Cost of Alternative Processes

Blue PrintAs I am getting ready to teach a workshop with Kim Weston this weekend, I whipped up some New Cyanotype solution to give to the students to try with Weston Diploma paper.

So, while one can start dropping pretty pennies on platinum printing (saving money by the usual mixing with the only slightly less costly palladium salt), there are inexpensive ways to explore alternative printing processes. I decided to do some calculations of what it costs to do a print with Mike Ware’s New Cyanotype. I started going down this “alternative printing processes for the rest of us” after Judy Seigel urged me to buy my cyanotype chemicals in bulk because it was so cheap and simple, and then I found an interesting paper for New Cyanotype that was very inexpensive. Mike Ware’s New Cyanotype is not much more costly than the traditional method, and produces results (albeit in blue) rivaling palladium for tonal scale and detail.

Let me run through some numbers.

I am normalizing the primary chemicals, Ferric Ammonium Oxalate and Pottassium Ferricyanide, to maximize use (no left over primary checmistry). They are combine in a ratio of 3:1 respectively. Prices from Artcraft Chemicals yield the following costs in bulk:

  • 1 lb Potassium Ferricyanide – $16.50
  • 3 lb Ferric Ammonium Oxalate – $34.50 * 3 = $103.50
  • 0.5 lb Ammonium Dichromate – $18.00
  • 1 lb Citric Acid – $6.00

The chemicals above will make 4,500 ml of sensitizing solution. 0.1 gm of Dichromate per 100 ml solution extends the shelf life of the single solution to five years. Store in amber bottle. One drop of 40% Citric Acid solution (stored separately) is needed per ml of sensitizer to prevent chemical fogging. Total cost? $144.

r0012432Now let’s finish the calculations. 5 ml of solution are needed to coat a 16″ x 20″ print, yielding 900 prints – or $0.16/sheet. Or alternately 3600 8″ x 10″ prints. I purchased 500 sheets of 22″ x 34″ Weston Diploma in bulk and with shipping that ran $625. Or $1.25 per large sheet, cut in half for 1,000 sheets measuring 22″ x 17″ at $0.63 per half sheet.

Total consumable material cost? $0.79 per 16″ x 20″ print.

Of course you need distilled water (couple bucks). Printing frame. Ultraviolet source (sun will work in a pinch). A couple plastic trays for processing. Brush for coating.

You will have loads of Citric Acid left – good to acidify alkaline water (cyanotypes and alkaline environments don’t mix). You will also have some Ammonium Dichromate – perhaps consider gum printing?

What are you waiting for?


  1. Chandra
    Posted Friday, September 9, 2011 at 3:53 am | Permalink

    Hi, I’m just starting with cyanotype printing on silk and because of the nature of my work, will be printing hundreds of A2, A1 and larger pieces. I’m looking for a way to get the bulk chemicals cheaply in Europe. I live in Berlin and bought some readimade Mike Wares from Bostick & SUllivan but need to find a more economical way since the product plus shipping is too much for the quantity I’m working with. Do you have a source? Thanks

    • Posted Saturday, August 11, 2012 at 10:57 pm | Permalink

      Sorry for the slow reply. No in Europe – don’t know sources there. In US, Artcraft sells quality chemicals in bulk relatively inexpensive. There have to be other places – the problem I found was sources of checmicals that were more expensive (for fine pharmaceutical or analytical work), or less expensive but much larger quantities, or requiring a commercial license to deal with a wholesaler. Sorry.

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