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Cyanotypes: What we've learned

Success! After a year of crazy-making problems, we think we're there. We may not be perfect, but we are functional. Here are a few things we changed along the way.

We are using the Photographers Formulary New Cyanotype Kit. We ground and mixed the chemicals. It all seems to work. We did have better results adding more citric acid than the few drops the instructions recommend. When we only added a little we got yellow stains.

We tried coating with a glass rod, but we never seemed to get enough emulsion on the paper. Also, we tended to get horizontal stripes where the subtle change in pressure of the rod affected the thickness of the emulsion. Perhaps it's the paper we used. Even though it uses more chemistry, we had better results with a sponge brush. After we decided that we wanted more emulsion, we tried applying one thick coat versus two thin coats. Two thin coats (the nail-polish system, as Jaime calls it) worked better. We allowed the first coat to nearly dry, than added a second layer.

We learned that drying on a line resulted in fewer puddles of chemistry and less curling of the paper than leaving the paper flat. First we pinned one corner to hang at a diagonal, but the puddles concentrated at the bottom corner. We brushed the blobs near the bottom using a smaller sponge brush and later a hair dryer. Blobs don't dry completely and leave subsequent blob marks on our negs. The negs are not cleanable, as we found out on an earlier occasion.

In an effort to avoid blobbage, we started hanging our coated paper with two clothes pins, hoping the slight collecting of chemistry at the bottom would be more even. This resulted in more evenly distributed blobs, albeit slightly diminished. We did a "slidey test" to determine our optimal exposure, that is, determining the time needed to get the maximum darkness in a print. On a sunny day in March, it was five minutes.

All in all, with the exception of a few errant chemistry blobs, our desire for more-even coating and perhaps a bit more curve tweaking, we think we're there.

Of course, because we can never actually arrive at the finish line for even a minute, now we want to learn to tone. Preliminary tests indicate exposing for almost twice as long, bleaching in washing soda and toning in tannic acid can produce some very nice tones.


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Yellow stain on cyanotypes. Problem solved!

At last, a problem with a solution. When we first started coating paper with our own cyanotype chemistry we were getting bad yellow stains. It turns out there are two ways to combat the ugly yellow. One is to add citric acid to to the first water bath when developing the print. The easier way is to add a bit to the sensitizer chemistry itself. We'd done that, but it turned out we hadn't been adding enough. So now, the yellow you see in the above print is a thing of the past. One problem solved, eight zillion to go.

Hello Cyanotype, meet Hydrogen Peroxide

You've exposed your cyanotype print and it just looks weird. You put it in a tray of water, and it looks better after a while, but still not all that wonderful. You dry it and wait three days for it to oxidize, or you could do something really fun: drop it into a tray of water with a little hydrogen peroxide. Be sure so say "Bam!"

Cyanotype Success at last

I think we're on the right road at last. We've made several changes to get to this point. Using the Epson Stylus Pro 3800 helped. It's the first printer that didn't fight us every step of the way with software issues, density problems, refusal to feed transparency material and clogged jets.

Having a printer we could trust let us get our adjustment curves closer to right than they've ever been.

We also made a few changes to our procedure. We gave up on coating with a rod. We just couldn't get the dark blue we wanted. Now we use a sponge brush. We coat, dry a while and coat again. It may use more chemistry, but it seems to be working.

We had a mental breakthrough on drying coated paper as well. We'd been letting it sit, but today we hung it on a line. It dried with less puddling, and a lot more quickly as well.

We'd been using a small contact frame. It worked, but it meant we could only expose one sheet at a time. We liberated a flat board, found some fo…