Cy.an.o.type: a printing process where prints are created by exposing chemically treated paper to sunlight in order to imprint an image onto the paper with typically a cyan-blue tint. (Jump to the end of this post for a quick run through of the process.)
For the last few days, P and I had been spending a ridiculous amount of time online, ogling at some really really amazing cyanotype prints. So yesterday, we decided enough’s enough. It was time to either get down and dirty and make our own prints or just tuck our tails between our legs and beat it.
So on came the face masks and gloves; we sweated it out in our make-shift ‘dark room’ and out in the sun.
After about 20 minutes of exposure, the image was clearly burnt on to the paper.
But after hours of working with chemicals, roasting ourselves in the sun and making a nasty mess in our bathroom, all we had to show for all that trouble was this >>
The problem was encountered while washing—the final stage of the process. As soon as the positive came in contact with water, the color ran out completely, leaving only a few traces here and there. We tried several prints and every time with the same results. Disappointing, huh!
We were not sure where we were going wrong.
Did we use the wrong paper? We’d used art paper with good absorbency.
Did we mix the sensitizer correctly? We mixed equal parts of potassium ferricyanide and ferric ammonium citrate, both diluted separately with distilled water.
Were we too impatient to allow the treated paper to dry completely? May be😦
Not enough exposure time? All the instructions we’d read said 5 to 20 minutes of exposure would be enough. Since we were not sure if that was enough, we had allowed 20 minutes for the first print, 30 for the second and 40 minutes for the third. But still the same result every time! A sure case of the moody blues.
So here’s what we did. We treated the paper again using the same sensitizer formula and allowed the paper to dry overnight. This morning, we exposed it in the sun for a little over one hour. And voila! Our very first cyanotype print😀
Not a very good print, but a major improvement nonetheless. Encouraged, we wanted to try some more prints today but then the sun played spoilsport and went hiding behind the clouds. But then, like they say, there’s always tomorrow🙂
Alright, here’s how you create a cyanotype print:
- Convert your color photograph to black and white, flip it horizontally, and invert it to make a negative. Print the image on a transparency paper with a laser or inkjet printer. (Though none of the instructions we read said this but we sprayed some ‘denser’ over the image to make the print darker. You can skip this part if you want to.)
- Make ‘Solution A’ by mixing 25 g green ferric ammonium citrate and 70 ml distilled water.
- In a separate container, make ‘Solution B’ by mixing 10 g potassium ferricyanide and 80 ml distilled water.
- Now mix Solution A and Solution B in equal parts in another container to create ‘sensitizer’. (The quantity you mix will depend on the size and number of prints you are planning to work on. We used 50 ml of sensitizer to coat four A4 sheets.)
- Brush this sensitizer over a cotton-based watercolor paper and let it dry completely.
- Place your treated paper on a glass sheet, place your negative (print side down) on top of the paper, and cover it with another glass sheet. Secure with office clips on all sides.
- Expose to UV light.
- After exposure, take the image out of the glass sandwich and wash it in water to develop.
- Hang to dry.
- Your cyanotype print is now ready to be framed.