Cyanotype and Eco Printing


What is it?: Ecoprints are the result of color being deposited on fabric or paper. Plants provide natural dyes that are released through steam or a hot water bath, leaving an imprint of the plant on fabric.

Once plants are gathered, the leaves are placed on the paper or fabric. Designs can be random or orderly – it’s all up to the artist. When the design is complete, the fabric is rolled up and heated to release the dye from the plant material onto the fabric. Steam, boiling or simmering water are the current methods of releasing color to the fabric. The most exciting part is unrolling the projects. Each print will be unique.


Provided for you:

Fabric: New white cotton fabric that has been scoured to remove sizing and fabric treatments. And, some new cotton fabric that has been treated (more on this later) to absorb the natural colors from nature.

Colorants: Onion skins. Tumeric powder.

Supplies: Cotton string for wrapping bundles and hanging pieces to dry, dowels for wrapping fabric around, clothespins.

What you will gather:

_ Plant materials (list and links below)

_Plastic sheeting, heavy trash bags, or plastic shower curtain

_Masking tape

_Scissors, optional: light weight gardening clippers

_Homer bucket(s) for rinsing

_Vinegar (2 cups)

_Coffee or Tea

_Rubber bands, binder clips

_clean but old sheets, old t-shirts

_Zip lock bags, gallon size at least.

_tongs and heat proof gloves or garden gloves to protect your hands

_face mask. M95 is good.

_mild laundry soap like Dr. Bronners or Seventh Generation.

_dedicated stock pot

_Workspace. Maybe part in the kitchen for boiling or steaming. If you have an outside burner (connected to a BBQ, a propane turkey fryer, free standing camp cooktop) you will be able to work outside. Outside or garage space for gathering plant materials. A work table or clear space for rolling up the bundles. A place to string a clothes line to dry fabric on. Color may drip from the fabric while drying, please consider this when planning for the clothes line.

Materials list – expanded, explained.

Clean, washed cotton sheets (older the better! ) or old t-shirts that have been washed (the older the better – holes, yes! stains, yes! these are to protect the plant dye from transferring through the rolled layers).

Buckets: Homer buckets are great for rinsing. One is good. Two are better.

Inexpensive shower curtains, plastic sheeting or heavy 33 gallon trash can liners (Target has inexpensive shower curtains, Home Depot and Ganahl Lumber stock plastic sheeting – heavy trash bags will work also). This will protect your driveway, work surface or garage floor. A layer under the clothesline is a good idea too.

Scissors, masking tape, paper or small notebook for process and plant notes, a bottle of vinegar.

Tongs and heatproof gloves or garden gloves to protect your hands when removing bundles from the dye-pot. The bundles really retain heat and both bundles and water are very hot. Use caution!

Trash can for plant materials, some zip lock bags big enough to hold your bundles while they cure.

Stainless steel pot (the bigger the better) you can dedicate to ecoprinting. It’s referred to as the dye-pot. Aluminum will work, but will change the colors you get – which is not a bad thing, just different. Need a pot? Please let me know. The width and depth of your pot will determine how long your fabric bundles can be.

Misc. and optional: rubber bands, binder clips, coffee (not the good stuff!) and black tea (again, save the good stuff for drinking!)



Ecoprinting involves collecting plant materials. Care must be taken to correctly identify and handle the plants, avoiding toxic and poisonous plants. There are links below to help identifying useful plants as well as plants to avoid.

Once plants are collected, they are wrapped and heated to encourage the release of naturally occurring colors. There are a few ways that effectively release color: steam and water baths involving hot or boiling water. Risk is involved. If you’d rather have me process your ecoprints, I’m happy to do that. In fact, if you have any doubts at all, please let me process your prints. You will be able to design your prints, roll them and wrap them. Once you deliver your fabric bundles to Prep, they will be processed. After that, you will be able to pick them up from Prep. You will still get to unroll the prints yourself – because that’s the best, most exciting part. And share them with us!

EcoPrinting at home. Onion skins and Tumeric are safe to process at home. The cotton fabric for at home ecoprinting has been washed and scoured to remove sizing. The best practice for ecoprinting is to dedicate a stockpot-referred to as the dye-pot – even though the materials are “safe.” The wooden dowels are untreated, and the string is 100% cotton.

