Build a UV led box for cyanotypes

Gavin Lyons shows how to make a Cyanotype image with a UV LED box. Cyanotypes are traditionally developed in sunlight, but in the winter the UV light isn’t so strong and readily available. Here is how to make a Cyanotype, Van Dyke Brown or Salt Papers at any time during the year.

Writer and photography / Gavin Lyons


Book day Hauptplaz, Graz. Cyanotype by Gavin Lyons
Book day Hauptplaz, Graz. Cyanotype by Gavin Lyons

This box will produce an A3 or A4 size cyanotype print just after 5 minutes by use of UV LED lights. This box was designed to be inexpensive and simple. The total should be no more than 70 euros.

Disclaimer

When working with electronics and electricity use proper caution and safety. Ensure not to short circuit cables. I’m by no means responsible for any damage to anyone or anything. By building this kit you are responsible for UV exposure and electronics etc.

List of parts for building a UV LED box

  • 60 x 40 x 12 cm Box Black 6.99 Euros
  • 60 x 40 cm Box Lid Black 3.99 Euros
  • 2 x SMD 5050 LED Strip 5 meters 25.99 Euros x 2 (which are not IP rated for outdoors!)
  • UV 395mm-405nm Wavelength. Do not purchase the SMD 2835 LED strip there not powerful enough for printing
  • Hot glue and a glue gun
  • Cabling and connector
Black Box Lid 60×40
Black Box Lid 60×40
Black Box 60×40
Black Box 60×40
SMD5050 LED Kit
SMD5050 LED Kit
 

Construction of the light box

  • Make lengths of 50cm strips from the LED rolls.
  • The 60×40 box only requires 9 strips of 50com per side. 18 lengths in total.
  • Each is strip is separated by 1 cm – the width of strip. Use one of the strips as a separator when stick down each strip.
LED Strips in the UV LED Box
LED Strips in the UV LED Box

I have split the LED light into two side, for best current distribution and have the added advantage of controlling the light power – half power or full power.

Soldering LED Strips for the UV LED box.
Soldering LED Strips for the UV LED box.
  • Each strip is alternated soldered with a yellow or blue wire for positive and black for negative.
  • The yellow wire is for the left side and the blue for the right side.
Wire Lengths for the light box
Wire Lengths
  • In the middle of each side the wires come together into a connector block.
  • Once everything is wired up, test each side with the power supply from the UV LED strip kit.
Testing the LED lights.
Testing the LED lights.
  • If everything is working hot glue down the cabling and the connectors.
  • Bring the two main cables out through a hole onto the top of lid. Wire in the connectors and hot glue down the cables, connectors then seal up the hole.
Power Cables to the UV LED box
Power Cables to the UV LED box

Note: The box will get warm after 20 minutes of use which should be no problem. I’ve used it for hour without issue. However, switch off the box when not using it.

Finished with the first cyanotype print made with the new light box.
Finished with the first cyanotype print made with the new light box.

If you wish to make a more robust version, I recommend placing everything on an aluminum plate. This I may do in the future. For now, everything works pretty well.

Testing the UV LED light box with a strip test

Test Strip and Paper for testing the light box

Download the strip test negative and print it out on A4/Letter size transparency on a laser or inkjet print.

The paper used for the test strip and the prints is the Daler & Rowney Acrylic Paper System 3.

Expose the strip test page on the Cyanotype sensitized page for 2, 4, 6, 7, 8 minutes. Use a book to cover each section and slide it along at 1, 1, 2, 2, 2 minute intervals.

Cyanotype test strip, testing the light box
Cyanotype test strip, testing the light box

Washing and drying the cyanotype

Then leave the print face down in the slow-flowing water. After 10 minutes, inspect the results. Agitate the water with your hand from time to time. If there isn’t any yellow left on the paper it’s ready to hang up and dry.

Cyanotype: Band plays on Schmittgasse, Graz. Image by Gavin Lyons.
Cyanotype: Band plays on Schmittgasse, Graz. Image by Gavin Lyons.

Conclusion

I was super excited by the results of my Cyanotypes using the UV LED Box. If you happen to build this box please do let me see your results. Happy Printing!

Selection of prints A4, A2, Tea Toned, Square Size cyanotypes, etc.
Selection of prints A4, A2, Tea Toned, Square Size cyanotypes, etc.

Born in Dublin, Ireland in 1972, Gavin Lyons is an award-winning landscape and nature photographer who is self-taught. There is also a YouTube video on the process here.

