Debunking the myths of cyanotype

Jim Read straightens out a few common myths of cyanotypes and the cyanotype process.

Writer / Jim Read

I read so much rubbish about the process on the internet I thought I would put up this page to give my personal opinion about the myths.

To make cyanotype prints you ‘need’ (according to cyanotype myths):

Expensive papers: Daler Rowney or Winsor and Newton cartridge paper will produce first class results. See Jim Read’s article on papers here.

An expensive UV light source: I use a face tanning machine I bought at a car boot sale 20 years ago for £1.

An expensive printing frame: I used an old picture frame until I made my own. Very easy to make with the minimum of tools.

A darkroom: I was astonished to find this I’ve demonstrated the process from start to finish in a north facing kitchen in the summer without blinds or curtains.

A print washing contraption: Prints are not ‘washed’ but cleared by placing them face down in a bath of acidified water. White vinegar from the grocery shop is ideal for this.

To make the negs with a home printer you ‘need’ (according to cyanotype myths):

The most expensive Overhead Projection Film: Modern technology and computer controlled ‘lights out’ manufacturing methods have overtaken the made up a mountain in Japan variety.The so called ‘cheap’ stuff is now just as good.

An expensive printer: I use Canon’s 4 colour cheapest offering, I paid about £40. The above applies here as well.

Pigmented inks: I use the cheapest dye based inks £1 a cartridge, bought on eBay and I store the negs in folders.

As I’m sure you know already the process was discovered in 1842, the Herschel household would not have had electricity or running water. John knew that some salts of iron were sensitive only to UV light it was just a matter of finding the right combination so that his servants could have a simple and quick way of copying his notes.

I continue to use the process because I find it very dificult to consistantly achieve the very brightest but not paper white highlight with toning, given that the toner will stain the paper away from its base colour. It is this that keeps me using the process together with the occasional print that comes up really beautifully.

Jim Read is a UK based photographer who works in cyanotypes.

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

4 thoughts on “Debunking the myths of cyanotype”

  1. I just purchased an old cyanotype image printed on a piece of fine cotton fabric with selvage edges and about 20 inches wide. The image itself is sharp and clear, but the fabric would benefit from a washing. There is soil on the fold lines, perhaps spots of foxing, or stains in a couple of places. Will washing destroy the image, will it bleed and wash out? It is wonderfully detailed, excellent depth of field and approximately 12 x 28 inches. Thanks for any advice.

  2. Thanks for the article. As a cyanotype newbie it helped me quite a bit. But the link to the article about papers doesn’t seem to work.

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