KEH Blog


Experimenting With Cyanotype on Photo Paper

By: Kris Phimsoutham

In recent years, traditional photography has been utilizing the technological advancements of digital photography to gain many benefits from it. Expanding materials limitations and enhancing image quality are a few examples of such benefits. I feel that the processes of alternative printing gains the most from this type of "hybrid photography". Precise multi-negative registration and color separations, for example, are the most common tools used in multicolor gum printing. The color separation negatives are made from digital files. My experience with practicing hybrid photography happened almost accidentally. While experimenting with the cyanotype process, I've made several images using bubble jet photo paper. The results were quite unique and the quality of the images exceeded that of other cyanotype prints that I've made previously.

"Bubble Jet Cyanotype"
This "bubble jet cyanotype" print has a sheen on it's surface and the image itself is sharped beyond the cyanotypes normal capacity. It also appears to set inside the substrate rather than on its surface, which effectively crates an illusion of depth. It reminds me of a Polaroid print (the dye-destruction type).
My "typical" cyanotype print

A typical cyanotype print, (one of mine at least), is made with a medium weight, hot pressed watercolor paper. The appearance of the image's sharpness relies heavily on the surface's texture of its substrate. Textured paper such as heavy weight, cold pressed or handmade paper will soften the image dramatically. Unless you intend for a softer look, a uniform and smooth surface is ideal for the job.

textured cyanotype
After understanding what made this "bubble jet cyanotype" so unique, I feel optimistic about sharing this finding with you. The paper technology that was invented to accommodate ink jet and bubble jet printing can also enhance and improve a century old process with a very impressive result.

Various types of traditional art papers stretch and contract according to its ambient moisture level. If the paper is not properly stretched and sized, controlling the art medium on its surface will be difficult. Painters and printers encounter this problem often. Ink jet paper technology has developed methods to overcome this issue.

cross section illustration
Ink jet photo paper has a nanoporous layer technology incorporated in to its design and construction to control the spreading (bleed) of ink and contain it within designated areas. Remember that this paper is made for a digital printing process. The inks of each color know exactly where they're supposed to go to. But it's the paper that does the controlling and containing of the ink and makes sure that they stay where they belong.

properties of paper illustration
Now, when I coated the cyanotype solution on to a bubble jet photo paper, it treated the solution the same way it does with ink. So, I've got this sensitizer sitting nicely in a uniform and orderly manner in the nanoporous layer of a rigid substrate ready to be printed. This is the key to what makes this "Bubble Jet Cyanotype" print appear so much better, especially its sharpness, than the typical cyanotype. None of the traditional art paper (that I've used) can match its image's appearance to this Bubble Jet photo paper, which was made specifically for the digital printing process.

bleed control illustration
While traditional photography techniques are quickly becoming passe to the mainstream photographic world these days, I feel that we can combine old and new tools and concepts to craft a new identity for both the traditional film and digital photography sectors.
photos © Kris Phimsoutham
Reference illustrations from Mitsubishi Paper Mills Limited

A Creepy Effect for Darkroom Printing

Continuing on this week with more creative tips for your Halloween images, Kris Phimsoutham explains one for those of you who are still printing via traditional methods in a hands-on darkroom, instead of by digital printing.

There are several "painting" techniques that can be used in B&W darkroom printing that might be fun to use on your Fall and Halloween images. They are paint splash, splatter, and drop techniques using darkroom printing chemistry in place of paints. These techniques can be used in darkroom or daylight printing operations such as Photograms & Solargrams. The techniques can be done on their own, or can also be combined with background imagery. In any case, these techniques are fun to do and the results can add a feeling of horror to an otherwise static print.

Quick rundown of the process:   
1. Expose your image by your preferred method, i.e. enlarge, photogram or solargram.  
2. Partially fix or develop the print.  
3. Apply techniques, using brushes, sponge or toothbrush.
4. Once happy with the results, fully develop, fix, rinse and dry as usual.  I recommend fiber-based paper for using with these techniques, because you will have at least twice as long, before the print becomes stabilized, to have fun and be creative with the techniques as you would with RC paper. Your solutions dilution is another factor that will shorten or prolong the time that you will have to apply the techniques. Typically, you'll have anywhere from several minutes to about five minutes to mess with your print. 

What you will need:  
1. A full set up of wet darkroom chemistry (+ some extra): 2 trays of developer solution (first tray dilutes to 10% of its normal strength, second tray dilutes to its normal strength), 1 tray of stop bath, 2 trays of fixer (dilute in the same manner as mentioned in the developer), 1 tray of fixer remover (if printing with fiber-based paper), and a large tray of your rinsing bath. 
2. Cheap paint brushes of different bristle styles, foam brushes/sponges and old toothbrushes.
3. Disposible rubber or latex hand gloves and safty glasses/goggles.  
4. And, lastly, a well ventilated print processing area, darkroom or daylight.  To begin, decide the exposure method. Then set up your wet print processing area accordingly. Though the darkroom is an ideal printing environment, daylight print processing is possible as long as the ambient lights intensity is not excessive, i.e. outside of a building.

