Combining gelatin silver and cyanotype

After experimenting Amber Reumann Engfer has found a way to create a cyanotype on a fiber based gelatin silver paper (black and white paper) combining silver gelatin and cyanotype.

Writer and photography / Amber Reumann Engfer

Cyanotype and silver gelatin combining silver gelatin and cyanotypeOften viewers are baffled by the combination of gelatin silver and cyanotype. In order to correctly apply cyanotype, it must absorb into a surface. In most situations, cyanotype is applied to a water absorbent based paper, such as an arches watercolor paper. Others are known to apply cyanotype to a fabric or canvas surface, which are also great absorbers. With experimentation, I’ve found a good fiber based paper will also do the trick.

Spending years in the darkroom, I began to become familiar with both Resin coated (RC) and fiber based papers. Resin coated papers are coated with a layer of plastic resin (also known as a light-sensitive emulsion), therefore repelling liquids. The glossy finish added to a paper will also reject the application of a liquid. Considering RC and glossy papers refuse the absorption of liquids, I knew they would not be ideal for this purpose.

Realizing the paper used for this process must be able to absorb the iron salts found in cyanotype, I chose to experiment with Illford Multigrade Matte fiber paper. Not only is this the paper I most commonly use, but a matte fiber paper lacks any sort of glazed finish; thus allowing for saturation in the fibers.

The experimentation came by applying cyanotype to an exposed and fully processed matte fiber based photograph.

Due to the fact that black and white photographic paper is ultra sensitive to light, the gelatin silver printing process must come first. After a piece of photographic paper goes through the development and drying process (see gelatin silver process), it can now be exposed to light without affecting the printed image.

While applying cyanotype to the processed photograph, I found the fiber based paper provides great absorbency. As you would naturally apply cyanotype to any other paper or material (see cyanotype process), it can now be absorbed into the fiber paper with remarkable results. Over exceeding my expectations, I discovered photographic matte fiber paper works just as well for cyanotype as any other.

The detail of a photographic image helps gives depth and a wide range of tonality when combining cyanotype. Working from an already established photograph gives a backdrop for an overlay of cyanotype. As seen in the examples, I’ve chosen to only paint in certain areas, using the photographic image as an outline.

Experimentation in the darkroom and using UV rays led to a unique combination of gelatin silver and cyanotype in Amber’s work. Silver gelatin cyanotypes has captured the attention and curiosity of viewers, many of whom have not considered combining silver gelatin and cyanotype.

Learn more in the Cyanotype book
Blueprint to cyanotypes the book by Malin Fabbri

1 thought on “Combining gelatin silver and cyanotype”

  1. Hi there
    I love your website and I am very attracted to the beautiful effects these alternative methods of photography can produce.
    I am a fine arts student in the uk but NOT a photographer and I need some advice.
    Can anyone tell me how to produce an image of the moon.preferably on handmade paper and that will react with salt water whilst it is being exposed.

    I don’t want much do I?

    Please bear in mind that I am trying hard but am non technical about chemicals etc but I am a fast learner.
    Any help or pointers would be very much appreciated.

    Many thanks


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