November 20, 2020

Making Cyanotype Prints at Ignite

by Alyssa Dyar

Making cyanotype prints in Ignite Studio is a fun and simple way to learn about our exposure unit and experiment with the color blue! And we have all the  equipment you need to get started. Cyanotype is a photographic printing process that produces a blue print. Up until recently, engineers and architects used this process to create copies of their drawings, commonly known as “blueprints.”

Many artists use this process to create beautiful prints of different objects and materials, including plants, photographs, and tools.

Dornith Doherty’s “Archiving Eden”

Steps for making cyanotype prints:

Step 1

Mix your cyanotype solution. The solution is made up of one part potassium ferricyanide and one part ferric ammonium citrate. At Ignite Studio we use Jacquard’s pre-measured bottles.

You will need to be very precise when measuring out the two parts of the solution. A chemical reaction must occur between the ingredients, and if the ratio is not correct the mixture will not work to make your blue print. Make sure to mix your solution out of direct sunlight. We have a designated dark room here in Ignite that you can use for this.

Step 2

Out of direct sunlight, coat your paper with the cyanotype solution. Use a clean sponge brush or a brush with no metal on it to avoid unwanted chemical reactions. Let your paper dry in the dark from two hours to a few days. I found the longer you let the solution dry on the paper the more stable the print will be, because the solution can bind to the paper more thoroughly. The amount of dry time also depends on the type of paper and the atmosphere (temperature, humidity, etc.).

Step 3

In an area with subdued light, place the material or picture you want printed on top of the solution-coated paper. You can develop the print in direct sunlight for some time between 5 to 20 minutes. The amount of time for this varies depending on weather, time of year, how contrasted you want your print to be, etc. You can also develop the print using a light box or a photo-exposure unit, which we have here at Ignite Studio in our Fab Lab.

Leave the print in the unit for 10-30 minutes for best results. A good way to tell if the print is finished exposing is for it to have a bronze tint. The bronze will turn blue after washing it. Which leads us to…

Step 4

Rinse! Once you’ve exposed the print, rinse the print in water until the water runs clear.  If your print is under-exposed or you are missing highlights try to expose it longer next time. The pH of your water may also be a problem, so if your results always wash out try using distilled water.

Hang to dry and let further develop. The cyanotype will darken over the next day or so.

Alyssa Dyar, “Backyard Blues”
Developed in sunlight for 10 minutes, watercolor paper

Come into Ignite and ask about our exposure unit and cyanotypes. And be sure to show us what you’ve made on our Facebook and Twitter pages using #IgniteatHEPL. Happy making!