What on earth is this cyanotype business, anyway? How does it work?

Cyanotype is a photographic process that begins with an inverted negative image and ends with a positive, as in a traditional chemical darkroom. But cyanotype chemicals are sensitive only to ultraviolet light, which means you don’t need a traditional darkroom to print images with them.


Here you see an inkjet negative being prepared for printing. Anything that casts a shadow, however, can be used in the cyanotype process. I compose with both traditional printed negatives (as shown above) and with the shadows of collected objects.

First, I paint the chemistry on paper or soak the fabric in it. Once dried, the paper or fabric is sensitized and must be kept away from sunlight. The negatives or objects are placed on top of the sensitized part of the fabric or paper, then exposed to ultraviolet light for a period of time. Negatives or objects are placed underneath plexiglass to keep them in place during exposure.


Once exposure time is up, the print is taken away from sunlight and rinsed for a few minutes in ordinary running water, followed by a hydrogen peroxide bath. Yes, that's a bathtub you see there!


After rinsing, the print is inspected to make sure there’s no residue chemistry left on the surface. Fabric and paper dry on a line away from sunlight, becoming permanent as they dry.

After drying, they’re ready to continue with drawing or embroidery, or they can stand alone. From preparing the paper to completing the final touches, a single print can take several days to complete.


See all the original prints I have available here in the shop!

Want to learn how to make your own cyanotypes? I can teach you how.

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{ all images taken by the wonderful Anna Hedges }