“Attempts at Improving my Digital Negatives….Part 3 …”

20090729_0927cyprntwebIt seems as though I am getting somewhere. Those of you who have been following my blog probably think I am totally nuts, since I had been making pretty good Cyanotype prints before I embarked on this quest. The reason I am doing this is that for one, I want to get back to making Cyanotype prints, and since I am no longer at the university, I have to work with my set-up at home, with a different water supply, and without  a UV exposure unit. So, I wanted to explore making digital negatives using the Advanced Black and White printing  feature on my Epson printer. My feeling is that it gives me a denser, more ‘precise’ negative than the Color Table method I had been using. After getting Burholder’s The New Inkjet Negative Companion I realized that, although it had loads of good information, it did not have specific directions on how to make a digital negative for Cyanotype printing. To me the critical part of the whole process was making/getting a curve that could be applied to digital image I want to make into a digital negative. stdcurvewebI found what I was looking for on Peter Mrhar’s web site , as I noted in my post below. At first I thought the curve was a bit too contrasty for my workflow, but then realized I was not giving my image enough exposure. With eight minutes of full sun exposure the print looked good, and so did the step table. The texture/grain in the image is due to the texture in the paper, and a hot press paper would undoubtedly yield a smoother image – next time I go to the ‘big city’ I will get some Arches hot press paper to see what happens. As I worked my way towards this print, I realized that different papers react differently to the same exposure and so I think every Cyanotype print is the result of some careful testing – of course, the same is true with film and silver gelatin prints. One can’t use one f-stop setting, filter and exposure time for all negatives.

20140320_5211webThe paper used here is from my wife’s art supplies, and I am not sure what brand it is. I do know that it gives me a wonderful tonality for my Cyanotypes, and also works very well for printing black and white images with my Epson R3000 printer. The snapshot on the left shows what the print looks like after an eight minute sun exposure, and before it goes into the water wash. One thing that is totally catching me by surprise this time around is that I am not getting any leaching of the Cyanotype as the print is being washed. I have used three different papers so far, and none has had any tendency to wash out the Cyanotype – something I had terrible problems with the last time I did a major Cyanotype printing session. The only thing that could be causing that is our local water – but I 20140320_5212webreally have no clue. Here is a snapshot of the the print in the wash water. I am giving it a five minute was, which seems to be plenty. The other thing I noticed during this test was that different papers look differently while they have been washed, and the density of the print can’t really be judged fully till after the print has completely dried and oxidized. One of the things that concerns me with the paper I am using is that I do not know if it is buffered or not. According to the book Coming Into Focus  Cyanotypes should never be stored in an alkaline environments. Other than that, they are probably the most archival of all photographic processes.

AFTER-THOUGHTS: Rather than creating endless new posts about my goings on with Cyanotype printing I will just add stuff here as it comes up, as people ask questions, or as I think of things to pass on.


Here is a snapshot of my current Cyanotype coating set-up:20140321_5497web

As mentioned earlier, for convenience sake, I now use the Photographers’ Formulary Liquid Cyanotype Printing Kit. Usually I mix one cap full of chemistry from each bottle in a small glass container. That is generally enough to coat four to six sheets of 8×10 watercolor paper. Shown here are a sheet of coated watercolor paper and and the 6×9 inch Canson Monteval Watercolor pad with one sheet coated fully. Usually I coat the paper just enough to go to the outside of the intended print. Here I wanted to see how coating the Canson paper still attached to the pad would work. For applying the Cyanotype emulsion I use a cheap [about $1.00] Chinese paint brush with real bristles. When they are new, some of the bristles will come off  when brushing the paper, but are easy to get off. The experts will caution that one should not use a brush with a metal band because of the corrosive interaction between the metal and the Cyanotype emulsion. My thoughts on that are that if you are going to immerse the brush that deep in the chemistry, don’t use it.


I am becoming more confident about my 20140330_5502webworkflow every day. A good practice for me is to print my digital negatives at least the day before I plan to expose/print them. That way I am sure they are totally dry and can withstand the sun-exposure. While making the negatives in Photoshop, I am now sure to load a level correction curve over the ‘finished’ image and set the white and black points. That appears to give me a nice density range in the final negative. The ones I printed this afternoon required seven minutes of sun exposure – which is more than some of my previous negatives required.



For the three ‘one-of-a-kind’ Cyanotype books I am making now I have settled on Canson Montval paper. Although it is a cold press paper, it has a relatively smooth surface. My book pages will be about 8.5×11 inches, and the Cyanotype prints generally will be about 6 inches on the tall/widest side, although some of them might be bit larger. I do think that the paper surface texture and print seize relationship is something that has to be considered. If the paper surface is too rough, small prints will suffer in appearance. I do like the way the Cyanotype saturation/color looks on the Canson paper. In addition the paper takes sensitizing solution very well, dries fast, and washes easily – just about ideal. It does not have deckled edges, which for the book pages does not matter, but something I would miss if I printed on full sheets. This scan gives more info about the paper. I pay about $2.80 per sheet, plus tax, in the art supply store I use. It can of course, also be bought via mail order. I have frequently seen the paer described as being expensive, but at that price it is about half the price as other brand-name watercolor papers.cansonmontval

About christian harkness

Photographer and printmaker; living and working in north Florida.
This entry was posted in art, black & white, cyanotype, digital, digital negative, Made with Paper, photography, Southern Photography and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to “Attempts at Improving my Digital Negatives….Part 3 …”

  1. Dave says:

    you’re really inspiring me to try this process Christian!

  2. Thanks for all the information, Christian. I still intend to make some cyanotypes, these posts will help me a lot. Will be buying Peter Mrhar’s book, thanks for the link.

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