As alternative photographic processes go, cyanotype printing is one of the easiest and most economical. Images are made by placing objects or photo negatives on paper that has been sensitized with irons salts, then exposing them in direct sun or ultraviolet light. The results, which appear in white and stunning blues, can capture remarkable detail. In 1843, the artist Anna Atkins famously made the very first photobook using this process, making elegant prints of algae, ferns, and flowers. Now, cyanotype printing has made a comeback, with artists and hobbyists alike embracing the mesmerizing form. While Atkins had to prepare her own paper—following a formula developed by British polymath John Herschel—you can purchase modern papers that come pre-coated, ready for use on a sunny day.
1. Nature Print Paper
Cyanotypes can be tricky to master because the science depends on a range of factors, including what objects you’re capturing, the time of day and weather, and the strength of your light source. So it typically takes a few trial runs before you get a nicely tinted print. This pack wins us over because it offers 40 sheets of high-quality paper at a reasonable cost—you won’t have to feel precious about them and can experiment freely. The sheets are capable of turning a dreamy deep blue, and they can handle being dunked in water (or even run under a sink) without easily tearing. Once dry, they will be slightly wrinkled, but simply place them under heavy books to flatten them out.
2. SunPrint Paper Kit
If you are looking for larger paper sizes, we recommend this option of 8-inch by 12-inch sheets. You can capture the forms of much bigger objects, and it will still only take you a few minutes of exposure in bright and direct sunlight to create a lasting impression. This is a tried and trusted brand of papers originally developed by the Lawrence Hall of Science in 1975 to introduce people of all ages to the art and science of cyanotypes. Decades on, it remains one of the best-quality and most reliable papers to make casual sun prints.
3. TEDCO Sun Art Paper Kit
Tedco’s reactive papers offer a good-quality, budget-friendly option for making sun-powered art. It is a little tricky to get consistent blues, but the colors are still very pleasing. These are also pretty flimsy sheets—suitable for crafting but not for archival purposes. However, they do well to illustrate the artistry of cyanotypes, and they are a great activity to pull out in the classroom, on a nature trip, or during a birthday party.
4. Jacquard Cyanotype Pretreat Fabric Sheets
Cyanotype printing doesn’t have to be limited to paper. You can create prints on silk, hemp, wood, leather, and even fabric. We highly recommend these cotton sateen sheets from Jacquard, which are pretreated with a sensitizer so you can use them immediately. The fabric is crisp, consistent, and even washable (although archival, finished results can fade with overwashing). Whether you are new to this process or an experienced photogram maker, these cloths offer a special way to present images.
5. SunCreations Cyanotype Paper
Traditionally, cyanotypes are white and blue, but there are methods to tone them using substances such as the tannins from tea. There are also specialized pretreated papers, like these from SunCreations that give you blank surfaces in unconventional colors. This pack comes with natural fiber paper in varied hues, including pink, yellow, green, and red. The paper is much more finicky than our other picks, and the images can come out streaky, but this isn’t a bad option if you’re looking for a slightly more challenging approach to cyanotypes.