Making the fabric bundles After collecting plant materials, make a sandwich. The sandwich has three layers. The bottom layer is the blanket (an old sheet or t-shirt) which will protect the plant dye from printing through to the other layers of fabric. The middle layer is the fabric to be dyed. The top layer is the design created by the plant materials. The sandwich is then rolled up – like a lavash roll up. Rolling firmly and tightly is the key to successful printing as the plant material will be held in place and can print with lots of detail. Then the roll is bundled tightly with cotton string.

Heat processing the bundles. Most plant materials, except Eucalyptus, benefit from a water temperature of just under boiling: a slow simmer. Timing isn’t crucial here, but the least amount of time I’ve heard of for simmering the lavash bundles is an hour. After the heat treatment in the dye-pot, remove the bundles from the water and let them cool. They will be very, very hot! Use tongs and heat proof gloves. Tip: keep the bundles oriented vertically, and hold them from the top so that the hot liquid does not drip/drain down your arm. You’ll want to peek at the bundles, but from experience, we’ve learned that letting them cure for a day or two intensifies the color. Packing the cooled bundles in zip lock bags will keep the moisture in. When it’s time to unroll the bundles, grab a trash can for the plant materials and work over your plastic. The plant material will go everywhere, even if you are careful. Once you’ve unrolled your bundle, you’ll need to rinse your fabric in mild fabric soap. This is where the Homer bucket comes in. Maybe even a second one for a thorough rinse process. Pin your fabric art up to dry. Some residual color may come off your print – and it’s a good idea to choose the best location for the clothesline ahead of time.

Other options: If you’ve decided to be a bit more adventurous, there are several other ways to ecoprint using safe materials at home. One way is rust. The caution here is that rust stains. Carpet. Clothes. Stone tiles. Driveways. But it produces unparalleled prints. The leaves and flowers turn charcoal colored and the background a lovely tan color. The prints are detailed and precise. To obtain a rust bath you’ve got to collect rusty things, or make rust. Rusty things can be added to the dye-pot and processed as usual. If you have been out scouting for plants and have encountered a Eucalyptus tree that is shedding its bark, and if you have permission, grab some. It makes a beautiful warm gray colored background.

Gathering Plant Materials

A word about obtaining plant specimens: grocery stores are a great source for plant materials. Trader Joe’s can be counted on for reasonably priced eucalyptus and flowers. Plants in your own backyard are potential candidates, too. Before removing plants from your neighbor’s yards, send them an email, text or give them a call to gain permission first. In my experience, explaining that you are creating an artwork is helpful and letting folks know when you might be dropping by to carefully and thoughtfully take a few leaves helps keep neighborly relations healthy and happy. Follow up with a photo of your work, if you’d like. Please don’t remove plants from public areas.

Plants to avoid: Poison Oak, Laurel Sumac, milkweed, thistle, Castor Bean.

Plants to look for:

Avocado pits and skins. A beautiful pink background color.

Carrot tops: yellow/green background.

Loquat leaves: Soft apricot background. Also: Loquat tea.

Rose leaves: detailed prints, yellow to yellow green.

Rosemary leaves: brownish gray.

Lavender leaves: brownish/purple to gray.

Rooibos tea: Peach to light tan.

Nasturtium leaves and flowers: yellow to yellow green.

Hibiscus flowers: fresh or dried (find this in produce sections or dried herb section of grocery stores like Vallarta). Beautiful purples and red.

Eucalyptus: bright orange to brown to black prints (depending on amount of iron in dye-bath). Brown background color from bark.

Geranium: any variety. Strong tannins in this plant will actually bleach out background colors for an amazing effect.

Peony leaves: will print blue or gray.


Chinaberry tree leaves

Ginko leaves

Japanese Maple leaves

all types of local nut tree leaves.

English Oak leaves.

Virginia creeper (vine)

Oxalis (spring plant, yellow flowers, “clover” leaves”

Toyon – dyes a brilliant neon yellow!


A to Z plant resource for EcoPrinting. With descriptions and pictures here.

Using an “iron Blanket” and using a piece of iron to roll bundles around here.

Made by Barb. A wealth of information about ecoprinting. Barb is a generous teacher.

Botanical Color at Your Fingertips. Rebecca Desnos. Organic, vegan approach to dyeing with plant materials.

Eco-Dyed Art Journals: Using Nature’s Imprints. Susan Brooks. Lots of photographs, features dyeing paper. Good information on using rust/iron.

