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Learn how to use cyanotype printing to make art with the sun!

 I love crafting, but I also love getting outdoors, especially on a sunny day. And now I’ve learned a new way to combine creativity and sunlight: cyanotype printing! This fun activity is actually a form of camera-less photography that creates beautiful prints. Depending on the method you use, there can. be a lot of mixing, drying, and waiting involved. So I tried two approaches to see how they compare: a DIY kit, or pre-made paper. Now, I’m excited to share everything I’ve learned with you so you can make your own using my free designs or other cut paper designs!

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Watch the full step-by-step tutorial on how to use cyanotype printing to make your own notecards on my Youtube channel!

Get the free SVG cut file for this project

People have been Cyanotype printing since the mid 19th century, and the process hasn’t changed much since them! It involves mixing two chemicals with water to make a sensitizer, or liquid that will react when exposed to UV light. And yes, it is actually a photographic printing process, and works in similar ways to a film camera! How neat is that?

There are several techniques related to cyanotype printing, but the one I tried is called making a photogram. That means I started with a surface (white cardstock for me) evenly coated with dry sensitizer, added items on top, and then exposed the project to sun. Wherever items block the sunlight, the coated item will stay a slightly tinted green. But where the sun activates the cyanotype sensitizer, it creates a vibrant, deep blue I just can’t get enough of!

Now, I mentioned that I tried two ways to do cyanotype printing at home. First, I tried making my own coated paper using a kit purchased from my friends at Bearly Art. The kit was easy to use, had good instructions, and created beautiful results. But, you do need to let the materials sit between some steps, so it will take at least a few days from getting an idea to seeing it on the paper. This kit can also work on fabric!

If you want to be ready to make art on any sunny day, pre-made cyanotype printing paper is also an option. Some of the materials available online have mixed reviews, but I tried the brand linked below with consistently good results. This cyanotype printing process was so easy! I can see why many people pick pre-made over DIY sensitized paper. 

Can you guess which process I used for each of these notecards? Leave your guess in the video comments, then watch to see if you guess correctly!

Remember, you do have to keep both kinds out of light, or the color changing process will start! That’s why I’m showing you a picture of the pre-made paper in its packaging, and my video is a little darker than usual in some ares. My lights triggered the Prussian blue to start developing! You really do need a dim or dark room to get everything ready.

But how did I test both cyanotype printing options? With some help from a very modern tool: a Cricut cutting machine! While many cyanotype projects use natural items like pressed flowers, I wanted to see just how much contrast I could capture. So I cut pieces of cardstock into floral bouquets, including a frame to keep them together.

Then I used a clear acrylic sheet (you can also use a piece of glass) to keep the materials in place without interfering with the sun’s rays. Little clamps can help, too, especially on a windy day!

You can experiment with how long to leave your print in the sun, but I got vibrant results in less than five minutes! That was a very sunny day when the sun was at its height. The cyanotype printing process might take longer or not be as vibrant if the sun is weaker where you are.

Then you just rinse the sensitizer off of the paper, let it dry overnight, and your nature print is complete! I trimmed my prints and glued them to the front of note cards, but you can display them however you like! 

Want to make a cyanotype print with your own cardstock design? I can teach you how I did it and more in the ADVANCE with JenniferMaker tutorial!

Let me show you how to do cyanotype printing! This post contains some affiliate links for your convenience (which means if you make a purchase after clicking a link I will earn a small commission but it won’t cost you a penny more, there is no additional cost)! Read my full disclosure policy.

Materials to Make Cyanotype Printed Notecards

View my Amazon shopping list to see exactly what I used!

If you want to use a cyanotype sensitizer kit:

Or, use Pre-made cyanotype paper

For either material, you will also need:


How To Do Cyanotype Printing

Cyanotype Printing

Cyanotype Printing

Yield: 1
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Active Time: 30 minutes
Additional Time: 2 days
Total Time: 30 minutes
Difficulty: Medium
Estimated Cost: $2-$5

Learn two ways to use cyanotype printing!

Materials

Tools

Instructions

TESTING
Exposure time varies depending on your materials, weather, and time of day. I recommend making some test strips of your material and exposing them on dry days for different amounts of time. Take notes on the result you like the most and do your best to repeat the same amount and time of sun exposure during your real project.


WORK AREA
Sun and fluorescent light will activate the cyanotype solution, so work in dimly-lit areas until you’re ready to begin the timed exposure.

OPTION 1: CYANOTYPE SENSITIZER WITH CARDSTOCK SHAPES


STEP 1: TWO DAYS AHEAD: MAKE YOUR SOLUTIONS

  1. If you are using the Bearly Art cyanotype sensitizer kit like me, it needs to be prepared, then sit for 24 hours ahead of time, then mixed and applied within 2-4 hours, then dried for 24 hours before exposure.
  2. Two days before you plan to make a cyanotype:
  3. Protect a work surface out of direct sunlight with butcher paper.
  4. Put on nitrile gloves, an apron, and a dust mask to protect yourself, too.
  5. Take out the two bottles from the kit and carefully uncap them.
    TIP: There is powder inside the bottles, so don’t tip them over before opening.
  6. Use cool water to fill each bottle all the way to the neck.
    fill each bottle with cool water up to the neck
  7. Put the caps back on tightly and shake the bottles well.
  8. Let them sit in a dark spot for at least 24 hours.
    NOTE: Once you add water to the bottles, they can sit in a cool, dry place for up to six months.


