use tape for borders, sometimes I like it messy, sometimes I use a sponge for smooth, sometimes I use a wall paintbrush for jagged edges. You should try to keep the application even with no darker pools. I also aim to use the minimum liquid but still get complete and even coverage.

Two papers painted with wet cyanotype chemicals

With that done, get the paper into somewhere dark and leave to dry. It will probably try to curl up, but that’s fine. Leave for minimum an hour, but longer is better so it’s properly dried. Sometimes I will be impatient and wait til it’s touch-dry but think I get better results when I leave overnight.

Create a Transparency for Photographic Cyanotype Prints

While the paper dries, it’s time to make your transparency.

A transparency of a boat pier

With your chosen image, make it black and white (grayscale) and invert the colours. I use Photoshop, but you can do this with lots of free software including online.

Now print it onto your acetate sheet. I’ve printed on the wrong (shiny) side before and the sides are similar, but you should be printing on the side that has a bit more texture. To me, it feels slightly dusty.

Make the Exposure

Now it’s time to grab your dried cyanotype paper, acetate, glass and clips. Put the acetate on top of the paper the correct way round and clip the glass on top so it’s all held together and aligned nicely.

A cardboard box with UV strips inside over a cyanotype photographic print

The exposure length will be a blog post in its own right, but give it a go. In sunlight try 8 minutes. Under UV light, maybe 30 minutes. I’d recommend trial and error and making a step test.

An exposed cyanotype portrait, inverted and blue and brown

The print will turn a blue-brown colour and the image might disappear or look odd at the end of this stage.

Wash and Dry the Cyanotype Print

I’ve tried a few methods of both washing and drying and what follows is my current preferred method:

Water pouring over an exposed cyanotype print, the image appearing
  1. First I set up a tray slightly larger than the print and half-filled with water.
  2. Then I slip the print in so it is immediately fully covered in water.
  3. Next, I let it sit for a minute or so.
  4. I lift and drop one end of the tray so that it waves. At this stage you should see yellow chemicals coming from the print. The game now is to move all this yellow away and leave a clean (blue and white) print (the documentation recommends 5+ minutes).
  5. Once no more yellow, I slip into a second tray that is water with a tiny dash of hydrogen peroxide. I’m trying to use the minimum possible where I still see the blue going from slightly pastel to a deep sea blue before my eyes. This takes a few seconds, maybe 30 tops.
  6. Lastly I like to take out, then place onto industrial-type paper towels on both sides, removing all the surface water.
  7. Finally I leave to fully dry for hours or usually overnight.
The completed cyanotype photographic print drying on a piece of cardboard it has been attached to with a rubber band

Now you have your print and it’s time to feel the joy, but more likely all the ways you could improve it will run through your head.

Once dry I always write the date, the exposure length and any other relevant information so I can replicate or adjust my process. If I don’t do this as soon as I can, I forget and curse myself. And that’s basically how to make photographic cyanotype prints!

Notes on Supplies for Photographic Cyanotype Prints

Jacquard Products make the commonplace cyanotype chemicals, at least in the UK. These are the ones I use, but I’m sure others work just as well.

I order cheap acetates from the usual scumbags but I’d like to try others.

I build my own UV boxes and will write more about building and using them in the future.

After applying cyanotype chemicals, I have a few light-tight boxes that I let them dry in, mostly repurposed packaging or cheap containers.

Various clips and pegs for making a photographic cyanotype print

I get my panes of glass from picture frames. Old ones, cheap ones, different sizes. When I started looking for and collecting them, they started appearing everywhere.

I buy hydrogen peroxide from pharmacies or the usual scumbags.

I get my water trays from DIY and gardening shops: they’re just larger seed planters without holes.

I use my iPhone timer but also have the Timer+ app which allows multiple timers running simultaneously.

I keep light-proof bags from RA-4 photographic papers for making traditional colour prints, these are great for keeping your dried cyanotypes ready for printing in.

My current printer is just cheap but came with months of free ink and I love it so far: HP Envy Photo 6234.

How to Make Photographic Cyanotype Prints: What’s Next?

By now you know the basics of how to make a photographic cyanotype prints, but there is a lot more we can talk about. Getting the exposure right, toning the prints into new colours, intermediate techniques etc. I’ll link them up here when I post them.

Koh Samui, back in 2016

October 12, 2019

When we lived in Sydney I bought 3 Canon EOS film cameras for about £25. I still use the EOS 50E, I gave one to a photography assistant there and the last one I gave Becky to use. I gave her a roll of cheap film and a lend of ones of my lenses (probably the nifty fifty) and she shot a roll when we met up with my parents in Koh Samui, Thailand.

Grenery near our accommodation

We both forgot all about it when we got back – and seeing as she hadn’t used the camera since – the roll was left in the camera, undeveloped. I finally found it when I was looking at the camera when going through equipment for a shoot.

My dad and me, fishing at Top Cat's

With my home darkroom, it’s so easy to chuck an extra roll in with the rest and here are some of the results. I developed, scanned and coloured these, but Becky took them!

We visited Bangkok for a few days and then spent the majority of our time on Koh Samui. Thailand was a weird trip and I’m not in any rush to go back, but have some fond memories and glad I got to visit when we were living not too far away.

Me napping :)

I took some photographs when we were there too, I posted one a while back.

Developing Colour C-41 Film At Home

March 28, 2019

developing colour C-41 film at home - the hanging proof!