Processing prints:  
1. Make an exposure and then put the print in the first fixer bath, agitate it lightly for about 5 seconds and leave it in the tray for about 15 seconds. Agitate it for another 5 seconds. You should keep track of time, so you'll know the remaining time for the print to be in the second bath of fixer once you've finished applying the techniques. The total fixing time from both fixer baths should not exceed the time that is recommended by your chosen fixer, typically around 5 minutes for fiber-based paper.  
2. Take the print out of the solution and let the fixer drip from the print until it stops. Keep track of the time.  
3. Place the print on a flat surface and over the sink area. I use a 1/8" sheet of plexiglass that is 1 size bigger than the size of my print (for example, an 11x14" plexiglass if I'm printing an 8x10" print). A stationary, flat surface is also useable, but you'll limit yourself in techniques that you can apply without being able to move the print around or tilt its surface.  
4. Apply your techniques using developer in place of paint/ink to areas of the print that you want to crate effects- basically, you dip the brush, sponge or toothbrush in either tray of the developers and splash, splatter or drop the solution on the print to create the effects. You can also use other objects such as a hand (with glove on) like in the above image. Always wear gloves and safty glasses/goggles during this entire step as you need to protect yourself, especially your eyes from any chemicals that may splash up. A more diluted developer will give a lighter shade, a normal diluted developer will give an instant dark shade as well as develop that area of the print. If you're printing outside of a darkroom, be aware that the ambient daylight will fog your print faster than the ideal darkroom environment. So, if the ambient light in your daylight print processing area is too intense, put dark curtains over your windows to lessen the intensity. This will also help prolong the working life of your printing chemistry.  You can also dip your print in a 10% strength of developer quickly, to darken the print's overall appearance, then sqeegee off the access solution. Repeat the process a few times to get the prints density to what you want.  
5. Once you're happy with the results, put the print in the second fixer bath and fix it for the remaining duration of the required fixing time.   
6. Rinse your print. If you're using fiber-based paper, use fixer remover or washing aid before giving it a final wash. Then, dry your print by your normal method.

You may need a few good practice sessions before you get the hang of these printing techniques, and it's best to treat it as an experimenting project. For those of us who love darkroom works, this is just another way we can express our creativity. 

images © Kris Phimsoutham

Photo Greeting Cards

Personalized holiday cards are always a big hit with family and friends. No, it doesn't have to be a picture of your kids or scenery around your house. The perfect vacation picture from earlier in the year or maybe a family reunion picture will work as well. The possibilities are endless, so get creative! Take a look at your images from the past year and if you don't see something that you like, then plan a photo shoot to create a new image just for the card. With images being viewed primarily via computer these days, it's extra nice to give/receive a printed version.

Most companies that print photo greeting cards offer the use of different templates. This allows someone with little editing and graphic design skills to be able to create their own. If you have your own photo editing software, then you also have the option to do your layout yourself without the help of a template. Keep in mind that the photo might be formatted to print as a 4x6 or 5x7, but it will be printed and cut on a machine. You may want to leave a little more room on the edges than expected to allow for trimming. I suggest always having one test image printed at the lab before you order a large quantity.

Prices vary from company to company, and changes depending on size, style, and paper options.

© Lisa Schwendeman, designed in Photoshop

Design by Morgan Calhoun, in Microsoft Publisher.

Another option is the Photo Holder Card. This is where you insert an image into a frame or sleeve. Companies like Target and Hallmark typically carry these. Keep in mind that with this option, you will have two costs: printing the images and the cost of the cards themselves. This typically tends to be more expensive, but is made from better quality materials.

The great thing about photo cards is that they can go straight into a standard frame for display. They also aren't just for the holidays. Think about other times when they can be used, such as for teachers, coaches, birthdays, etc.

A few online sources:
Cards Direct
Kodak Gallery

- Lisa Schwendeman

Photo Calendars

There's many options for creating your own photo calendars, including the traditional wall and desktop calendars. Most of the websites and places that offer photo card printing services also offer calendar printing services.

But what about something different...

Calendar from Calendar Project

It can be changed around every month, customized, created 100% by you, seen from farther away, and is a little more design driven than the typical wall calendars.

PWD Labs Interview

Our interview today is with Jerry Weiner, Owner and CEO of PWD Labs. He weighs in about business, the photographic printing industry, offers some tips, and shares where he finds inspiration.