Read more about cyanotypes
Blueprint to cyanotypes - Exploring a historical alternative photographic process

Blueprint to cyanotypes – Exploring a historical alternative photographic process

 

by Malin Fabbri and Gary Fabbri

Learn about the cyanotype process, chemicals, coating, exposure, printing, making negatives, washing and troubleshooting in this well illustrated step-by-step guide to cyanotypes.
Strongly recommended for beginners

 
Learn more about Cyanotypes
Blueprint to cyanotypes the book by Malin Fabbri
 

16 thoughts on “Build a UV led box for cyanotypes”

  1. Hi Gavin,
    I have been using cyanotype in the sunshine over the summer in Spain and it worked brilliantly, so I am familiar with the technique. Of course, back in Ireland, it’s a different story.
    So I have built a box like this but seem to struggle with 2 things I can’t figure out what is causing it:
    – Slightly uneven distribution of the light, there are 6 strips that are slightly less bright. I have now used 3 circuits to try and fix it, which has helped but not eliminated the problem
    – When exposed in the box, some areas are not fully sharp. I clip the image down behind glass as worked fine for me in the sunshine, yet still I am getting unsharp lines in places. I have tried dried plants as well as prints on acetate and it happens in both cases. I wonder if the uneven distribution of light is at the source here. Or could there be another reason?
    I am pulling my hair out a bit here, so any advice here would be most appreciated. Or feel free to email me directly if that is an option too.

    Many thanks,

  2. Hi Richard,

    Photopolymer etching should definitely work with the UV Box. I would try the wedge image to determine the exposure time. Try half power first before using both lines of UV LEDs.

    Best of luck,
    Gavin

  3. Hello Team

    You organisation was recommended to me for advice on buying a vacuum/LED exposure unit for my photopolymer etching work. I come from a filmmaking/photography background and am relatively new to printmaking, but have my own customised starter-press and a shared studio, but have been making my plates elsewhere.

    To become fully independent, I need an exposure unit and am thinking of buying one of those Chinese versions advertised on eBay. There are many to choose from, but the specs differ between models and I’m not sure which one to choose. Am wondering, therefore, if you can advise on the best specs for photopolymer etching work, e.g. wattage and LED strength.

    Very impressed with your website which I discovered today and have taken out a monthly subscription.

    [Examples of my photopolymer etching work are on my website in the ‘photopolymer etching’ gallery]

    Cheers

    Richard Harris
    fine art photographer & printmaker

  4. Hi Gavin, Thank you so much for this article which inspired me to build a UV LED BOX. I used an old wooden suit carrying box that was in my loft. I could only find in the black plastic box on the website of a German based company and shipping to UK didn’t appear to be an option. Hard to find a box that size or near it in the UK. I learnt to solder, built the UV LED BOX and am really enjoying cyanotype print making.
    All the best, Julie.

  5. Thanks for sharing. I’m thinking about building something like this – as it seems a affordable option for A3 printing.
    I have been looking for the LED’s searching for SMD5050 gives many diffrent results, as it seems to refer to the size of the diodes. Could you share some more details of the LEDs you have, like the model number, wavelength and where you got them. Thanks in advance!

  6. Hi Gavin,
    In reference to your comment on the 16th Jan 2021 I would very much like to see how you would make the connections without soldering. I have ordered my lights and have a black storage tub from Poundland. I am really looking forward to sharing this process with my daughters and create some photography magic with them. So pleased I found your page and YT all the best

  7. Hi Gerard,
    Thank you for the feedback, I try that next time never thought about it but you’re complete right. I built the thing as an experiment and was so happy with the result, I never thought further, there you go 🙂

  8. Hi Pierre, the 5050 work very well and give me 5 minutes exposure time. I wouldn’t wish stronger as I can fine tune the tonality.

  9. You said “SMD 2835 LED strip there not powerful enough”. Are you sure? I saw that 2835 are more powerful than 5050. Do you mean 3528 instead of 2835?

  10. Thanks man! I am building one already.
    I tried to expose with a UV spotlight, but it takes ages! I’m using the Jaquard kit. Which chemicals are you using?

    Thanks!

  11. Thank you for sharing. Very interesting. For exposure testing you use linear times. If you would have tried 1/3 f-stops you would have seen more useful information in the step wedges. 2:00, 2:30, 3:10, 4:00, 5:00, 6:20, 8:00 are the calculated times. They are calculated with F-SAP. Free for download at the FB group Alternative photographic processes, under Files.

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