The post How to Create a Cyanotype Effect in Photoshop (Step By Step) appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Ana Mireles.

Create a beautiful cyanotype using Photoshop

Back in the early days of photography, the cyanotype process was a popular way to create images with an appealing, beautiful cyan-colored tone. You can still produce cyanotypes today – in fact, there’s been a resurgence in cameraless-cyanotype processes among fine-art photographers – but it requires darkroom chemicals. (In fact, we have a comprehensive guide to creating physical cyanotypes right here!)

Fortunately, if you’re interested in creating the cyanotype look, you don’t have to go back to the darkroom or become a chemist and waste tons of material along the way. You can create a digital cyanotype using Photoshop, and that’s what I’ll show you today.

Note: Because photographers achieved a cyanotype by applying light-sensitive emulsion onto the paper (or surface) on which they wanted to print, the first thing you need is a background that mimics this effect. If you’re feeling crafty, you can buy a brush and some blue paint and physically create your background. Then scan it and make it the size and resolution that best fits the image you want to use.

That said, you can create your background digitally. And because I promised you a digital cyanotype technique, I’ll include the background-creation process in my tutorial!

Here’s what you do:

Step 1: Create your cyanotype background

You’ll want to start by opening Photoshop. Create a new file with a blank white canvas.

Go ahead and select the Brush tool on the left-hand side of the screen, and pick the size and type of brush. From the Options Bar, choose your brush features; I recommend picking a brush with a wide tip, like a fan, so that the effect emulates paint brushstrokes and not a pen or a marker.

The brush size will depend on the size of your document, but you’ll want to keep it relatively big to create a “brushed-on” effect:

How to create a cyanotype with Photoshop

In terms of the brush color, use black because the blue tone will be applied later.

Then go ahead and cover much of the canvas with your brush. The goal isn’t to paint the entire thing black, but to simulate a piece of paper with a light-sensitive emulsion painted on, like this:

How to create a cyanotype with Photoshop

It’s okay to make the brushstrokes uneven. Remember, the original method used hand-made techniques, so uneven brushing strokes will result in a nice unique look.

Step 2: Add your image

Now it’s time to bring in the image you want to give the cyanotype treatment. In my experience, any photo with a black or dark background blends nicely with the cyanotype background. However, it’s possible to use any image. (If you’re not sure which image to pick, remember that this is a fairly quick process, so you can always try it out on several!)

Open the image as a new Photoshop document and desaturate it. To achieve this, select Image>Adjustments>Hue/Saturation in the main menu. Then move the Saturation slider all the way down to the left:

How to create a cyanotype with Photoshop

Now that you have a monochrome image, go ahead and drag it into the canvas where you created the brushstroke background. It’ll get pasted as a new layer in that document.

Reposition it so that it fits nicely on the “painted” portion of the background. If you need to resize the photo, press Ctrl/Cmd+T and drag the corners until it looks good. Click on the check mark to apply.

You should now have an image looking something like this:

How to create a cyanotype with Photoshop

Step 3: Lighten the background

At this point, we’re going to lighten our brushstrokes to blend more nicely with the image.

Make sure that your brushstroke layer is selected and not the image layer. Then click on the Adjustment Layer icon and choose Levels:

How to create a cyanotype with Photoshop

This will create a layer that sits between the image layer and the “canvas” background layer, which means that it will only affect the brushstrokes and not the photo.

You can do a lot with a Levels adjustment, but like I said, our goal is to lighten the brushstroke background. Grab the Midtones slider and drag it slightly downward (see the screenshot above for guidance!). Then grab the Blacks slider and bring it subtly upward so the black becomes a dark gray.

Step 4: Create the blue effect

Cyanotypes are supposed to look blue, but we’re currently dealing with a black-and-white image on a gray canvas.

So here’s what we need to do:

First, make sure the top layer (i.e., the one with your image) is selected. Click the Adjustment Layer icon, then add a Color Balance layer:

How to create a cyanotype with Photoshop

By tweaking the sliders, you can create a nice blue tone. Feel free to experiment, but as a starting point, try my settings: Cyan -62, Magenta 0, and Blue +95.

Once you’re satisfied with the color of your image, you can continue on with the next step, or you can choose to make it less intense by adding another adjustment layer.

(Remember to always keep the layer on top selected so that the new adjustment layer affects all the layers!)

Specifically, you can add a Hue/Saturation layer, then move the Saturation slider a little bit to the left:

How to create a cyanotype with Photoshop

This will subtly desaturate the image and reduce the intensity of the blues. Just be careful not to add too much desaturation; otherwise, your image will no longer resemble a cyanotype.

Step 5: Blend the image and the background

If you can still see the borders of the image on your brushstroke background, the balance isn’t quite right. We want to ensure that the image and the background blend together seamlessly, as a real cyanotype would.

Fortunately, this is easy to fix. You just need to adjust the layer blend mode! Simply select the image (not the background) layer, then open the Blend Mode menu. I recommend choosing either Lighten or Screen for the best results:

How to create a cyanotype with Photoshop

That should take care of most blending issues. However, in my example image, it’s still possible to see the border when I zoom in:

How to create a cyanotype with Photoshop

If that’s the case for you, choose the Eraser tool from the tool panel on the left-hand side. Choose a brush with soft borders, and lower the opacity to around 30%. Carefully brush over the visible border edges to create a smoother transition.

Share your finished cyanotype!

Well, that’s basically all you need to do. At this point, you should have a very nice digital cyanotype! Here’s mine:

How to create a cyanotype with Photoshop

If you like the effect, I encourage you to try it on a few different photos. Then export your favorite and share it in the comments below!

The post How to Create a Cyanotype Effect in Photoshop (Step By Step) appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Ana Mireles.

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