How to Mimic a Digital Cyanotype Using Photoshop with Ease

How to Mimic a Digital Cyanotype Using Photoshop with Ease


A Cyanotype was a popular film printing process that gave an appealing, beautiful cyan-colored tone to an image. Sounds nice right? Would you like to create one? Don’t worry – you don’t have to go back to the darkroom or become a chemist and waste tons of material to do it. I’ll show you how to create a digital Cyanotype using Photoshop.

EXTRA TIP: Because you achieved a Cyanotype by applying light-sensitive emulsion onto the paper (or surface) you were going to print on, the first thing you need is a background that mimics this effect. If you’re feeling crafty, you can buy yourself a brush, some paint and physically do your background. Then scan it and make it the size and resolution that better fits the image you’re going to use.

However, if doing so is a hassle, you can create your background digitally. Because I promised you digital Cyanotype, I’ll show you the latter.

Step 1:

First, pick the Brush tool from the Toolbox. Here, you’ll be able to pick the size and type of brush. From the Options Bar that is now active, choose your color. Select a brush with a wide tip, like a fan, so that the effect emulates brushstrokes and not a pen or a marker. The brush size depends on the size of your document.

It’s okay to make it uneven. Remember, the original method used hand-made techniques, so uneven gives it a nice unique look. For now, use black because the tone is applied later. Since we’re discussing color, I’ll use this space to tell you that, in my experience, any photo with a black or dark background blends easily. However, it’s possible to use any image.

Step 2:

Open the image you are turning into a Cyanotype and desaturate it. To achieve this, you need to go to Menu -> Adjustments -> Image -> Hue/Saturation. Move the Saturation slider all the way down to the left.

Once you have your image, drag it into the canvas where you created the brushstroke background. It gets pasted as a new layer in that document. Drag the corners to make it the right size for your background and click on the check mark to apply.

Step 3:

Select the layer with the brushstrokes and add an Adjustment layer of Levels. Move the black and the middle tones to lighten the color so that your black becomes dark grey.

Step 4:

Next, select the top layer – the one with your image, and add another Adjustment layer. This time choose Color Balance. Here you can make a combination to find the right tone of blue you want. As a starting point, use the ones I’m using: Cyan -62 and Blue +95.

Step 5:

Once you’re satisfied with the color of your image, you can choose to make it less intense by adding another Adjustment layer. Always keep the layer on top selected so that the new Adjustment layer covers all layers. Add a Hue/Saturation Adjustment layer and move the Saturation slider a little bit to the left. Be careful not to go too much into the gray because it may no longer resemble a Cyanotype.

Step 6:

If you can see the borders of the image you pasted, the balance isn’t right. It’s not incorporating well with the background. To fix this issue,  change the layer Blending Mode. Select the image layer and open the Blending Mode menu. Choose Lighten or Screen to achieve a better result.

However, if there is still some evidence of the border, choose the Eraser tool from the Tool Box and lower the opacity. Choose a brush with soft borders and erase so that you can defuse the border and make it a smoother transition.

Your finished Cyanotype

You should now have your finished Cyanotype. I hope you enjoyed the tutorial and gave it a go. Please share your results in the comment section below.

More retro photography techniques

If you like retro photography techniques, you may also find these articles useful:

How to Create a Lithography Effect Using Photoshop

How to Duotone a Photograph in Photoshop

How To Mimic a Cross-Processing Effect in Photoshop

How to Mimic Lomography in Photoshop with Ease

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Ana Mireles is a photographer and artistic researcher. She has been awarded and exhibited in Mexico, Italy, and the Netherlands. Through theory and practice, she explores the cultural aspect of photography, how it helps us relate to each other, the world, and ourselves. She has also a passion for teaching, communication, and social media. You can find more about her and her work at her website or acquire some of her works here.