Fixing Cyanotypes

Discussion in 'Black and White' started by nanette_gonzales, Nov 19, 2009.

  1. I'm trying my hand at cyanotypes for the first time. I like the initial results, but I do have a few questions. Can anyone tell me what can be used to fix a cyanotype? also, I'm having a bit of trouble getting white whites with my prints. Besides it being the density of my negative, could there be a chemical step i could add in to bring the whites up? or perhaps more/less time? I'm exposing with bright sun. Thank you for any imput!
     
  2. Are the whites bluish, or are they more of a greenish/yellowish color? If they're blue, you can cut exposure time. If they're leftover yellow/green, there are a couple of possible causes. Make sure that paper is dry before you start printing it up. If it is still slightly damp, then the cyano can slosh around like wet watercolor. Yellow/green blurs or smears are often leftover, improperly mixed, two-part solution.
    I have only made a few of those, but my most successful were papers that I had left to dry for a full day in the dark. Make the paper today, use it tomorrow.
    When I made the papers for my better few runs, I made some additional test-strip scraps. Since the advice on getting the exposure right can vary a great deal (geographic location, how much sun are you getting on there, negative density, and a bunch of other factors), it just helps to test strip it.
    Since the paper will need to dry out; if you have a scrap for use as a test strip; use it by gradually uncovering; track the time; it can just save you a lot of grief. With traditional photo printing, you can just pull out another sheet of paper; with that test strip you can make things more efficient; not have to wait until tomorrow to get another batch of cyano paper made.
    There's a technique that involves using some mild vinegar, similar to a stop bath, that can give a touch of a bleaching effect. That might help you.
    www.alternativephotography.com was the website that I found to have one of the better sets of organized examples. They discuss that vinegar technique there; also had a good article on paper choices and a couple of different cyano recipes.
     
  3. The cyanotype paper must be totally dry before you use it, or else it will develop as it is exposed. There is no "fixer" as such; the blue is ferric ferrocyanide, which is permanently bound to the paper. Wash properly and let dry, and it will pretty well be blue forever.
    As for the whites, I've found that certain things do have an effect there- both choice of paper and toners [vinegar, tannic acid from tea, etc. etc.]. I've also been told that when the edge of the paper turns from green to silvery, it's done; though I've always exposed under an exposure unit and tend to give it a tad longer than that. It tends to vary with technique, so try things and keep excellent notes when doing so.
     
  4. Dear Nanette, Regular fixer should be fine for fixing them. In fact, I am of the school that you want to do a good job with the fixer to ensure they are archival. I haven't done Cyanotypes for awhile (quite a few years actually), but I was playing round with farmers reducer to adjust some of the densities. I was using cotton swabs locally to reduce values.
     
  5. Also, as a final tip, make up a solution of hydrogen peroxide (available from any pharmacy) and water (1 teaspoon of 20 or 30 volume peroxide in 1/2 pint of water.) After washing the cyanotype, dunk it in this solution for a few seconds with gentle agitation.
     
  6. Nanette,
    I'm far from an expert but you absolutely do not need to fix your cyanotype. Just make sure you wash it completely. Christopher James, master of all alternative processes, does not even mention fixing in his book (which I recommend you get if you do already have it).
    Using hydrogen peroxide (which I do) only gets you the nice blue image immediately after processing. If you don't use it, your prints will turn that blue colour eventually.
    Which cyanotype mixture are you using? I'm using the traditional formula (kit from Photographers Formulary) but I wasn't liking the blues I got. So I now presoak all my papers in a vinegar bath (1:2 with water), let dry, then do a double coat. My blues are really rich now. I also found that I did not like the colours produced by toning with tea (although others are quite successful at this -- but it's not archival), but that I did like the clearer whites (a bit yellowish, but not blue -- looks more natural) by using sodium carbonate (borax) after letting the prints dry properly. Mr. James also recommends a 1-5% oxalic acid bath for cleaning highlights, but I've never tried it.
    Good luck!
     
  7. What I do with the vinegar is to, after exposure, first soak the print in vinegar. Then, transfer the print to a washing bath.
     
  8. You DO NOT need to fix a cyanotype. If, after developing - getting rid of the yellow by washing - you wash in running water for five or so minutes, it will be done and "fixed".
     

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