Using the anthotype process, it is possible to print photographs using nothing but juice extracted from the petals of flowers, the peel from fruits and pigments from plants. We’ll share instructions for making anthotypes.
What you need to make an anthotype
Even if you never heard of the anthotype process before, you probably don’t need to go shopping before making your first anthotype. All the tools you need can most likely be found by rummaging around in your kitchen.
- Petals from a colorful flower, berries, or other plants
- Mortar and pestle or electric food blender
- Glass container or ceramic bowl for mixing ingredients
- Water (distilled if possible) or alcohol
- Cheesecloth, coffee filter, cotton cloth or very fine masked strainer
- Art paper
- Glass clip frame or a contact print frame
- A large size positive (not negative) or items to make photograms
Good to have for making anthotypes
- Newspaper to cover work surface
- Rubber gloves
- Apron or an old shirt
- Cleaning cloth
Step-by-step instructions to the anthotype process
The anthotype process is made up of three steps. Making emulsion, preparing the canvas, and printing. Before you start, cover your work surfaces. Put on your rubber gloves, an apron, or an old shirt, cover the work area with old newspapers and you’re ready to go. Plant pigments can stain your work surface blue, red or green and turn your hands rainbow-colored.
1Making emulsion – Grind, mash or mix the plant
An anthotype emulsion can be made from a large number of plants. There are plenty of plants to choose from. The book Anthotypes – Explore the darkroom in your garden and make photographs using plants has a huge directory with plants to choose from and you can also find examples in the anthotype galleries.
Pestle and mortar or mixer?
Using the mortar for petals is more economical since a print can be produced using only one or two flowers. Using the mixer will require petals from a dozen flowers to make pulp. If the plants, leaves or berries are too dry, dilute them a little.
Different diluters that can be used – with various result of course! My preferred choice is a few drops of alcohol.
- Tap water
- Purified water (Deionized water)
- Denatured alcohol
- Cheap vodka
- Lighter fuel
- Paraffin oil
- Olive oil
- Rapeseed oil
Using pestle and mortar for making anthotype emulsion
- Needs only a few petals to make a print
- Strengthens arms
- Quick and easy to clean
- Peel does not get into the mix, but is strained away
- Your hands may blister
Using a blender for creating anthotype emulsion
- Fast when making large batches
- Includes pigments from the peel of berries
- A lot of petals needed
- Takes time to clean
Straining the anthotype emulsion
Once the soup is blended or crushed into pulp, strain it though a cheesecloth, a piece of cotton rag or a coffee filter. Once all the liquid has drained through, use a teaspoon to squeeze the excess liquid out, and then discard the pulp left in the filter. Make sure you wash the cloth thoroughly between different emulsions, or the emulsions may get “contaminated”, or use a new filter each time you strain.
2Instructions for preparing the canvas for anthotype
Any paper that will hold the emulsion can be used. Since it will be out in the sun for a few days or even weeks, it is best to start with a sturdy paper. Try a medium or heavy weight watercolor paper before you start experimenting with other base supports. Once you are feeling more confident you can try coating and printing on any material that will hold the emulsion. Just remember that it will be exposed in the sun for quite a long time, so it shouldn’t be too fragile.
Always work in a dimly lit area, since any exposure to sunlight will destroy the color of the emulsion. Prepare a drying area in the dark before you start coating.
Brushing or dipping to coat with your anthotype emulsion?
Two ways of getting the emulsion onto the paper are brushing it on or dipping the paper, both adding different qualities to your final print. Coating with a brush will enable you to leave brush strokes on the paper, adding a handmade quality. Coating by dipping will give you a more even coat.
3Printing the anthotype – instructions
Objects or positives (not negatives, since most of the emulsions tend to lighten when exposed) are placed on the material to make a print. The anthotype is printed in the sun for a few days or several weeks.
The anthotype print develops as the rays of the sun destroys the color of the pigment, bleaching the print.
Each and every emulsion will need a different exposure time. Some emulsions need only a few hours to change color, some a few weeks. Corn poppy (Papaver rhoeas) will produce one of the most sensitive emulsions. Sir John Herschel found that the juice from merrygold and corchorus japonica was the fastest, changing color as rapidly as ten minutes in clear sunshine while Mrs Somerville found the juice from the dark red dahlia to be speedily changing colors.
The thousands of different plant emulsions will have various colorfastness, and the different strength the sun, depending on your season, weather and geographical location will also matter. One thing that can be said for certain, is that it is a matter of days or weeks, rather than minutes or hours. Patience is required.
No rinsing, fixing or other frills necessary. The print is ready to be hung on a wall and admired. But, be careful the wall the print is hung on is not exposed to the sun, or the darker areas of the print will start to fade too.
