⏱ Timing? How to Make a Test Print to Work out Exposure Timing

Watch full tutorial here

Things to consider

  • The test strip: In my kits I include an extra piece of paper that can be cut into strips to create the test strip. The multiple test strips enable you to test multiple plants on multiple days.
  • Time of year: summer prints will need less time in sun, winter will need more time.
  • Location: closer to the equator, stronger the UV rays.
  • Cloud cover – you can print in overcast weather, but sunlight is diffused. I would recommend using direct sunlight for best results.
  • What you are printing: shapes and anything that isn’t transparent, like a stencil, allium, or a fern, will only need about 1 minute- 3 minutes. You can leave longer, but finer details can get lost if there are little hairs on the plant or the stencil is not thick enough. Anything with petals, lace, photo negatives will need a test strip to work out ideal timing.
  • Thickness and colour of petal: If you hold the flower up to the light and you can see through it, there is a good change you will get transparency. The colur also determines how much light is let through. For example, black, purple and blue petals let light in easier so need less time in the sun vs yellow or green petals. Buttercups will never let light in – it bounces the UV rays.

Step-by-Step Guide:

Step 1: Prepare Your Workspace: (same as cyanotype process) Find a comfortable area to work in. Since cyanotype chemicals are sensitive to light, you'll want to do most of your work indoors, with the curtains shut. Lightbulb light okay, but not for extended amount of time. You will need access to a second location with sunlight. And then a location where you can wash your print.

Step 2: Choose Your Image or Object: Select the object you want to print or create a digital negative of the image you wish to print. Keep it small and simple for your test print. I would recommend mainly doing this with flowers that have petals that could go transparent. Most leaves will not give you transparency and will need 1 min - 3 min at most on a sunny day.

Step 3: Item to block the light:

Have something that will block the light – like a piece of cardboard or a thin book. You will need this to be big enough to cover the whole piece of paper you are exposing. You will also need to have a timer to hand.

Step 3: Arrange and Expose: Place your object or negative directly onto the sensitized cyanotype paper. Cover it with a transparent acrylic sheet or a piece of glass to keep everything in place. Take your setup outdoors or under a UV light source. Expose the paper to the sunlight, keeping track of the time. Set a 2 minute timer. 

After 2 minutes, block a small section of the print, (roughly 2-4cm), then set a new timer for 2 minutes.

When this is done, cover more of the paper (including the first part you covered).

Now set a timer for 4 minutes. When this is done, cover more paper and set a timer for 8 minutes.

Step 5: Develop and Rinse: After the exposure time is up, take print inside, away from sun. Carefully remove the object or negative from the paper. Immerse the paper in a tray of water, gently swishing it around. You'll start to see the blue color developing. Continue gently rinsing until green colour of chemical is full gone =_ 1-2 minutes, to ensure the unexposed chemicals are washed away.

Step 6: Dry and Evaluate: Very gently blot the print with a paper towel or gently squeegy and let it air dry in a dim, dust-free area. Once dry, take a close look at your cyanotype test print. Observe the level of detail, contrast, and overall appearance.

Step 7: Adjust and Experiment: Based on your test print, you can adjust your future cyanotype prints. If the image is too light, you may need a longer exposure time; if it's too dark, you might want a shorter exposure. You can also experiment with different objects, negatives, or even toning techniques for unique effects.

Conclusion: Cyanotype test prints are your ticket to artistic discovery. By experimenting with exposure times, objects, and techniques, you'll become a true cyanotype magician, turning ordinary materials into extraordinary art. Embrace the joy of creating, and let your cyanotype test prints guide you toward stunning creations that reflect your unique vision.