STEP 2: GET AND CUT MY FREE CYANOTYPE CARD DESIGNS

First, download my Cyanotype Printing designs from my free library – look for Design #622. Alternatively, you can use the Save This Project form near the top of this post and the design link will be emailed to you.

In the SVG folder, there is a cut file with designs featuring ferns, one with flowers in a portrait orientation, and one with flowers in landscape orientation.

There is also a DXF folder with cut files, and a PDF folder with versions you can print and cut by hand. I'll use a Cricut Maker 3 to cut the SVG, but you can also use an original Maker, an Explore series, a Venture, or Joy Xtra.

TIP: If you’re not sure how to upload, go to jennifermaker.com/svgs to learn how to unzip and upload SVG files.

CRICUT DESIGN SPACE

  1. Open Cricut Design Space and go to the Canvas view.
  2. Click “Upload” and then “Upload Image.”
  3. Click “Browse.”
  4. Select the SVG file.
  5. Click “Continue.”
  6. Click “Upload” to add it to your Canvas.
    cyanotype svg on design space canvas
  7. Click "Ungroup."
  8. Delete the designs you don't want to use.
    NOTE: I’ll demonstrate with the landscape flowers file but the steps are the same for the other designs.
  9. The objects are sized to fit the front panel of the 5” x 7” notecards listed in my materials list, so you are ready to cut!

    CUTTING

    1. Make sure the correct machine is selected and click “Make It.”
    2. On the "Prepare" screen, check that your mat looks correct.
      NOTE: If you make the design as it’s uploaded, you should have one 12" x 12" mats. I’m using 12” x 12” 80 lb white cardstock.
      cyanotype design space prepare screen
    3. Click “Continue.”
    4. On the "Make" screen, pick “Medium Cardstock” and change the Pressure to “More.”
    5. Place your 80 lb. cardstock face up on a green StandardGrip 12" x 12" machine mat.
    6. Use a brayer to make sure it's fully adhered.
    7. Make sure your Fine-Point blade is clean and in the correct clamp.
    8. Load the mat into the machine and press the flashing "Load/Unload" button.
    9. Then press the flashing button to begin cutting.
      load mat into cricut Maker 3
      TIP: If you run into any issues cutting your cardstock, check out my Cricut Tips & Tricks for Cleaner Cuts.
    10. When the cut is finished, don’t unload it right away. Carefully lift a corner of the material to make sure the cuts went all the way through. If not, press the same button as before to make a second pass.
    11. When the cut is complete, unload the mat, flip it over, and gently roll it back to release the cardstock to keep it from curling and ripping.

      TIP: If the smaller bits do not release from the mat, use a spatula to carefully lift them.
    12. Use a weeding tool or tweezers to gently pop out, or pull off, any bits that are stuck on the edges.

      NOTE: Don’t worry if the edges look a little frayed or get a bit bent in the process. It will add texture and dimension to the organic nature of the design.

    STEP 3: PREPARE YOUR CYANOTYPE SENSITIZER AND PAPER

    1. The day before you plan to expose your prints, set your card and sensitizer supplies on butcher paper in your dim work space.
    2. Put on your apron and gloves to avoid stains.
    3. In a small container, mix equal amounts of the prepared liquids using a measuring spoon.
      NOTE: Only make as much as you think you’ll need to cover your project. For example, a tablespoon of each solution combined will cover the front of about five 5” x 7” notecards.
    4. Use a foam brush to evenly cover a 5” x 7” notecard with a light coat of the mixed sensitizer solution.
      TIP: The paper will look light green.
      spread the cyanotype solution evenly on the paper
    5. Let the paper dry on a flat, dry surface in the dark for 24 hours.
      dry the paper flat in a dark area for 24 hours

    STEP 4: PREPARE YOUR CYANOTYPE FOR EXPOSURE

    1. On the day you plan to expose the card, make sure it’s dry while still in the dimly lit work area.
    2. Place the dry card with the painted side up on slightly larger cardboard.
      place treated cyanotype paper face up on cardboard
      TIP: We’ll use the cardboard to move the project without touching it.
    3. Without exposing anything to direct light, center the design on the painted surface.
    4. Gently lower the clear acrylic over the entire project to keep everything in place.
    5. Optionally, you can use the small clamps to secure the acrylic to the cardboard.
      NOTE: If the design shifts once the project is exposed to sunlight, the edges might blur.
      use clamps to help keep both layers in place

    STEP 5: EXPOSE YOUR CYANOTYPE PRINT

    1. Carefully move your project to direct sunlight and expose it for the amount of time you picked during testing.
      TIP: If you’re not sure, start with five minutes of exposure.
      NOTE: For my examples, I left my prints out for five minutes on a very sunny June day.
    2. Once the exposure is complete, quickly bring the project inside to your dim work space.