I was apprehensive about developing rolls of film by myself, for fear that I’d make mistakes and ruin shoots. This is especially when I’m collaborating with others or getting paid. But I’ve come to love developing colour C-41 film at home, so I thought I’d share some of my experiences.

Turns out, I’ve made a lot of mistakes along the way. But it’s been helpful and necessary for me to improve my skills and troubleshoot problems. The last 20-odd rolls I’ve processed have been perfect and I’ve refined the system to a place where I’m very confident.

The top image* shows my current hanging strategy which works great, despite not being the ideal setup. The ideal would be an expensive and space-consuming drying unit like this.

*This image is dirty and not a good example of processing!

developing colour C-41 film at home produces a lot of empty 120 spools

Technical & Chemicals

I’m currently using Tetenal Colortec C41 (2.5l Kit) for developing colour C-41 film at home. I’ll exhaust what I have (I’m on my second box of it) and move onto Fuji Press 5l kit. The Tetenal has done me well, but I’d like to separate the BLIX into bleach and fix stages, as I’ve been given a lot of advice that this is a better method, with less chance of issues.

Getting the film rolls loaded onto reels in a dark-bag took me some practice. At first it could work quickly or could take me up to 40 minutes to load one reel. Now it takes me a couple of minutes to do it properly. I did try double-loading reels with 120 film but that caused some of my biggest problems, with films overlapping (overlapped areas didn’t come out at all).

I use my JOBO CPE-2 – that I bought last year with all the darkroom gear – to process. I’ve worked out the niggles of broken bits, lids popping off and spilling chemicals during rotation and getting a good temperature.

I’ll probably blog more about developing colour C-41 film at home in the future – especially the one big issue that almost put me off altogether. I’ve also started to look forward to making my own prints at home using RA-4 and the enlarger kit I got. I tested all the equipment over the past week so watch this space on that too.

Examples

In the meantime, here are some examples of images I’ve developed at home recently:

Monday 10th September 2018

September 10, 2018

Koh Samui, 2015 (Canon T70)

The photograph above is a shot of a pond reflecting the trees on a backstreet of Koh Samui, flipped upside-down.

The weather is noticeably changing and the light is disappearing earlier each day. I’m sad to see the back of summer but there’s something about the autumnal atmosphere that I love.

This weekend I’ve been working on a book of my photographs, with writing and notes. A single prototype copy is being printed just now and I’ll have it in a few days. In it, I try to be honest about my work, my process and where I am in my career (not far). I’m not sure what to do with it yet but I’m hoping to use it as an introduction to my work, hopefully to get jobs in the near future.

I don’t find self-promotion easy and feel like I should be reaching out to magazines and companies much more than I currently am (not much).

As for my home darkroom equipment, I’ve ordered chemicals and a dark bag (for loading film onto reels to be developed), so I’m getting close to starting this process – exciting!

We’re also heading up to Scotland at the end of the week, so I’m looking forward to seeing the family and having a (not long) mini break.

Hope you all have a fab week.

I Started My Own Darkroom

August 8, 2018

I started my own darkroom with the equipment I bought here

I’ve wanted to talk about one of my highlights of 2018 (the year I also got married). I bit the bullet and started my own darkroom.

Getting the Equipment

For some time I had wanted to learn how to develop film and make prints and last year I enrolled in a darkroom course. I enjoyed it all thoroughly, the hands-on process, the trial-and-error of exposure and colour and the results at the end. I came away determined to get back into a darkroom, processing my own film and experimenting with prints. But I’ve not had the opportunity since. London seems to have higher demand (and higher prices) for dark room usage than Edinburgh.

On Monday I hired a car at King’s Cross and drove the 2+ hours to Ipswich, where I bought a selection of wet- and dry-side darkroom equipment that had come up from one of my Gumtree saved searches.

The JOBO CPE-2 processing tank with which I started my own darkroom

Jobo CPE2, for processing film and prints.

I’d been looking for a reasonably priced Jobo unit, like the one above. And when the advert for one of these plus a selection of other great equipment came up, it was too good to resist.

One of my main goals when I started my own darkroom was printing

Durst M670 Colour Enlarger.

While the processing of film is my first priority, the ability to make prints at home is an exciting thought. I loved the stories Michel Gondry told about making huge prints when he was young in his childhood house in France in his Director’s Label DVD. For that matter, the scene in Ghostbusters 2 where they make prints of Vigo in the darkroom (before they become engulfed in flames) also fascinated me.

Next steps

There are many interesting items within the collection and I don’t know what they all are. I’m going to take a look at each of them over time as I add them into my process. I’ll likely blog about some in the future too. Fortunately, Michael (the previous owner) kept the majority of manuals and boxes for everything – as well as keeping it all in great condition. Google and YouTube have lots of tutorials, manuals and information available too, but I’m open to any tips or advice.

All the helpful film clips, tongs, thermometers etc. with which I started my own darkroom

Lots of publications to give me confidence when I started my own darkroom

Michael also gave me lots of magazines (some are above) and books (not pictured) he was no longer using. I think I got a bargain and can’t wait to start using the equipment.

My next step is to get chemicals and shoot at least a couple of rolls of film that I’m okay with not coming out right. This actually doesn’t sound too easy a task!

I’m delighted I started my own darkroom and I’d love to hear about your experiences and if you have any questions!