Preparing your photogram image for cyanotype printing

An excerpt from Blueprint to cyanotypes: Exploring a historical alternative photographic process. How to make make cyanotype photograms.

Writer / Malin Fabbri
Photography / Elizabeth Graves, Anita Chernewski, Malin Fabbri

“Eyescreen” by Elizabeth Graves ©
Eyescreen is part of a small series of cyanotype photograms displaying the potential abstraction inherent in everyday household objects. The photogram was made with elastic hair bands and floral marbles, in an arrangement inspired by antique amber glass patterns. The paper was coated with a 1 inch wide watercolor brush, with the emulsion spread in long strokes vertically, horizontally, and then vertically again to achieve an even coating on the textured paper. It was printed on Fabriano Aquarello with the classic cyanotype formula, with an exposure time of about 6 minutes.

There are several ways of preparing an image that you want to turn into a cyanotype. The basic rule is that whatever you place between your light source and your canvas will affect the resulting image.

The two most common methods of creating images are contact prints using negatives and photograms.

You make contact prints by placing enlarged negatives on your material, which creates a positive the same size as the negative.
You make photograms by placing objects directly on top of the material and capture their shadows as outlines.

You can also draw on transparencies or glass, make stencils, or place other semi-transparent materials in front of your canvas.

A simple rhyme

Understanding how the final image will come out may be tricky the first time. But this simple rhyme pretty much sums it up – great for using on children’s workshops!

“If it lets light through
it will turn blue.
If it blocks out light
it will stay white.”

Cyanotype photogram using Objects

Photograms: Arches Aquarelle paper was coated using a Japanese hake brush to get that handmade quality. The paper dried overnight in a dark room. Ribbon (above) and a branch (below) were placed on top of the coated paper and exposed for 12 minutes using a UV light. It was rinsed and left to oxidise to its final deep blue color.

The first cyanotypes were actually called photograms or shadowgrams, and that’s a good explanation of what they were. Placing objects on the surface of the coated paper and exposing them creates an image in the same shape as the object – a shadow.

Many different decorative shapes can be used to create silhouettes on fabric and paper. Cyanotypes, and especially those done using objects, sometimes have a dreamy, floating feel to them. The varying shades of blue are like a sky on a clear sunny day.

Any object can be used to make a photogram, but it’s usually those objects that have an interesting shape, or are semi-transparent in some way that are most interesting. Grass, leaves, branches, flowers or other plants can be used to make interesting compositions. You can experiment with kitchen utensils, toys, feathers, rope, lace, glasses, tools or anything else with shape and form.

“Chances” by Anita Chernewski ©
Anita used negative film and then made her cyanotype image using the classic cyanotype process.
Anita has a series of photograms on 16×20 gelatin silver paper she made using her hands and three-dimensional shapes out of paper. Since the images are one of a kind she wanted to reproduce them. Anita used the classic cyanotype process to make this cyanotype image.
She used TRI-X negative film, size 2 1/4 x 3 1/4 inches, in an old box camera. She photographed her three 16×20 inch gelatin silver photograms. After the film was processed, she coated the Saunders 140 lb. Watercolor Paper with the classic cyanotype chemistry using a foam rubber brush. After the paper dried, Anita place the negatives on watercolor paper and developed the images using a sun lamp. Exposure time was 20 minutes.

Anna Atkins created the first book of cyanotypes in her pursuit to capture botanical images of algae that seemed too delicate to be hand drawn.

Malin Fabbri is the editor of, author of several books on alternative photographic processes, and experiments with a variety of techniques such as anthotypes, cyanotypes, photopolymer gravure, chlorophyll prints, photosynthesis, pinholes and solargraphs.

Leave a Comment