    STEP 6: RINSE AND DRY YOUR PRINT

    1. Remove the extra tools and materials.
      NOTE: If possible, limit light exposure to the project once you bring it inside to develop
      Remove the extra tools and materials.
    2. Place the print in a tray of cold water and gently agitate it to rinse the chemicals for up to five minutes. Keep the print in motion and refresh the water a few times so the rinsed chemicals don’t settle back on the paper.
      NOTE: You can also rinse the print under a faucet.
    3. When the water remains clear, blot the print with paper towels.
      blot water off the paper
    4. Hang it to try indoors in the dark for 24 hours.
    5. If the print’s edges curl while drying, press it flat under a heavy book for several hours.

    OPTION 2: PRE-PACKAGED CYANOTYPE PAPER AND CARDSTOCK DESIGN

    STEP 1: PREPARE YOUR MATERIALS

    NOTE: Pre-packaged cyanotype paper (or any item with the prepared solution applied to it) will start processing as soon as it’s exposed to sunlight, so in a dimly lit area until you’re ready to start the printmaking. Also, don’t let any liquid touch the items before or during processing.

    1. Use the process in Steps 2 and 4 of Option 1 to download and cut one of my flower designs using 80 lb. white cardstock.
    2. Working out of sunlight, open the cyanotype paper’s packaging and take out just what you need. Seal the remainder up tightly to keep light from getting in and activating your other sheets.
    3. Place the prepared paper painted side up on a slightly larger piece of cardboard to make moving the project easier.
    4. Center your design on the paper.
      place design on pre-printed cyanotype paper
    5. Put the clear acrylic on top to keep the papers in place.
    6. Use the small clamps to secure the acrylic to the cardboard.
      NOTE: Make sure everything is flat for the best results.

    STEP 2: EXPOSE THE CYANOTYPE PAPER

    1. Carefully move the project to a dry area with direct sunlight.
      expose preprinted cyanotype paper to direct sunlight
    2. Let the paper sit for the amount of time you picked during testing.
      NOTE: If you have a lot of sun, even 5 minutes will be enough to make the cyanotype paper work!
    3. The background will change from yellow, to green, and then a silvery gray-green.
    4. When you’re ready to stop the process, bring the project back to your dimly lit work area.

    STEP 3: RINSE THE PAPER PROJECT

    1. Quickly (but carefully) remove the clamps, acrylic, and design.
      after exposure remove layers
    2. Place the print in a tray of cold water and gently agitate it to rinse the chemicals for up to five minutes. Keep the print in motion and refresh the water a few times so the rinsed chemicals don’t settle back on the paper.
      NOTE: You can also rinse the print under a faucet.
    3. When the water remains clear, blot the print with paper towels.
      blot print dry with paper towel
    4. Hang it to try indoors in the dark for 24 hours.
      hang print to dry in a dark place for 24 hours
    5. If the print’s edges curl while drying, press it flat under a heavy book for several hours.
    6. Once it’s totally dry, your print is complete!


    OPTIONAL: ATTACH YOUR CYANOTYPE PRINT TO A NOTECARD

    1. After the print (made using either the sensitizer solution or the pre-packaged paper) is dry, trim it to fit the front of a notecard with a paper trimmer.
      trimming the edges of the cyanotype print
    2. Add small dots of craft glue to the print’s back in the corners, edges, and middle.
    3. Center your print face up on the notecard’s front and gently press to secure it.

    SHOW IT OFF

    Here are my finished cyanotype printing projects

    Answers To Your Questions About How To Do Cyanotype Printing

    Q: How do I design my own card?

    A: You can learn how to create your own cyanotype printing design in my ADVANCE program. Learn more about ADVANCE here!

    Q: Can you cyanotype on anything?

    A: You can make beautiful cyanotype prints on many surfaces made of natural fibers, like treated fabric, watercolor paper, even ribbon! Place different objects on top to create your own compositions!

    Q: What are the chemicals used in cyanotype printing?

    A: Some sensitizers use slightly different materials, but the Bearly Art kit uses ferric ammonium citrate and potassium ferricyanide.

    Q: Is cyanotype printing safe?

    A: Yes, the chemicals in cyanotype printing are non-toxic. If you make the kit, wearing gloves and a dust mask while adding water to the bottles is a good idea in case any powder gets into the air, just to avoid irritation. I do recommend wearing gloves, an apron, and protecting your work area while applying the sensitizer, though, it can stain! 

    Q: Can I sell my cyanotype printing cards or other designs I downloaded from your blog and made or are they just for personal use? Do you have a commercial use or small business use license?
    A: Yes, you can sell handmade pieces or made-to-order items using these designs (with limitations) — please read about licenses here so you know what you can and cannot do. If you use them, please share photos with us! We love supporting small businesses and creative entrepreneurs!

    Get my free SVG/DXF/PDF files to make your own cyanotype printing project!

    (If you do not see the signup form above, click here.)

    I love seeing what you make with my designs and how you use them! Please share a photo of your cyanotype printing projects in our Facebook group or tag me on social media with #jennifermaker.

    Love,

    JenniferMaker.com

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