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Create Prints with the Sun this Summer

Create Prints with the Sun this Summer main article image
Posted on May 28, 2023 by Melissa Galbraith

Let’s talk about ‘Cyanotyping’. Cyanotyping is a cool and creative way to make unique and artsy prints, using stencils, cutouts, nature, and found objects. It’s a photographic printing process that’s been around for quite a while, way back to the 19th century. Cyanotyping is actually one of the earliest forms of photography!

One of the coolest things about cyanotyping is that you don’t need a fancy darkroom or expensive equipment. You can do it right at home, as long as you have some sunlight or a UV light source. It’s a fun and accessible way to dive into the world of photography and create some amazing pieces of art.

MCreativeJ Cyanotype 1

Cyanotyping is a bit like magic when you watch the process, but it’s really all about the chemistry. You start with two main ingredients: ammonium iron(III) citrate and potassium ferricyanide. Don’t worry, I won’t quiz you on the names! These chemicals are mixed together and then spread on a piece of paper, fabric, or any other suitable material. If these materials sound daunting, you can also buy prepared cyanotype paper or cyanotype kits at most craft stores. No matter which you choose to work with, the process will still work in the same way.

To start, you place your objects (which will be the subject for your cyanotype) on top of your light-sensitive paper, fabric, or other medium treated with the cyanotype solution. These objects can be leaves, flowers, cut-outs, found objects, really anything. Weight the objects down, then expose the material to sunlight.

Cyanotype prints will vary in color intensity. This is because the amount of time that you leave your surface exposed to the sun and the brightness of the sun can affect how strongly the image will be transferred onto the cyanotype. Sometimes exposure can be as quick as 5 minutes or less on a very sunny day, other times, a cyanotype might take up to 20 minutes or more to transfer.

Ready to make your own cyanotype prints?

Here’s what you’ll need to start cyanotyping at home:

  • Ammonium iron(III) citrate and potassium ferricyanide OR a cyanotype kit like the Jacquard Cyanotype Sensitizer Set OR cyanotype paper/fabric like the Jacquard Cyanotype Pretreated Fabric Sheets 10 Pack
  • Natural fiber fabrics
  • Thick paper
  • A small container for cyanotype solution
  • Foam paint brush (not needed if using pre-treated fabric/paper)
  • Hard surface or table
  • Drop cloth/ table covering
  • Leaves, found objects, or paper cut outs that will be the printed objects
  • Small weights
  • Plexiglass or glass sheet larger than the paper or fabric
  • Clothesline or drying rack with clips
  • A bucket
  • Water
  • A room with little light
  • Sunshine

Let’s print!

  1. Start by gathering your materials. There are a few options to choose from when creating cyanotype prints. You can mix your own ammonium iron(III) citrate and potassium ferricyanide, you can buy a kit, or use pre-treated fabric and paper squares (jump to step 5). If you haven’t done this type of printing before, a kit or pre-treated materials may be the more cost-effective and easier option.If you are printing on fabric, you will want to use a natural fiber fabric such as cotton, linen, hemp, rayon, and silk. This is because the molecules in the cyanotype solution will not bind to synthetic fibers, causing your image to wash away after the printing process. Before printing, it is important to wash your fabrics, without fabric softener, to remove any sizing or oils.
  1. Once you have your materials and chemical mixture ready, it’s time to get creative! This is where the fun begins. You can place objects or even negatives on the coated material. It’s kind of like making a collage but with a twist. The areas of your cyanotype that will be exposed to sunlight or UV light will undergo a chemical reaction, which is where the magic happens.For my prints, I’ve used feathers, leaves, silverware, paper cutouts and more. I found that materials with less white space work best. For example, a monstera leaf is large and beautiful, but when it prints, it shows a lot of white space because the cyan or blue color will not show up where the leaf covers the paper or fabric. Small and more detailed objects work better for cyanotyping because the light can penetrate the material and leave a detailed print.

MCreativeJ Cyanotype 2

  1. This is where things can get a little messy. Start by laying out a drop cloth or table covering on your work surface in a dimly lit room. This is important so that the chemical mixture doesn’t start to react before the prints are made.If you are mixing your own chemicals, now is the time to mix the ammonium iron(III) citrate and potassium ferricyanide. If you’re using a kit, the instructions for materials will be included. Pour the chemical mixture into a small dish. Then use a foam paint brush to paint onto your paper or fabric pieces that will be printed on. The chemical mixture should be spread evenly and the best prints avoid any pooling or overlapping of the chemical mixture.
  1. Let each piece of paper or fabric that will be printed dry before adding the found objects to create prints.
  2. If you are using pre-treated fabric or paper, this is where you’ll want to start. On a hard surface, lay your found materials and objects onto treated fabric or paper. Get creative with your composition, playing with sizes and shapes.When you’re happy with your design, use either small weights or a sheet of glass/plexiglass to sandwich the materials to be printed onto the paper or fabric and the hard surface.
  1. Move the sandwiched print to a sunny area and watch as the greenish coating turns to a light grey color. When you expose the coated material to sunlight or UV light, the chemicals react and start turning into a beautiful blue color. The exposure time can vary, depending on the intensity of the light and the look you’re going for.

MCreativeJ Cyanotype 3

  1. After the sandwiched print has been exposed to the sun, remove the weights and plexiglass or glass covering and printed objects. Using a bucket and water, rinse off the unreacted chemicals.
  2. That’s it! You’ve got yourself a cyanotype print. The result is this gorgeous blueprint with a white silhouette or design. It has a really unique and vintage feel to it.
  3. Dry the paper or fabric prints on a drying rack or clothesline with clothes pins.

If you’re looking for a creative project to try out or want to explore an alternative printing technique, cyanotyping is definitely worth a shot. Just remember to have fun, let your imagination run wild, and enjoy the process of creating something truly unique with this awesome photographic printing method.

MCreativeJ Cyanotype 4

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Create Prints with the Sun this Summer

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