Tag: printing

Cyanotypes (and the beginning of more contact printing)

{Warning: Long Post}

Cyanotypes can be a very satisfying process to work with. When I was in college I took an alternative photography class and cyanotypes were one of my favorite processes. We also learned  gum oils, Van Dykes, a dry plate method for doing tintypes, and a few more processes I’m sure I don’t remember anymore. For anyone just starting out with contact printing (specifically, printing out an image on paper vs. developing an image in a dark room) I recommend cyanotypes. They are one of the easiest, cheapest methods to try. You only need the sun, some paper, and the chemicals. You don’t need a dark room. But you do need to be aware of UV exposure if you aren’t going to expose the paper immediately.

I liked the idea of having a fairly consistent workflow so I decided to build a UV light box. There are several websites and books out there to get you started. Try to find someone familiar with electrical work (if you are not) before you start so the wiring will be done safely and correctly. Also, keep in mind that too much UV exposure can be harmful so when looking at plans keep that in mind. Some people build their boxes with the bulbs facing up. I chose to build mine to be fully enclosed. Sourcing bulbs cheaply can be difficult. Hopefully this website is still in business in the future and still has decent prices (Top Bulb). I used F20T12 BL (black light) bulbs (not BLB). I purchased the sockets and ballasts separately so that I had more control over the spacing of the bulbs. Yes, I should have documented the build but I didn’t. Have patience and plan well. A few google sessions should result in a good understanding of what you need.

I also recommend Jill Enfield’s Guide to Photographic Alternative Processes. It has a good overview of different processes along with recipes if you want to mix your own chemicals so you have more control over your results. There are so many books out there and many of them have good information. I tend to research and read a lot before I start a new project so I always recommend checking out as many information sources as you can. Bostick & Sullivan sells a cyanotype kit that will get you started and yields good results. You can also get a kit from Photographers’ Formulary but I haven’t used it. They do sell bulk chemicals though for when you want to try your own mixing. Another fun website is Rockland Colloid. They have a tintype dry plate kit among other things.


Light box in the building stage.


Light box being wired. I used 10 bulbs in my box.

My light box took several weekends to build mainly due to needing to re-cut a few pieces and waiting on my father-in-law to visit so I could talk him into helping me wire it up. Once the box was done, Dan Burkholder’s book was a life saver. I do shoot both digitally and on film but the biggest film I shoot is 120. Contact printing means that the print will be the same size as the negative so you either need to shoot on larger film or learn to make digital negatives. Burkholder recommends the higher-end Epson printers and that is what he gives instructions for in his book. You can use other brands and you can even get away with using dye-based inks but after playing around on my own I found it easier to bite the bullet and get a nice Epson.


 First test run.


 Step charts utilizing various curves found around the web and other sources.

With a working light box and a few curves to play with I started printing out my negatives and trying them on various papers with various exposures. With some papers it makes a difference what side you use, so when you cut the paper down, mark the back with a pencil. I also write the name of the paper and the exposure time so that I can remember later. I started playing with Lana Aquarelle, Fabriano, Arches Platine, Rives BFK, and Arches Hot Press. Arches HP was the clear winner, but I’m glad I have a variety because I want to play with other processes and each process reacts differently to each paper.

Once your paper is cut down, it’s time to add the sensitizer. When adding the sensitizer to the paper it is safe to be in a room with a 40W bulb while coating, drying, and rinsing. Fluorescents can emit a small amount of UV and cloud your prints. Some people also use yellow bug lights or amber safe lights.  There are a few ways to coat the paper. You can use a glass coating rod or various brushes. I prefer using a hake brush. Once the paper is dry (you can use a hairdryer on a cool setting to speed things up) sandwich the negative and the paper between two heavy, uncoated pieces of glass and secure with clips. You can also use a contact frame. They are expensive to buy new, but I found some smaller ones at a reasonable price on ebay.  Set the whole contraption either in the sun or into your UV box and wait. In bright sun the print will develop in a few minutes. Look for the shadow areas to go blue then start to reverse. You may or may not see the shadows start to solarize and get a shimmer. Keep track of the time so you can adjust as needed. Once they are exposed, rinse the paper until all the yellow has washed from the paper. I’ve seen recommended rinse times from 10 minutes to 30 minutes. Use whatever is recommended for your kit or recipe. Make sure you agitate the print and keep the water flowing. I have extremely hard water in my house so I start with a 3 minute rinse of distilled water and a dash of vinegar. I then rinse as usual and then do a final rinse in water and a dash of hydrogen peroxide to bring out the blues faster. You can also tone cyanotypes to alter the color but I haven’t played with that yet.


 Different papers and exposure times.


Trying to print from a scan of an old photo. These are different curves. None are very satisfactory. It leaves me wondering if making a digital negative from a photograph (vs scan) of an old print would be easier or not.


 The fogging at the top is from overcoating. Some recommend to do a light coat with distilled water and letting it dry until just damp before applying the cyanotype solution to aid in an even coat.

