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Home photography ideas: How to make a sunprint in just 30 minutes

How to make a sunprint cyanotype
THE MISSION

Photography tips (opens in new tab) for how to make Sunprints from everyday subjects

Time needed: 30 minutes

Skill level: Beginner

Kit needed: Sunprint paper • Printed photos or interesting objects

Watch the video: learn how to make a sunprint

As the seasons change and the sun reappears, use the boost in light to create your very own homemade Sunprints. It is a great project to do at home in the garden - and it is also something that you can do with children of all ages when they are off school.

First things first, what on earth are Sunprints (opens in new tab)? Put simply, Sunprint is a special type of photographic paper that’s based on the cyanotype process, and it’s sensitive to the sun. You can pick it online (opens in new tab) or from craft shops. 

When you expose it to bright daylight, areas that block the sun’s light show up in white, and the rest of the paper turns a vibrant blue. These blue prints have bags of character. You can either make prints of physical objects straight onto the paper, or transfer images taken on your DSLR via a transparency sheet, which is the method we’re demonstrating here. 

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The beauty of this project is its simplicity. You don’t need a darkroom, any fancy kit or extensive knowledge of film processing to get going. Plus, unlike traditional photo prints, Sunprints can be made without any photo chemicals at all, so they’re really great to try out with enthusiastic kids who have art and science projects.

See how you can transform your own digital pictures to authentic homemade photo prints using this quick-and-easy process.  All you need is a little bit of sunshine, water and imagination. Expose, develop, then rinse the paper in water, and watch – as if by magic – a beautiful long-lasting image begin to appear. 

FIRST STAGE: Prepare your image

You’ll need a negative version of the photo you want to turn into a Sunprint

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01 PICK YOUR SHOT

First, decide what photo(s) to try out. Generally, high-contrast scenes work best, as the final result will only be in a blue monochrome. Images that are already in black and white lend themselves well to the technique. Avoid complex photos and those that rely on lots of tonal details.

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02 TURN IT AROUND

In Photoshop (or similar editing software), convert your digital image to greyscale mode, and invert the tones by going to Image>Mode>Greyscale, then Image> Adjustments>Invert (or hit Cmd/Ctrl+I). You might want to boost the contrast of the negative a little before you proceed.

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03 PRINT IT OUT

Print your image out at the same size you want it to be on your Sunprint paper. Printers can be pesky, so this might take a few tests and tweaks to the layout options. Use standard rather than fancy photo paper, and if possible, print your images in black and white or greyscale.

HEAD OUTSIDE: Soak up the sunshine

You only need a few household items to get started on this project

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STEP BY STEP: Expose the paper

Follow this simple method for unusual homemade prints

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01 GATHER SUPPLIES

Fill up a developer container with water and set it to one side. Grab some Sunprint paper, roughly matching its size with your negative. If your kit doesn’t have Perspex, use glass from a cheap photo frame.

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02 IN THE SHADE

The blue chemicals embedded in Sunprint paper are sensitive to ultra-violet light. It’s important to set up your prints inside or out of direct sunlight, otherwise the paper is likely to start exposing too quickly.

03 PREPARE THE PHOTO

Place your negative on top of the Sunprint paper (blue side up). Line up the glass, negative, Sunprint paper, and a piece of cardboard, then use a few bits of tape to secure it together and stop it sliding around.

04 SUNBATHE YOUR PRINT

Let the print bask for about 20 minutes, and check the exposure of the paper by lifting a corner back from the frame. When the edges are white, it’s fully exposed. On a cloudy day, it might need an extra five minutes.

05 HIT THE WATER

When there’s a clear imprint of your image on the paper, rinse your Sunprint. Take it off the back of the glass and place it into the water tray. It’ll change from a negative to a positive before your eyes. 

06 SEE THE MAGIC

Take your print out of the water after a few minutes and let it dry naturally. The colours will deepen as the paper dries. Avoid touching the surface of the paper and, ideally, peg it up or lie it flat somewhere. Voila!

ALTERNATIVE APPROACH: USE OBJECTS

(Image credit: PhotoPlus)

Why not try placing flat objects, such as feathers and leaves, directly on to the Sunprint paper? Flatten your favorite objects between the paper and the acrylic or glass sheet, then follow the same exposing and developing method. The exposure time needed will be much shorter, as the sunlight won’t have to penetrate any paper.

Read more
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11 fantastic photo projects to try indoors  (opens in new tab)

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Lauren is the Managing Editor of Digital Camera World, having previously served as Editor of Digital Photographer (opens in new tab) magazine, a practical-focused publication that inspires hobbyists and seasoned pros alike to take truly phenomenal shots and get the best results from their kit. 


An experienced photography journalist who has been covering the industry for over seven years, she has also served as technique editor for both PhotoPlus: The Canon Magazine (opens in new tab)PhotoPlus: The Canon Magazine and DCW's sister publication, Digital Camera Magazine (opens in new tab)


In addition to techniques and tutorials that enable you to achieve great results from your cameras, lenses, tripods and other photography equipment, Lauren can regularly be found interviewing some of the biggest names in the industry, sharing tips and guides on subjects like landscape and wildlife photography, and raising awareness for subjects such as mental health and women in photography.