This is a short brief of how to make anthotype prints. If you want to explore this further, we strongly recommend the book Anthotypes – Explore the darkroom in your garden and make photographs using plants which has very detailed information, and also a gallery where over 100 different plants have been tested and rated. Good luck!
17 thoughts on “Anthotypes – instructions to making a print using plants”
Pleasure! I hope you are all set up for Anthotype day now?
Yes, thank you very much, Malin! Just coming through the photogram process i want to try it the natural way now.
Again, thanks for sharing your process
Very interesting experiments.
I have been considering some of the alternative processes for some time now. Although I have read numerous articles, I have put off actually trying anything because of time constraints. A few weeks ago, I came across an article by Steve Appleyard (link below) that used the spice Tumeric, which was then sprayed with a borax solution after exposure.. It looked simple enough and as I finally had a whole day off, I gave it a try.
Rather than using “objects” as the subject, I printed a positive copy of an old time general store photo I had taken when I lived in NY on transparency film (St James General Store if there are any Long Islanders reading this).
I used his formula and coated a piece of watercolor paper with it. When the paper was dry, I exposed it using a compact florescent UV (available at Walmart for 5$).
Exposure time was long – 4 days -the sun probably would have been a lot faster). The first try gave a somewhat decent print, but I think the tumeric dye was too concentrated. I tried it again, this time diluting the already extracted dye with about 50% more alcohol. When wet, the paper was the color of a lemon. This time, there was excellent detail in the print as well as areas where the dye had totally bleached away. It looked somewhat like an underexposed yellow monotone photograph.
The borax solution did not give me the color I was hoping for. I noticed however, when cleaning up after making the dye, that it reacted quickly when in contact with, of all things, “Scrubbing Bubbles” bathroom cleaner, producing a deep, reddish brown color. After the paper was exposed, I wet it again with tap water and sprayed it with Scrubbing Bubbles, waited a few seconds, and then rinsed it off in tap water.
I was very impressed with the result. In fact, when I started this ‘project’ I was really looking to see how it worked, and how complicated it was, never intending to keep the print. Well, it works, it was easy, and I sprayed the print with UV protecting clear paint and framed it.
One note though – cover the work area with old newspaper! The tumeric dye is a horror to clean up!
Here is the link to Mr. Appleyards article:
I saw leaf anthotypes made by Professor Binh Danh and was hooked! I read the Anthotype book by Fabbri and I have been printing up a storm. I found hibiscus and calla lilly leaves to be the most responsive to leaf printing. Also, I have used several flowers and produced lovely soft images. It is a whole new process for me. Thank you for sharing the information.
@Sharon Crawford: I have not tried printing Anthotypes on wood. Please do try and let us know what you find out. I have printed cyanotypes this way and it works fine… 🙂
Would it be possible to print a photograph directly onto wood using only sunlight. Also would it be better it the wood was green, and fresh, or could it be done on seasoned wood and more or less scorched into the wood.
@ Dylan: I found it’s better if it’s dry. When wet the negative can get stuck and the paper rips. The emulsion does of course start to change colour when wet as well.
Should the emulsion dry before placing in frame and exposure or should this be a wet process?
Yes,I’ve also explored this route, using a mordant, but not been able to make it work. Applying more wet seems to destroy the print. Let me know if you can make it work, it would be very useful! 🙂
So I have had the idea of doing this for years and just never got around to trying it. I actually planned the whole process out in my head which was about the same as listed here but I did add a step in my head which I think could help with the color fastness and hopefully keep the prints from fading over time. The idea is borrowed from my knowledge of dyeing fabrics with vegetable dyes, where at the end of the process you add a mordant to keep the fabric from fading. These are pretty simple and can be made from ordinary kitchen ingredients like salt and vinegar. Here is a website with some basic info to begin with in case anyone wants to try that….
I think adding something like this at the end of the printing process might fix the print, or at least hold it longer. I think it would work best with a rag or cotton fiber based paper or hell even printing directly onto fabric. Again I’m not sure how much it would protect the prints but it does a good job with fabric, so I’m thinking it couldn’t hurt with prints.
I have really enjoyed reading about the process of anthotypes, and I’m looking forward to experimenting with this natural photographic process. I just regret not reading it sooner and using all those fallen petals in my garden. I’m so happy to have found this site and am really enjoying learning about alternative photographic processes again.
kann mich erinnern vor 20 oder mehr Jahren dieses Verfahren schon mal gemacht zu haben.
Im laufe der Zeit habe ich es aber leider vergessen.Werde mich aber mal wieder daran machen und mein Glück versuchen.
Danke für die Info
I just came across this website and this is good, good stuff. Thank you for taking the time to explain these processes! Alt processes are very interesting to me (having recently learned how to make tintypes). I’m looking forward to starting to make my own experiments!