Posted on 04/23/2018 at 12:00 AM by Blog Experts

The history of cyanotypes is interesting. John Frederick William Herschel, a British chemist, presented this method of photography to the Royal Society of London in 1842, although other scientists and chemists had been experimenting with iron salts since the early 1700s. The earliest examples of books containing the cyanotype photograms were created by Anna Atkins in the mid 1840s. The photograms are all of algae and can be seen here.

Now that the weather is getting nicer, having students complete a cyanotype might be a way to get them outside. Students can begin by exploring their environment and looking for forgotten treasures: dandelions, leaves, twigs, pebbles--anything that is of interest to them. Back in the classroom, younger students can describe what they found using texture words. If students have collected flowers or leaves, it’s probably a good idea to press them for 24 hours prior to using them.

The next step would be to have students arrange their items on a sheet practice paper. Once they were satisfied with their arrangement, they can place their items on a sheet of light-sensitive paper. Campbell (2017) describes the process in the video below.

After exposing their arrangement to the sun, students will rinse their paper in clear water. Don’t leave it in the water for more than 30 seconds. After the sun print is dry, students can frame them, make smaller ones for greeting cards, or put them in a journal.


Atkins, A. (1843). Photographs of British algae: Cyanotype impressions. Retrieved from

Dravenstadt, D. (2018). Explore the world around you: A sun printing unit for elementary students. Retrieved from

Stulik, D. C. & Kaplan, A. (2013). Cyanotype. Retrieved from

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