In black and white dark room photography there are many processes called alternative printing processes. These involve doing something with chemicals that alters the initial image in some way. These alternative processes are somewhat experimental as they involve trial and error to get the best results. Many of these techniques involve changing the color of an image through toning chemistry. There are blue prints also called cyanotype or sun prints. There are also brown tone prints known as Van Dyke Brown prints. These use different chemicals, but similar processes as cyanotype. There are also Sepia prints which involve bleaching a black and white image and then tinting it to brown tone. This technique was very popular in older photographs especially. Prints below include Sepia Toned image on the left by Yammerman, Van Dyke Brown print by Mat Marrash and Cyanotype apron by Jeanne Bjork
yammerman sepia .jpg
VanDykeBrwn-Mat Marrash.jpg

The cyanotype is an interesting way for us to explore this phenomena. Here is a bit more information on the cyanotype process and history.

"The Cyanotype, which is also known as ferroprussiate or blueprint was invented by Sir John Herschel in 1842, when he discovered that ferric (iron) salts could be reduced to a ferrous state by light and then combined with other salts to create a blue-and-white image. Not long after, Anna Atkins, one of the few women in photography during that century, published the first book with photographs instead of illustrations, "British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions" Cyantype is a contact print process and you will need a negative the same size as the size of the print you want. A cyanotype with a blue image on a white background is obtained using a negative transparency. In order to obtain a pale white image on a blue background, a positive transparency must be used. Cyanotypes are created with a simple solution of ferric ammonium citrate and potassium ferricyanide. If you don't want to find your own chemicals, Freestyle carries an excellent all-in-one kit for you. The cyanotype emulsion is sensitive to ultraviolet light. Therefore either sunlight or another UV light source must be used for exposure. For consistent results, a UV light box is recommended.

There are 2 types of cyanotype processes. Both need to be done in darkroom yellow or red light situations to set up the paper or fabric. You can purchase pre-treated paper or fabric or you can coat your own with chemicals. All of this must be done in the darkroom.

Negative Process:
The first involves printing with a negative and sandwiching it with the chemically treated paper or fabric. The negative is contact printed onto the paper. Contact printing means that you are directly printing with the negative making contact with the paper or fabric you wish to print on.

To create a digital negative you can use Adobe Photoshop.
  1. Open the image you wish to print. Try to choose one that has a good range of values. Cyanotype tends to make the image more contrasty so try not to have too, high of contrast. Pick an image with good value range and detail.
  2. Once the image is open in Photoshop duplicate the background layer, renaming it Negative. Save the file as a Photoshop PSD.
  3. Edit the layer to improve range of values using Image-Adjustments-Levels/or Curves. Once you're satisfied save again.
  4. With the negative layer selected go to Image-Adjustments-Invert (command I is the shortcut for this). You have now inverted the layer and changed it from a positive to a negative.
  5. Turn off the original background layer eye so that only the negative layer is showing.
  6. Size your image to the desired negative size. The transparencies we use are 8.5 x 11 inches (letter-sized). You can print 2 5 x 7 images on one sheet of transparency or one larger single image. You decide! Size your image accordingly. Since we are printing the image should be 300 dpi so it is high resolution.
  7. Load the transparency film. We are using Pictorico film and it has a cut mark at the upper right side. Load the transparency portrait orientation so that the cut is in the upper right. Make sure you only have one sheet. Print as we normally would. In Printer settings you can just choose glossy and it will work out fine.
  8. Once you've printed your negative you want to protect it from getting scratched so save it between two sheets of paper or in a folder or plastic sleeve protector.

To Print your cyanotype the following steps are needed: This must be done in darkroom setting with yellow or red lights. Light will expose your paper or fabric causing the print not to turn out. Make sure your environment is light safe!!
  1. Make a "sandwich" by layering chemically treated paper or fabric as your first layer with the chemically treated side facing up towards the light (sun).
  2. Layer two of the sandwich is the digital negative that you've printed using Adobe Photoshop and ink jet transparency. Make sure the right side of the negative is facing up, the image should look the right way. If you reverse this it will be backwards.
  3. Layer three is the piece of glass or plexi you are covering your sandwich with to expose. We use contact frames that you will seal the images into. You could also just use plexi glass and binder clips to create the sandwich.
  4. Put the contact frame inside of the black plastic garbage bag to protect it from the light.
  5. All of these items are taken outside and exposed in the sun. You can also use a UV light box similar to those used for silkscreen processes. The exposure time will depend on the season, the time of day and the strenght of the sunlight. It could take 5-15 minutes. Usually exposures times longer than 15 aren't necessary unless it is winter and the light is really weak/cloudy. You can kind of tell that the image has been exposed long enough because the color of the paper turns a greenish/cyan/yellowish color.
  6. Put the contact frame back in the plastic bag and bring inside. Carefully remove the paper or fabric from the frame and rinse in cold running water and watch as it develops. Once it develops it is safe to turn the normal lights on. Rinse until there is no more yellowish chemical in the whites of the fabric or paper (about 3-5 minutes).
  7. Dry your print. If it gets wrinkled you can iron the paper or fabric later.

The second type of cyanotype print involves putting objects directly onto the paper/fabric and then exposing through them. This is called a PHOTOGRAM. This process results in a silhouette/shadow type image. See the PHOTOGRAM page for details. This also involves a sandwich or contact print style of printing. The first layer is the chemically treated paper/fabric, the second layer are the objects (feathers, lace, flowers any flat textural objects that are slightly see through) and then lastly the glass. These are exposed in the sun and result in interesting effects. The two processes can be combined with a negative and objects being exposed at the same time. All of the steps listed above and the darkroom precautions still apply to the photogram style cyanotypes.

Here are some Great Resources and more information about the history and process of Cyanotypes.

Christopher James Studio Cyanotype History & Process

Check out the links here for details on cyanotype imagery and the process.

Examples of Cyanotype Photograms
Photogram Cyanotype DIY Tutorial
More Cyanotype Tutorials on the Process.
Science Behind the Process
Mrs. Bjork's Pinterest Board on Cyanotype and Other Alternative Processes

Go to and check out the alternative photography pages there. Search for examples of cyanotype specifically. Here is one such group. And here is another that is on alternative processes. You may find others.

Click here to begin your research on this wiki.

PHOTOGRAMS: Check this out so you understand what a photogram is.....

Check out the video on the Cyanotype process and History.

Check out the video on the process of making a cyanotype print. Our process will involve using already coated paper.