Tell me a little bit about your background.

I am an accountant by training, but I have an entrepreneurial urge. After spending the first 10 years of my career in accounting and banking, I started a bank accounting software business for PCs in 1982. That took off and was sold to a public company in 1997. In 2001, I retired at the ripe old age of 50. After 5 years of community volunteer work, I found myself back in business with PWD at the beginning of 2007.

What made you decide to start PWD Labs?

The digital revolution had created a great deal of disruption in the industry. Labs no longer processed images as they did in the film days and photographers were struggling to produce images that resulted in acceptable prints. By 2007, photographers found themselves spending seemingly endless hours processing images instead of building their businesses during a time of dramatic change. By providing complete image processing services we enable photographers to spend more time doing more important things while their images are professionally processed for them.

Who is your typical customer?

The majority of our customers shoot events and portraits (seniors, babies, families, schools, teams, etc.). They come from more than 40 states and a handful of foreign countries. They represent both full-time professionals as well as semi-pros. We are fortunate to serve some of the most respected photographers in the industry.

Why might a photographer want to use your services instead of doing it themselves?

Photographers have a passion for photography because they love to capture the light they see filtered by their own creativity. Our post-production services are designed to enable professional photographers to free themselves from endless hours in front of the computer so they can spend more time behind the camera pushing the limits of their art as well as building their business and spending time with family & friends.

Giving up control is a major concern for a lot of photographers; understandably so. But once they realize that they can control their image processing without actually having to do the work themselves, they can begin to bring some order and balance to their lives. This is especially true for younger photographers that have a family. Kids don’t wait to grow up.

Quality prints start with quality images. These become input to a process that has the technical discipline required to consistently produce outstanding prints. We pay attention to those details and provide photographers with quality products at a fraction of the cost of them doing it themselves. And we do it all – post-production and printing – with a smile. Why wouldn’t a photographer want to use our services?

Where is the printing industry headed?

Photo printing has shifted to where a great deal of it is now done in-home by consumers or in-studio by photographers. Traditional, silver halide prints produced by professional labs have plummeted in price from where they were 10 years ago making the lab business much more competitive – and difficult for smaller players. Finding a specialty niche is important. Most of the new technology continues to be focused on image capture, processing and management, but not on printing.

The market for post-production services is also still emerging and continuing to grow by leaps and bounds. We have released a number of new services to meet these emerging needs based on input from our customers and others in the market. We are excited about where the industry is going and the role that we are playing in the on-going evolution of digital image processing services.

What are some of the challenges you face in the current economy?

When a photographer’s income goes down, the first thing they think to cut is their post- production cost. In actuality, this does the photographer more harm than good because they return to spending hours-on-end editing their own work. This leads to burn out, family stress, and abandoned friends. But worse, it keeps a photographer from doing what they should be doing in a down economy: more aggressive marketing. Clients are now harder to get and photographers need to work harder to book them. That can’t be done by sitting in front of the computer working on images.

What is your best selling product?

Our best selling product is our Signature Color Correction service. Photographers like it because we tailor the work we do to their particular style by assigning them a team of editors that does each job they send us. This enables the photographer to develop a relationship with our editors which helps us provide services that more closely match their individual style.

What are some important tips to follow to get the best prints?

The most important thing is to capture an image that is technically correct (that has not changed since the days of film negatives). What has changed is the need to calibrate your monitor regularly and work in a controlled light environment with quality hardware and software tools that you are trained to use. Keep it simple. Shoot and work in sRGB. If you do, the prints you get back from your lab should match what you see on your screen.

I understand you personally like to shoot underwater photography as well. Tell me a little about that.

I average two trips a year where I do between 20-25 dives total. I can’t fathom ever satisfying my urge to shoot underwater. There is a whole world of fish, coral, sponge, landscapes and other creatures – large and small. I have been shooting underwater long enough now that I have a good assortment of the common things and a few uncommon ones. I try to improve my collection and fill in the gaps when I see species or variations that I don’t have. I have found it a great way to learn what all of these creatures are. They didn’t teach me any of this in the course of getting my accounting degree.

Where do you find inspiration?

My parents taught me to work hard, be nice to others and appreciate what we had, even though we didn’t have a lot of “things”. Growing up in America with a family rich in cultural traditions made me feel special. Also, growing up with a brother that is developmentally disabled, I got to see both how kind and how unkind people can be. My first business took me to six continents. I saw the finest and the poorest of places. I have a wife I love and two wonderful sons. I find inspiration everywhere, every day.


Bonus Reading/Link: How Long Will Your Photo Prints Last? Jerry Weiner and three other experts weigh in.

- Patrick Douglas


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