Tuesday, August 17, 2010

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