Cyanotype: Squishing the digital negative tonal range

Sunny days; cyanotype printing weather! And I continue to learn a little bit more about the Cyanotype printing process, in this case, deviling deeper into the weeds regarding the making of a digital negative for contact printing. When I recently obtained Christina Anderson’s book on Gum Printing, this book purchase was about obtaining more information about what I was intending to investigate the Cyanotype printing process, while she actually provides some very interesting information about making a digital negative using Photoshop for Cyanotype contact printing, since some individuals print their Gum over an initial Cyanotype layer. Win-win!

Thus, when Anderson started to discuss Digital Negatives and stated that Cyanotypes printing requires a ‘squishy’ tonal scale for the digital negative, I was totally on board. For my first digital negatives my Cyanotype prints were getting blown out in the highlights, such as my first attempts to print Surf-Rider II, as discussed here. I had tried some traditional contrast controlling tricks with an adjustment layer, but I was not doing so well as I was working off what I saw on my monitor, not realizing the required transition to a very short tonal scale medium like a Cyanotype. For Cyanotypes, what you see on your monitor is not what you might get…nevertheless, I am thinking about that as well with how I might compensate for the Cyanotype short tonal range using my color management system…hmmmm…

Anderson in her book provided a recommended generic Cyanotype printing adjustment curve for Photoshop to get the practitioner into the ball park, see my adjustment layer curve the bottom, below. Just above it is the original image I was trying to print as a Cyanotype and you can notice the substantial decrease in the resulting image on my monitor. In my original photo, below, there is detail in the white caps and surf turbulence, while in my first attempts, this detail is gone, all white and essentially blown out. As is the far horizon and much of the sky.

Using the Anderson adjustment curve did wonders, as seen above. Her curve kicked up the darks while really reducing the whites. But it worked. Now my cyanotype print has some sky tonality, you can barely make out the far shore line bluffs and a lot more detail in the surf turbulence as well as the wind swept water on top of the surf break. Big time improvements for this Cyanotype using this adjustment curve. Now I can start to sweat the details regarding this Cyanotype’s tonal structure.

Except, Anderson references other Cyanotype adjustment curves found on the Web. Yep! I found a couple more. So before I go much further with using and evaluating the Anderson’s digital negative adjustment curves, I am just starting to evaluate another download Cyanotype curve from the Bostick and Sullivan web site, here.

A good time for a technical caveat; Anderson and the Bostick and Sullivan curves were created for printing a digital negative on an Epson 3880 printer, while I have a Canon printer. All I can say is that both Anderson and the Bostick and Sullivan curves seem to work just fine for my Canon printer and subsequent Cyanotype prints. Both are meant to help you get into the ball park, then you (and me) will need to make some fine tuning adjustments as to your work flow and the intended results you pre-visualized.

I am finding that as I evaluate the resulting Cyanotypes and the adjustment layers I am using (cause and effect), I am also learning a lot more about how to achieve what I want with a print regarding the fine tuning of an adjustment curve I need.

Cheers & make every day an Earth Day



 The Flow of Light Brushes the Shadow, an artist book from Singular Images Press, Fall 2022 release, $60.00 (CA sales tax for those residing in the USA) plus shipping expenses. Message me or singularimagespress@gmail for shipping details and PayPal invoice.

Note: The Artist Special Edition (book + extra print) is Sold Out

Book workshop:

Southeast Center for Photography (SEC4P): Creative PhotoBook workshop, (Sold Out) a virtual event on Zoom; February 25, 26 & March 4 & 5th 2023; from 10am – 1 pm, EST (3 hour session each day, with a week between the weekend sessions to work your book-dummy). 


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