WTF IS Cyanotype?

INVENTION – A cyanotype is an early photographic printing process invented by scientist and astronomer Sir John Herschel, who also first coined the term “photography”.

PROCESS – The cyanotype process first involves spreading a photosensitive solution of iron salts on paper. After drying the paper is exposed to ultraviolet light, turning it into a vibrant (cyan) blue pigment called Prussian blue. After exposure the excess chemical is rinsed of with plain water. By using either a negative, a drawing on a transparent medium or any physical object, one can partially block the light, thus creating an image.

WATCH –  this video to see me go through the process:

USE – Though Sir John Herschel originally developed this process to make copies of his notes, it was used already a year later to create photograms by Anna Atkins. Her book “Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions” is the first book illustrated with photographic images.

When pre-treated cyanotype papers became commercially available in the 1880’s, engineers and architects started to use it to make copies of drawings and plans, A.K.A. blue prints.

This development also meant a revival of the cyanotype as a photographic process, but ultimately lost popularity after the turn of the century as photography improved.

CURRENT DAY – Modern technology brings more possibilities to the traditional process. Though the end product is still hand-crafted according to the same manual process, the negative can be made through more current-day means.

By using a modern digital camera and digital image processing it has become possible to better adapt the negative image to some of the peculiarities of the printing process. The ability to print a negative is now only limited by available printer size and transparency material, rather than camera size.

Though a generous amount of time and care is needed to create images in this way, the resulting image is more refined and detailed then previously possible.