Duotone cyanotypes #2 – Pick your subject

Part 2 in Matthew Bary’s series Duotone cyanotype about choosing subjects for cyanotype printing and considering the limitations of the duotone cyanotype process. With two-layer cyanotypes, color options are restricted, favoring black, white, brown, red, or blue hues.

Writer and photography / Matthew Bary

Following on from Duotone cyanotypes #1 – Many failed attempts, the first thing to note for the duotone cyanotype process is that only using two layers limits the color pallet substantially, combine that with a more dull-looking print and you now have to be very creative. While tri-color cyanotypes do solve some of these issues the duller nature still exists and has to be worked with. The best strategy is to know what is going to look good with the particular process you are using and to pick the picture to print accordingly. Two-layer cyanotypes will depend on if you are using the yellow/cyan version or the magenta/cyan version, This process is going to be the magenta/cyan version.

So what does it mean to only have two layers? Well, it just means that you lose one third of your color capability but not to worry you just have to understand the limitations. This two-layer version uses a combination of the Magenta and yellow layer in the negative to retain a little more detail but leaves the cyan layer normal, you can use any photo with black, white, brown, red or blue hues and it should look fine, however you should always avoid green and yellow as they just turn brown. So first some color wheel examples.

Colour wheel for duotone cyanotypes
Color wheel 1

The first set on the left is a high and low contrast color wheel, the center ones represent what changes if you throw out the yellow negative and the set on the right represent combining the yellow and magenta negative. While this is an accurate representation it is not exactly intuitive so I am going to show some picture examples.

The first example shows what a good picture would look like with this method:

And an example of a picture that would not look so good:

Another good one:

And another bad one:

And now hopefully you can see how the subject matters greatly depending on the type of method being used.

Another example is using the Yellow/Cyan layer. The first set is regular color wheels low/high contrast, the second set is yellow/magenta layer combined and the last set is yellow/cyan only. I do not like combining the yellow/ magenta layers for this process as it makes it look very odd.

And I have made this yellow/cyan due tone work with my process but I do not like the aesthetics of it. I am not going into the yellow/cyan method as it is one of the processes mentioned in the introduction and does not need to be done again.

And finally, I wanted to show this color wheel. This is what a three-layer cyanotype would look like using this method. As you can see you have way more color with three layers but they are very dull and therefore you need a very colorful picture to bring it out. (In an upcoming project I will test using this method).

The complete series

  • Duotone cyanotypes #1 – Many failed attempts
  • Duotone cyanotypes #2 – Pick your subject
  • Duotone cyanotypes #3 – Make negatives using GIMP
  • Duotone cyanotypes #4 – Print the negative
  • Duotone cyanotypes #5 – Shrink the paper
  • Duotone cyanotypes #6 – Print the first layer
  • Duotone cyanotypes #7 – Print the final layer


Matthew Bary is a self-taught photographer (spending more time on printmaking than actual photography). He got into alternative photography five years ago and is amazed at all of the processes and innovations done with very old techniques. Matthew Bary lives in Corydon, Indiana, USA and often photographs his local surroundings.

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