The Modern Natural Dyer: A Comprehensive Guide to Dyeing Silk, Wool, Linen and Cotton at Home. Kristine Vejar. Complete information to take skills to the next level.

Ecoprinting in a dedicated microwave: EcoPrinting in your microwave: In the future, if you are planning to upgrade, and your old microwave still works, consider using it as an artist’s tool. Microwaving ecoprints is fast and efficient. The caution here is fire. Dry leaves and paper in the microwave create sparks. Keeping the paper or fabric wet will alleviate this concern. Also, a good heat sensor keeps tabs on the temperature, and you’ll want to be present during all of the microwaving process. Here is a great resource for microwaving on watercolor paper and here is a great post for microwaving fabric. Although the artist in these posts uses recycled plastic for her bundles, I like to enclose the whole package in a ziplock bag. This helps retain moisture (reducing the chance of combustion and fire in the microwave) and saves clean-up. Please do all processing of ecoprints in a space with lots and lots of ventilation.


  1. Always wet your fabric. 30 minutes in plain water. Gently squeeze out water. Roll in a clean towel.
  2. Fold, scrunch and tie, or roll fabric over dowel and tie.
  3. Process in dyebath
  4. Let sit overnight.
  5. Unwrap, rinse (a little dishsoap and then rinse)
  6. Iron to set color
Ways to Fold for Shibori:

Here is a good photo tutorial about folding the

square, triangle and scrunch.

Here is a link to two kinds of wrapping in this video: one type is over a rope and the second over a pvc pipe, or you could use your dowel. The language is not English, but you will be able to follow the visual instructions.

This is a good website for square and scrunched folding.

Here are directions for chevron fold:

Preparing your dyebath:

  1. gather materials
  2. large pot, string, clothes pins, water source, heat source, bucket, dye (either tumeric or onion skins)
  3. wet fabric
  4. either roll on dowel and scrunch and tie, or fold and tie or rubber band. You can choose not to tie the fabric.
  5. put water in stockpot and add dye: for onion skins: add half your amount.
  6. for tumeric: add about 2 tablespoons.
  7. Bring to just under boiling (don’t boil – turn down heat to low when you see tiny bubbles at the surface).
  8. add fabric.
  9. keep the dyebath just below boiling.
  10. after 30 minutes, turn off heat and let fabric cool in dyebath
  11. next day: remove fabric, untie, and rinse.
  12. use a little dishsoap to rinse out color – do this in your bucket!
  13. hang on your clothesline to dry.

Cyanotype Printing

Chemical reaction:

The relatively-high energy photons from blue and near-UV light are sufficient to initiate a photochemical redox reaction wherein iron(III) is reduced to iron(II), while the citrate is oxidised to 3-oxopentanedioic acid:

Equation for hotochemical redox reaction wherein iron(III) is reduced to iron(II), while the citrate is oxidised to 3-oxopentanedioic acid

The Prussian blue complex itself precipitates out as a salt containing the mixed oxidation state complex of iron(II) and iron(III), Fe(III)[Fe(II)(CN)6]. Once the exposure is complete, excess unreacted chemicals are rinsed away, leaving a negative image of white against blue.

Despite the fearsome-sounding name, both the hexacyanoferrate compound and the resulting Prussian blue are low hazard. The same complex stability associated with the ligation of the cyanide ligands to haemoglobin and the resulting toxicity renders them unavailable for release from the compounds encountered in this experiment. Indeed, the ease of production and stability of the blue compound meant it was in use long before the cyanide ligand had been identified, which is how the latter would later acquire its name from the Greek word kyaneos, meaning ‘dark blue’.

A good article on history and safety when mixing chemicals yourself here.

Cyanotype on fabric:

  1. Determine right (put prints on this side) and wrong side.
  2. In a room without sunlight, or at night:
  3. Draw a small square (pen is good) in the corner of your fabric – about 1″ square – mark the square with the letter G. On the same side of the fabric, right next to your square, write the letter G just outside of your square box.
  4. Cut out your square. Keep your square and your fabric dark until you are ready to test the fabric.
  5. Test your square. On the side with the G on it, place a leaf, scrap of paper, or small item on the square and test it in the sun.
  6. Does the fabric change color?
    1. if it does – the G is the right side of your fabric: it will face the sun. It will have leaves or flowers on it when you expose it.
    2. if it does not: flip the square over and try the other side. If this side prints, then use the other side of the fabric to face the sun.

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