Coffee is actually useful

"Carminis," from the series "Verba" Toned Cyanotype

I’m loving this toner.  It’s cheap, it’s mildly fragrant, and it’s a wonderful deep black with cool tones and nice highlights.  Not that I would drink it – I hate coffee.  It smells good but it’s a tease with a horrible taste.  I doubt many people would drink this coffee anyway.  It’s instant decaf, which sort of ruins the whole point of coffee. 

The only drawback to this toner is that it’s not nearly as forgiving as the tea toner.  Even if you screw up and accidentally overbleach the print before you tone it, the tea toner gives enough shade in the highlights to cover up mistakes.  The coffee, not so much.  Blown out highlights stay white, which can be slightly annoying and helpful at the same time.  I love a good clean print.

I produced these negatives before I fixed the highlight issue with my sized paper, so the highlights are indeed blown out and annoying.   As much as I hate the thought, I might have to reprint the negatives and try again to get a decent print. 

Unlike the tea toner, coffee seems to do better if you super expose the print, then bleach it back to open the shadows up.  For whatever reason this keeps the shadows nice and deep.  An underexposed overbleached print ends up looking nasty and flat with no deep blacks at all.  Like every other cyanotype toner, the tones flatten out when the print dries so I’ll have to varnish it.  I hear wax works well for that too.  I’m not certain which kind of wax – I would assume encaustic of some sort.  It sounds messy and potentially harmful, so I’m not certain I’m willing to try that. 

In case anyone wants to experiment with the toner, my recipe is:

4 Tablespoons decaf instant coffee steeped in 250 ml hot water

1.5 liters cool, non-chlorinated water

Bleach the print back with a sodium carbonate solution (1 teaspoon to 1.5 liter water) and rinse for 5 minutes.  Immerse the print face down in the coffee solution for 30 minutes, occasionally agitating.  Continue to tone until the shadows shift from blue to black.  Highlight staining isn’t nearly as bad as tea, so over 1.5 hours toning is fineFinal rinse for 15 minutes, line dry.    

This toner maintains a bit of the blue shift, but appears black and white to the casual eye.  It’s more of a blackbird type black, when the feathers have a bit of blue sheen to them.

Image: 10×15 coffee toned cyanotype, printed on Arrowroot sized Canson Montval watercolor paper with a digital negative.

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2 thoughts on “Coffee is actually useful

  1. Pingback: Cyanotype toning: the basics « MP Photography | GRAFIKSKOLEN LANGELAND

  2. Pingback: Toning Methods | Alternative Photography Individualized Course 2015

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