Cyanotype Photography: Exploring Blue-Toned Images

What is Cyanotype Photography?

Cyanotype photography is a photographic printing process that creates blue and white images using a combination of light-sensitive chemicals.

The technique was invented by Sir John Herschel in 1842 and quickly gained popularity due to its simplicity and the striking visual aesthetic it produces.

Cyanotype prints have a distinct blue color and are known for their rich and deep tones.

History of Cyanotype

Origins and Development

The cyanotype process was initially developed by Sir John Herschel as a means to create copies of his scientific notes.

However, it soon caught the attention of artists who recognized its artistic potential. The process gained popularity in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and was used by renowned photographers like Anna Atkins and Alfred Stieglitz.

Cyanotype photography became a prominent medium for botanical illustrations and architectural prints.

Materials and Process

Chemicals and Techniques

Creating cyanotype prints requires a few key materials, including iron salts and a light-sensitive emulsion. The most common chemicals used are ferric ammonium citrate and potassium ferricyanide.

These chemicals are mixed together to create a photosensitive solution, which is then applied to a suitable surface such as watercolor paper or fabric.

The process involves exposing the treated surface to UV light, typically sunlight or artificial ultraviolet light. The UV light triggers a chemical reaction that results in the characteristic blue color.

After exposure, the print is washed in water to remove any unreacted chemicals, revealing the final cyanotype image.

Creating Cyanotype Prints

Step-by-Step Guide

  1. Prepare the chemicals and the light-sensitive emulsion.
  2. Choose or prepare the surface for the cyanotype print.
  3. Apply the emulsion evenly onto the surface using a brush or foam roller.
  4. Let the coated surface dry in a dark room.
  5. Place a negative or an object directly onto the coated surface.
  6. Expose the print to UV light for a specific duration.
  7. Rinse the print with water to stop the chemical reaction.
  8. Allow the print to dry and admire your cyanotype creation.

Tips and Tricks

Enhancing Your Cyanotype Prints

While the cyanotype process is relatively straightforward, there are various techniques and considerations that can help you create more compelling prints:

  1. Experiment with different exposure times to achieve desired tones.
  2. Combine cyanotype with other photographic processes for unique effects.
  3. Try toning the cyanotype prints with tea or other natural substances to alter the color palette.
  4. Incorporate found objects, textures, or botanical specimens into your compositions.
  5. Consider using different types of paper or fabric to achieve diverse textures and results.

Cyanotype in Contemporary Art

Application and Trends

Cyanotype photography has experienced a resurgence in recent years, with contemporary artists using the technique to create striking and innovative artworks.

From fine art prints to fashion design and mixed media installations, cyanotype has found its place in the realm of modern creativity.

Artists experiment with alternative materials, unconventional exposures, and digital negatives to push the boundaries of this traditional technique.

Preservation and Care

Protecting Cyanotype Prints

Preserving cyanotype prints is crucial to maintain their longevity and visual appeal. Here are some tips to ensure the longevity of your cyanotype prints:

  1. Display the prints away from direct sunlight to prevent fading.
  2. Store prints in acid-free archival sleeves or albums to protect them from environmental damage.
  3. Handle prints with clean hands to avoid leaving fingerprints or oils on the surface.
  4. Avoid excessive touching or rubbing of the prints to prevent abrasion.


Q1: Can I create cyanotype prints without sunlight?

Yes, you can use artificial ultraviolet light sources to expose cyanotype prints if sunlight is not available or suitable.

Q2: Can I use any type of paper for cyanotype printing?

While watercolor paper is commonly used for cyanotype prints, you can experiment with different types of paper to achieve unique textures and effects.

Q3: How long does it take to expose a cyanotype print?

Exposure times can vary depending on the intensity of the light source and desired effect. It typically ranges from a few minutes to an hour.

Q4: Can I create colored cyanotype prints?

The traditional cyanotype process produces blue-toned prints. However, you can experiment with toning techniques using natural substances like tea to alter the color palette.

Q5: Is cyanotype photography suitable for beginners?

Yes, cyanotype photography is a great starting point for beginners due to its simplicity and minimal equipment requirements. It allows for experimentation and creative exploration without complex technical knowledge.


Cyanotype photography offers a unique and artistic approach to image-making.

With its rich history, straightforward process, and potential for experimentation, cyanotype continues to captivate artists and enthusiasts alike.

Whether you are drawn to its historical significance or its contemporary applications, cyanotype photography provides a creative outlet that is both accessible and rewarding.

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