Awesome things you can do with cyanotype process.

A list of application suggestions for cyanotype.

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I tried to find an easy list that demonstrated the different ways that you can use cyanotype process in your work. I couldn’t find anything that covered a lot of the bases. So I decided that I would create my own list. I will only cover the the ways that I have used it so far.

Traditional Rayogram on paper

Fish bowl cyanotype on multiple papers by Jo Howell

This was the first way in which the process was really explored. I create my cyanotype solution at roughly 50:50 and use a hake brush to apply to paper. I use hardy paper that can hold up in the very wet process. This image is made by lying the objects directly on to the dry emulsion (leave prepared paper in the dark for 24 hours before use). Using a plain of glass to gain the best contact, and then using either a UV lamp or the sun to expose your image. Wash the paper thoroughly after exposure in water that is as cold as possible. Then hang to dry. Flatten using heavy books.

Combining digital negatives with rayogram technique

Self Portrait by Jo Howell

Using the same basic instructions as above I sometimes incorporate other photographs that I have taken either digitally or on film. If I’m using film then I tend to scan it at a high resolution before processing it in an editing program like photoshop. I invert the image, convert to grayscale, and print on to acetate (clear plastic). I can then cut out the image from the plastic or lay extra objects on top. This example I used a self portrait, some sequins, and a ribbon. Any image that you have in digital format can be used to create a negative for this process. This means that you can mess around with collage and mixed media.

Toning cyanotypes

Poppy and rosemary toned cyanotype print by Jo Howell

You can bleach and then tone your cyanotype images using a range of different dyes including tea and coffee. For the example shown I allowed the paper cyanotype to dry fully before using a brush with household bleach to create the circle. This allows me to get multiple tones on the one page. You can find out more about toning your cyanotypes using the link below.

Working back into cyanotypes with watercolour and pens

Painted cyanotype by Jo Howell

Why stop at a blue print? You can work back into it as much as you like! With any medium that takes your fancy. Adding colour can be a lovely way to make your blueprints stand out.

Cyanotype on textiles

Mix it up cyanotype on fabric with embroidery and pen by Jo Howell

A lot of today’s fabrics are not natural, and often they are treated with dirt resistant chemicals. The best materials to use for this process are untreated natural fabrics like silk or cotton. This is because the solution can adhere to the fabric a lot better. If you are unsure try bleaching the fabric you want to use in a dilute solution. This may help to remove any chemicals that could resist. NOT ALL FABRICS ARE SUITABLE. You may have to conduct tests. Using this process on fabric can be a nice way to introduce images to your textiles works. Prepare the fabric with the basic 50:50 cyanotype solution. Apply thinly. Dry fabric for an hour. Contact the things you want to print using glass. My exposures under a lamp were 25 minutes for thin cotton. You can work back in to you textiles using many other things. Cyanotype fabrics need to be sealed if you intend to wear and wash them, as household cleaners will cause fading.

Cyanotype on bisque fired ceramic

Cyanotype on handmade ceramic tiles by Jo Howell and The Art Studio Sunderland

Using a ceramic blank that you have either bought or made. Ensure that it is not already glazed, and the surface is still porous. In low light conditions using a simple 50:50 solution carefully brush on a fine layer. Leave the prepared ceramic in the dark for up to 30 mins prior to exposure. Contact what you would like to print using a plain of glass. My exposure times using a lamp were 50 minutes for ceramic. I then wash the tile for the same amount of time using several fresh batches of cold water. Then I allow the ceramic to dry overnight before giving it second bath, and drying for the final time. The first time I did this I used handmade tiles that had various problems with pooling of the chemicals in certain areas because they weren’t exactly flat. The bisque fired tiles I bought from a stockist in Bath were a lot more successful as the manufacturing process is more consistent. The images are sealed once fully dry using a clear varnish. Afterwards you can add more things like gold leaf. A thin layer of varnish is enough. You can see on the first two examples below that I put too much on.

Cyanotype on glass

Cyanotype on glass by Jo Howell

Creating cyanotypes on glass is a little more complex than the other materials as you have to combine the usual solution with gelatine in darkroom conditions. I usually create the gelatine according to the instructions and then add 25ml of each cyanotype solution. This is for half a pint of chemicals. The gelatine needs to be carefully heated from cold with slow mixing to avoid the creation of air bubbles. Once the gelatine is nicely thickened slowly pour your cyanotype chemicals in, continuing to stir gently. Pour your mixture through a sieve into a light tight container and leave for 24 hours. Be careful not to burn your mix at any point! When you are ready to prepare your glass make sure that it is perfectly clean and free of grease. Wear gloves. Use a black light or your UV lamp to check the glass for the tin side. All flat glass is floated on molten tin, this will leave a trace under the light.

Apply your mix to the tin side as the gelatine is less likely to float off. Carefully tease the emulsion across the plain of glass as thinly as possible. Any run off can be captured in a clean tray and reused. If you are reusing emulsion then sieve it each time you transfer it back to your light tight container. Expose the image in UV light. My small tests took 30 min on a UV lamp. Carefully clean the glass with very cold water. You will have to change your water several times. Leaving the emulsion to harden for around 30 min in the cold water. Dry for 48 hours. Your image may look light at first but the emulsion will darken down over time. Using this process on glass can allow you to create images with multiple layers. These examples are on small pieces of glass that are warmed by a fan heater before applying the solution. You should heat gelatine slowly in a Bain Marie. See link below for more details.

NB: The gelatine is only fluid when warm and the cold glass can shock the chemicals creating water tension marks and streaks or blobs.


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  2. Hi! Thank you for this detailed information on cyanotype. I have a question on this sentence that you wrote for the ceramics paragraph, “Contact what you would like to print using a plain of glass.” I don’t understand what this saying. Second question, when you say to add clear varnish, do you mean clear glaze and fire in a glaze fire again? Or doe they not get fired again, after the initial bisque fire?

    • Contact means to flattened the plant or negative so as much of it is in contact with the surface as possible.

      The varnish is a yacht varnish that dries clear.

      If you fire your pieces in a kiln (cone 5) the cyanotype will turn orange or burn out completely. I’ve only managed 1 test because I don’t have a kiln. Only do it in a well ventilated area 🙂

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