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As part of a campaign to promote my new album, I decided to make t-shirts.  Not satisfied with the traditional silk screening process and wanting to make things completely more difficult than necessary, I thought I would try making cyanotypes on t-shirts.  Essentially, photographs on fabric.  It’s a very touchy process, but I am finding great satisfaction seeing how each one comes out differently.

My father asked for a photographic documentary of the process, so here it is, Dad!  It’s only 50-steps long.

Step One – Start with a high-resolution digital file of a great photograph

This is the album cover that my friend and business partner Irene Liebler created for me.


Step Two – Create a negative.

I made mine in Photoshop by opening the file and pressing Control-I.


Step Three – Gather supplies

I ordered mine from Bostick & Sullivan.  You need Ferric Ammonium Citrate and Potassium Ferricyanide for starters.  If you want a different color other classic cyanotype blue, you’ll need other stuff.  I’m using Bostick & Sullivan’s Cyanotype Bleaching Solution A and Cyanotype Bleaching Solution B.  I’m also using spring water because I have well water that may or may not be softened today.


Step Three -Figure out your proportions

In this case, my containers only hold 900 ml, so I had to adjust accordingly.



Step Four – Mix Solutions A & B in ambient light being careful not to get it on stuff. 

From this point on, everything in your house will start to turn blue.  I’m using a postal scale that also measures in grams.  While I live life on the edge and do everything in the wrong place at the wrong time, I don’t recommend mixing these chemicals in your kitchen next to where you prepare food.

I find I can get between 7-10 shirts coated with 900 ml each of Solution A & B.  It depends on how big the shirts are that you are coating.

Measure Ferric Ammonium Citrate


I bought this beaker because it just seems cooler to use when you’re mixing chemicals.


In goes the Ferric Ammonium Citrate, and stir.


Measuring Potassium Ferricyanide.


Mixing Solution B


At this point, the chemicals can be stored for a few weeks and even months.  I’m using mine tonight.



Step Five – Get your t-shirts ready

I ordered mine from BlankShirts.com and am very happy with their prices and quick delivery.


OH!  I’m just now remembering that I need to wash them and dry them a few times.  I did it three times.  Now everyone is talking about how soft they are!


Step Six – Prepare a sort-of darkroom somewhere.

Check out the high-tech way I turn my laundry room into a darkroom.  For cyanotypes, you don’t need a room that is completely light safe – just mostly.


Cover up anything you don’t want to turn blue.

I covered my floor with those big paper leaf bags and the walls and machines and other stuff with newspaper.  I also made sure all my laundry was PUT AWAY!  I can’t tell you how much of my laundry room is permanently blue from doing this.  Get rubber gloves and use them.


You can do everything by Christmas tree lights without exposing your cyanotypes.



Prepare a place to hang the wet shirts so they can dry overnight without touching anything.  Touching anything organic with the mixed solution turns it permanently blue.  Plastics and metals can be wiped off.


Step Seven – Mix Solutions A & B in your mostly dark room.

Mixing them makes them light-sensitive.  I’m mixing them into a deep bucket into which I will smush a few t-shirts at once.


Step Eight – Coat your shirts

Here I’m smushing a few into the solution.


Squeeze out excess chemical.  For what I paid for it, I consider it precious and want every drop going onto a t-shirt somewhere.


Step Nine – Hang shirts to dry.

I was a bit ambitious.  I’ve coated over 11 shirts!  Set them up with a fan to dry.  I even moved a dehumidifier into the room.  For the best results, I’m finding that I need to expose them the very next day to get the best results.  Therefore, I’m always checking the weather to make sure I have a bright, sunny day the next day before coating.  I wish I knew what I was doing wrong because I think this shouldn’t have to be the case.


Keep dark room safe.



Did I mention that if you get the chemical on stuff, it turns it blue?  It wears off of your skin after a day or two.



If the shirts are coated and dried properly, they will be a light yellow color.  If they start to get exposed at all, they will start to turn an emerald green.  For some reason, this is happening to me – but not enough to wreck the shirts.

Here are my shirts ready to be exposed.


Step Ten – Place negative and glass on top of shirt

The glass needs to smush the negative down on the shirt as hard as possible so no light can get between the negative and the shirt.


The glass edges will create a little bit of a shadow, and you will get a slight image of the rectangle left from the shape of the glass.  Personally, I like this effect.  Here I have three shirts stacked – each on its own piece of foam core.  I like to arrange the shirts with the negative and glass in the dark room so I’m not rushing in the sunlight to get everything set out.


Leave them in the sun from 10 – 20 minutes.  If it’s a mid-summer’s day around noon – you only need about 10 minutes.  If it’s in late fall, like I am here, you’ll need 20 minutes.



I want the backside to be blue too, so flip them over and expose for another 10-20 minutes.  These have already been out for awhile, so they’ve turned darker.  These are almost done.


OH YEAH!  If it’s windy – you’ll have to weigh down your shirts with stuff inside.  I used these:

Step Eleven – rinsing

When exposure is complete, they are developed by rinsing in running water for a few minutes.  I usually rinse until all the yellow gone from the unexposed parts.

If you like the blue that you get here – you are finished!  If you want something different – press on.


Step Twelve – Toning

Mix your Cyanotype Bleaching Solution B and Cyanotype Toning Solution B.  I got mine at Bostick & Sullivan.


Like I said – I don’t recommend using all these chemicals in your cooking area, but I live life on the edge.  A little chemicals with your parsley anyone?


Measure the bleaching solution.  I’m using 100 ml of bleaching solution to 800 ml of water.


And 100 ml of toning solution to 800 ml of water.


Step Thirteen – Put shirt into bleaching solution

This is a little scary – because it makes your image disappear almost altogether.







Step Fourteen – Rinse, rinse, rinse!


Step Fifteen – Put into toning solution.


Step Sixteen – Rinse again


Step Seventeen – Hang out to dry

You could just spin them in your washer and put them in your dryer, but this is more romantic.


Here’s a toned one up close:


Here’s one I did back in the summer.  I think they come out sharper with the sun higher in the sky.





If the shirts are coated and dried properly, they will be a light yellow color.  If they start to get exposed at all, they will start to turn an emerald green.  For some reason, this is happening to me – but not enough to wreck the shirts.