Sequence viewing > Index - Alternative Photo Emulsions - Resource - © Lloyd Godman

Toning a Cyanotype

Brown Toning

This method uses tannic acid to slow the action of the toner, sodium carbonate (washing soda).

  • Tannic acid (common tea can be used as a substitute)
  • Sodium carbonate, or washing soda
  • Common ammonia
  • Water
  • Borax
  • Cyanotypes, developed and washed
  • Plastic trays


1. Mix a tannic acid solution using 1 gram of tannic acid per 100 ml of water.



2. Mix a second, separate solution using 1 gram of sodium carbonate per 100 ml of water.



3. Submerge the cyanotype into the tannic acid solution for about five to 10 seconds. Remove the cyanotype and wash with water.



4. Place the cyanotype into a tray of the second solution, watching the print until the desired color is obtained.


5. Place the print into a water wash for a minimum of five minutes.  


Violet-Toned Cyanotypes

1. Prepare a solution using 5 ml ammonia per 100 ml water. This solution serves to bleach out cyanotype prints.



2. Make a second solution using 1 gram of tannic acid per 100 ml of water.



3. Make a third solution using cold water and borax.



4. Immerse the cyanotype into the ammonia solution. Remove once the desired bleaching effect has occurred. Wash thoroughly. Time permitting, allow the print to dry so the ammonia can fully evaporate.



5. Place the bleached print into the tannic acid solution until desired color is reached. Remove from solution and wash in water.


6. Immerse the print in the cold water and borax solution until desired "violet tinge" is obtained. Allow the print to dry.  


Split-Toning for a Blue/Yellow Effect

1. Prepare a solution using 5 ml ammonia per 100 ml water. Immerse the washed and developed cyanotype in solution ONE; the effect will be to bleach the print. The extent of the bleaching will affect the extent of the split toning.


Wash the print, retaining the ammonia solution for future use  

2. Prepare a second solution using 1 gram tannic acid per 100 ml of water.



3. Soak the cyanotype in the ammonia solution until desired bleaching effect has taken place. Remove from solution and wash thoroughly.


4. Place the washed print into the tannic acid solution until the desired effect is achieved. Wash for a minimum of five minutes. Hang to dry or place on mesh rack.  


Tips & Warnings

  • These are just a few examples of toning processes. Other colors and tones can be achieved using different chemicals and techniques.
  • Cyanotype toning is by no means an exact science. Various factors will contribute to the final outcome of your picture. Initial exposure time, darkness or lightness are all factors. Part of the fun is playing around to find a process that you like best.
  • Keep a record of toning processes. That way, if you find a process you particularly enjoy, you will have an easy point of reference.
  • Toning solutions can be reused. Just store them in plastic bottles and keep in a cool, dry, safe place.


POSITIVE CYANOTYPE - Pellet’s process

5 g oxalic acid
10 ml ferric chloride (45 Baume)
9.5 g gum Arabic
100 ml water,
Mix into a solution and coat the paper.
Expose for five minutes in sunlight or 15 minutes or so under a UV lamp until the a pale yellow image can be seen
Develop by brushing on a 20% solution of potassium ferrOcyanide.
Place in a dish of clean water for some minutes.
Transfer the print to a dish of 1% hydrochloric acid until the whites clear.
This process is intended for line images but continuous tone images can be achieved - although there are far easier ways of doing it !

Note : Ferric Chloride is the corrosive alkaline used for etching gravure plates


Toning is possible.  Though not necessary for permanence, toning can give interesting variations on print color. A 5% solution of lead acetate is said to give a deeper ultramarine color or sometimes a grey or violet color (at longer toning times), though the solution is quite toxic. Tea and coffee are also used as toners.  A teaspoon or two of instant coffee in a liter of water is my favorite toner.



Want to learn more? - do a workshop or one on one with Lloyd Godman