Tipster: Tinting and Staining Cyanotypes


After making a whole bunch of cyanotypes recently, I started to play around a bit and experiment with tinting or staining my prints. From bright blueprints, I turned them into sepia-tinted pictures.

Credits: stratski

When you tint a cyanotype, you use a liquid containing tannin to turn the blue into sepia or brown tints. Tannin can be found in all sorts of things like coffee, tea, red wine, and acorns. Staining your prints is pretty easy. Here's how I did it.

  • I made sure my cyanotypes were at least a day old and completely dry.
  • To get the print ready, I soaked it a few minutes in water with a small spoonful of washing soda (Please note: Washing soda is not the same as baking soda).
  • I rinsed it in clean water.
  • I dropped the print into my tannin liquid and waited until the print turned brown. How long this takes depends on the type of liquid, how strong it is, etc. It may take between five minutes and a few hours. (Scan below for a list of tannin concoctions.)
  • I rinsed it again in clean water and let it dry.
Before and after tinting. Credits: stratski

Easy as pie, right? Here are the liquids I tried.

Green Tea

This is my favourite so far. It produces a nice aubergine brown and doesn't stain the paper too much. A strong cup of tea took just a few minutes to colour my print.

Credits: stratski

Black Tea

Works fine as well, but it stains the paper more than green tea.

Credits: stratski


I made very strong (as in undrinkable) instant coffee. It took longer than tea to stain the prints and also stained the paper more than tea. It's more brownish black than aubergine.

Credits: stratski

Unripe Grapes Boiled in Water

Because the peels and seeds of grapes also contain tannin, I thought I'd try boiling up some unripe grapes from my garden. This didn't do much, except stain the paper. I used black tea to stain my print anyway.

From left to right: the original picture; print stained with grapes; print stained with black tea. Credits: stratski


I also used some old sherry wine that I sometimes use for cooking. This did nothing at all. I guess sherry doesn't contain much tannin.


I smashed up some acorns with a hammer and boiled them to get the tannin out. This liquid turned my print dark purplish brown in about an hour. I like the color, though the print turned out a bit too dark for my taste.

Credits: stratski

It's fun experimenting with different things, but staining cyanotypes can also be a useful trick. You might want to try making cyanotypes on fabric. This is totally possible.

Credits: stratski

Note: A cyanotype on fabric can never be washed in normal detergent, which contains phosphates. Other types of soap are okay, like special detergent for delicates, or biodegradable eco soap. Make a test cloth before trying it on your precious shirt though. However, if by accident you do wash it in normal detergent, you can revive the print by soaking it in tannin. I recommend green tea, as this doesn't stain the rest of the fabric too much.

From left to right: original, after washing, after soaking in tea. Credits: stratski

Thinking of this property of detergent, I used it to lighten up cyanotypes that turned out too dark. I mixed a bit of detergent with water and soaked a dark print to see what would happen. The result was not bad at all! You have to be careful not to soak it too long, or it will get too light or even disappear. If this happens and you stain it with tea or coffee, your image will come back, but it will be just as dark again as the original.

Left: the dark original. Right: bleached for about a minute in soapy water.

If the detergent doesn't dissolve completely (because, like me, you are not patient enough to mix it properly), you can get some spotty effects where specks of washing powder bleach harder than the rest of the liquid.

Credits: stratski

So these were my cyanotype staining experiments. I look forward to seeing yours!

Here are some more tipsters for you to have fun with:

written by Maaike van Stratum (@stratski) on 2015-09-26 #gear #tutorials #tipster #cyanotype #tannin


  1. ivanlietaert
    ivanlietaert ·

    Wow! This post, together with the link to the cyanotypes page, opens a whole path for my photography! Can't wait to start experimenting!!!!! Thank you so much!

  2. buckshot
    buckshot ·

    @stratski You're a wizard! :)

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