It is good to remember that you don’t need negatives, light boxes, or fancy printers to do cyanotypes. You can also do sun prints. They are equally as satisfying and all you need is the sun and interesting things to put onto your paper. Feathers create unique patterns and certain plant material can be pleasantly translucent.


 My stepkids had fun making sun prints.

I hope this post was semi-informative and made a few people want to go out and try this fun process. I wouldn’t have gotten this far without the help of Anthony Maddaloni. He makes this look so easy. Well, it isn’t hard, but I do over-think things. He is great about making me just do instead of plan to death.


 My favorite image to date even though it could use some tweaking. A Paris hospital lit up for Nuit Blanche. Made on my back porch with a digital negative and printed in the sun on Fabriano paper.

After I get my cyanotypes to where I want them I’m going to start on salt prints and dry plate tintypes. I may venture into albumen printing only because we have an overflow of fresh backyard eggs. Look for more blog posts then those experiments start up.

Canvas Printing Update

I realized in my excitement I didn’t really explain what I was doing or my equipment. Sorry about that. I spent so many days searching the internet for people using my specific printer with canvas so I would know it worked before I bought everything I needed but never really found the confirmation so here it is for other people in my shoes. I have an Epson R2400 and I use the roll feed. Some people cut the canvas and use the back feed (where you feed Velvet Fine Art Paper, but I don’t see the point). You have to work the canvas a bit to make sure it is loaded properly but you’ll know when it is because the printer will grab it. Epson has directions for loading roll paper and canvas on their website if you lost the instructions that came with your printer like I did. I chose to use The Epson PremierArt Water Resistant Canvas, mainly because of price and the fact I could get it in town for the same price as online.

As for color, it is pretty good if not quite as saturated as you see on screen or as what prints on photo paper. The print settings I used were obviously set to roll then Premium Presentation Paper Matte, the color controls were set to 1.8 gamma, epson vivid. I also made sure that borderless was checked and that high speed and edge smoothing were UNchecked. These settings seem to work for me but all printers and monitors are different so it helps if you already have an idea what your printer does and work with it from there.

I suggest having several prints ready to go and just let it print then trim them off. Be very careful not to touch the surface to be printed before or after printing on it. Let it dry at least 48 hours though I’d really suggest 5 days. Helps keep corner cracking to a minimum when you stretch it. After stretching, it will need a protective coat. I picked up a jug of PremierArt Eco Print Shield. Kind of pricey but it protects the image from dings and evil sunlight.

Also, realize the biggest prints you can get are going to be 11 inches wide if you are stretching the image (with the R2400 anyway. I have been looking at bigger printers since starting this). If you want a standard frame size then 11×14 but you could technically print 11 by the length of your roll if you wanted. Very nice for panoramic images. Of course it helps if there are stretcher bars the size of your image so plan ahead. I make sure my image is at least an inch larger on all sides so that I can do a gallery wrap of the image. I like it when the image continues over the side of the stretcher bars.

Hope this helps someone out there. This is the info I wanted to know before trying it but went ahead and jumped in anyway. Luckily things worked though I had one print that didn’t feed properly and ended up with the image all squished together. Luckily, it was an image of a stand of trees and it ended up looking good despite what happened. Mistakes are pretty pricey but the results are worth it. It’s funny what ends up looking really good on canvas. Not necessarily the same images that look good printed on photo paper.

I Love Printing on Canvas!

I started printing on the canvas I bought and I am hooked. Weird. I’ve printed my own photos and wondered why I never experienced that “magic” I always heard about… you know, seeing your image first appear in the swirling chemicals. It was interesting the same way trying a new food is interesting but I wasn’t compelled to live in the dark room to experience that little rush day after day. I’ve always loved working digitally but there is nothing very exciting about printing your own work that way either. The minutia of color management holds me captive until I figure out which way a particular media reacts to my printer then it is just a mechanical action. Heck, all I do at work is print all day long so doing it at home gets a bit redundant. Now, I do not have a very work efficient room. I realized that having my printer tucked behind my drafting table probably wasn’t good planning but the room is so small I had no where else to put it.

So maybe it was the effort I had to go through to print on the canvas that made it so satisfying. I had to climb on top of the table and hover over the printer, balanced against the wall to attach the roll of canvas. I couldn’t see behind the printer to feed the canvas without falling over so I had to feed it by feel. It took awhile to figure out far to push the canvas into the slot so the printer would register it. Because of where the table and the printer butt up against each other I also had to keep my hands on the canvas as it came out of the printer so it wouldn’t bunch up against the edge of the table. I didn’t know what to expect when I got my first glance of the small sliver of color peeking out of the front of the printer. The relief and joy at seeing what I hoped to see was enough to cement my love for using canvas.

I’ve run through nearly the whole roll and realized I haven’t even taken advantage of the texture and unique qualities. I was just so excited I printed my favorite images without much thought to how they would react to canvas. It changes the feel of any image, for better or worse and I’m sure some images just need to stay on paper. But I’m still learning and I’m sure my second roll will see much more adventurous experiments than this roll. Just had to share!