Jim Read argues the case for using inexpensive papers for printing cyanotypes.
Like an idiot I succumbed to the photographers blackmail and bought some arches platine. I wish I hadn’t and to warn others before they part with their hard earned cash I’ve put up this page. The expensive, snobbish and ridiculous cap doffing aspect rides again (and I fell for it) I see it now as my duty to expose it (in both senses of the word 🙂 for the rubbish that it is. I never offer my strong opinions without providing examples and at the bottom of the page you will find my Challenge.
Papers that can produce full tonal range prints and will tone without staining the surrounding paper base are available from every art shop.
Light blue platine mud
Platine print one, I coated this with 3 ml of emulsion and got this flat and muddy print. After this I resolved to put more emulsion on another sheet. This one was exposed for 9 minutes at 12 inches. You see can lighter areas where the emulsion has soaked into the paper.
Winsor and Newton cartridge paper
Under exposed at 8 minutes, using the the same coating technique as the Light blue platine mud but showing a greater tonal range. This was made with my first and not very contrasty negative, the 1 above and the 3 below this one were made with another more contrasty negative.
Dark blue platine mud
Exposed for the same 9 minutes. I coated some more platine with 5 ml of emulsion and still there are areas where it soaked so far into the paper that it resulted in areas that are far too light.
Winsor and Newton cartridge paper
I used the same coating technique again but exposed this for 11 minutes, once again the cartridge paper produces a better print even though it is overexposed.
And yet again coated in the same manner and exposed for 9 minutes. I expected that the platine being the ‘pinnacle’ of alternative process papers would produce a print that was far in advance of this one. Which as you can see has a full tonal range and even some depth to it, the negative needs a lot more doing to it so the final print will be a lot better than this.
Daler Rowney cartridge paper (2 days later)
Usual coating technique. Printed from negative number three. 9 minutes exposure at 12″. This is approaching what I want maybe just a bit lighter to make it suitable for a brief bleach and tannin toning.
Daler Rowney Cartridge Paper
This is a finished print to show you just what can be achieved. It has been bleached in a pinch of washing soda and toned in tannin for a few minutes.
You can see now why I consider platine to be absolutely useless for the Cyanotype process. I know you are going to think that no one else has said this. Of course they haven’t because they will think it’s their fault and not the paper or even worse, this is what Cyanotypes will look like, such is is power of photographers blackmail. I find that there is so much misinformation on the www because someone initiates something and everyone else copies it thinking it to be gospel. I prefer to do things for myself and then backup my findings with examples.
I have had some feedback all of it so far anecdotal. If someone can prove to me by example that by coating platine without any modification whatsoever and with the original formula (Brown AFC preferably, but Green if you cannot obtain it) as I have done to all the prints above and I am able to repeat the same, I will retract all I have said and be platines most ardent advocate. Of course it must be with a superb print far in advance of the above to warrant the expenditure.
Paper types that work
I have been asked by Silverprint Ltd of London to recommend papers that are suitable for printing using the Cyanotype process. I can only do this by example, I do not use many papers, toning will produce a good range of colours in all of them.
Winsor and Newton Cartridge paper
This print was overexposed, bleached back in washing soda and toned in Tannin to produce this reddish/yellow tone.
Daler Rowney Cartridge paper
This was bleached momentarily in a pinch of Washing Soda and then toned in Tannin for a few minutes.
Canson Montval Watercolour paper
The print has been bleached for 30 seconds and then toned in Tannin for 5 minutes.
Produces a deep blue print but tones to what I consider to be a nasty shade of pink.
For someone just starting the process I would advise the cheap cartridge papers, expensive papers inhibit experimentation and lots of it is needed to obtain good prints. I used the cartridge papers for proofs until it suddenly dawned on me that they produced prints just as good and sometimes far superior to the more expensive papers.
The process is a chemical joke that 2 simple ingredients should produce the only archival photo print method with empirical evidence is laughable. That the best prints can be produced on the cheapest papers must surely be a continuation of that, I like to think that John can read this and laugh alongside me.
Many times I have read the words, Cyanotype is only suitable for certain subjects, they of course never state which 🙂 Which is of course complete rubbish by knowing a how a paper will print and tone, a mood to complement the image can be easily achieved.
Blueprint to cyanotypes – Exploring a historical alternative photographic process
by Malin Fabbri and Gary Fabbri
A well illustrated step-by-step guide to cyanotypes.
A lot more information on the process, chemicals, coating, exposure, printing, making negatives, washing and troubleshooting is available in this book.
Strongly recommended for beginners