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Printing with the Sun: Cyanotypes & Light Sensitive Vat Dyes

Besides transforming my paintings and drawings into 'new media' (digital works), there are other means of transformation. One method that uses a negative and the sun or another powerful light is sun printing, where the image is produced directly during exposure. You can print on paper or fabric.

final cynotype print - portrait drawing printed via negative on fabric artist amy adams aka amyincluj
There are 3 techniques from which I have explored 2 of them. The first, cyanotype has been in use since 1842 and can be used to print on paper and other natural materials. The second is similar type process but new formulations make it less toxic and although you can use it with paper (very difficult), is better suited to use with fabrics, this process uses light-sensitive vat dyes.

Here is the unfinished drawing that from experience, I knew would work well as a print.

detail from a drawing by artist amy adams aka amyincluj to become a print

Making a negative:

You can make a negative on your computer by:

1. sizing your image to fit on the transparency that it will be printed on.

2. remove the colour by transforming it into a B&W image.

3. invert the colours and add enough contrast to the image so it will print well.

Then print the negative using either an inkjet or laser jet printer. You can purchase special printable transparencies on-line or at your local office supply store. Personally, I recommend laser printing. The ink-jet transparencies have a slight texture and will not be as durable as the laser transparencies.

negative for a cyanotype print - art amy adams aka amyincluj

The cyanotype process:

The sensitising solution contains iron ammonium citrate and potassium hexacyanoferrate(III). Developing is done in water. Depending on the method used, the image is created in Turnbull or Prussian (Berlin) blue. The image is produced directly during exposure; this is therefore a contact process. It was in use from 1842 onwards.

Cyanotype is, relatively speaking, a very simple, quick and inexpensive process. For this reason, it is one of the first processes tried by many of the people who are now turning to historical photographic techniques. If the picture is toned, there are many options. It can be toned with tea, coffee or tannin after previous bleaching with alkali. Salts of lead or copper are also used. Depending on the toning used, it is possible to obtain various shades of grey, black, brown, red or yellow.


Light-sensitive vat dyes:

A specialised type of vat dye called Inkodye is also used for sun-printing due to its light-sensitive quality. Unlike other vat dyes which use oxygen to develop their colour, Inkodyes are developed by light. These dyes are suspended in the leuco form appearing colourless until they are exposed to UV. Their usage resembles that of cyanotype, but unlike cyanotype, Inkodyes are primarily used on textiles and exist in a full range of colours. Exposure times vary from 3 to 15 minutes depending on the desired colour and intensity of light. Once exposed, the sensitised material is washed in soapy water to remove dye from unexposed areas. Such dyes are typically used by craftspeople, fabric printers and artists and can be printed with photographic negatives, resist paste or through a silk screen. (source:

Note: Inkodye is a brand name and there are a few different brands that produce the light sensitive vat dyes.

Unfortunately, my cyanotype prints aren't well documented, so I don't have many images to share today. Next round of prints I'll make some photos to share.

Thanks for taking the time to read my article and please feel free to ask questions or comment below. If you like my art or photos, please subscribe to my posts here on Niume. You can also find me on Instagram and twitter.

#cyanotype #vatdyes #printmaking #sunprinting #artprints #uniqueprints #art #artwork

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