It probably looks like I have an obsession with toning – I don’t. Not really. Among all the reasons that I love working with cyanotype, the bright blue color isn’t one of them. So, I have to tone my images. Though I like the shades of black/brown/purple that I get from toning, I’m always looking for a toner that won’t stain the paper and ruin my highlights.
So far, I’ve been pleased with basic toners like green tea, coffee, and black tea. Tannic acid works well – when I can get it to work. It’s also expensive. I don’t use tannic acid much these days. The biggest problem with all of these toners is they all stain the paper really badly, tannic acid a little less.
I’m happy to say that my recent test of Wine Tannin looks good. I won’t say it’s the holy grail of cyanotype toning, but it barely stained the paper. The dark shadows still have a hint of purple like the tannic acid, but the results seem to be more reliable and easy to replicate. Unlike tannic acid, it dissolves quite easily into a water solution. No clumpy blots and endless mixing.
That’s probably because of where I bought it. Wine tannin is, like the name implies, designed for micro brewing. As I understand it, it’s produced from wine skins. Added to a home-brewed wine, it adds a dryness and tang that I would assume is naturally found in a traditional crushed grape wine procedure. Not that I’m any expert on wine brewing! But, it is intended to be mixed into a wine/juice solution, so it stirs in easily.
Tannic acid, on the other hand, is produced from wood chips. I would assume from woods rich in tannin like oak – as I understand it, you can tan hide in an oak stump filled with water. It’s sold at Photographer’s Formulary, where I get my cyanotype supplies, and it’s in a chemical form that doesn’t mix well with liquids. It’s also pretty strong compared to wine tannin.
Wine tannin comes in both liquid and powder form – I was only able to find a local source for the powder form.
- 1/2 oz. powered wine tannin
- 1 Liter of filtered water
- About 1 Tbsp washing soda (sodium carbonate – not sodium bicarbonate, that’s baking soda)
- 1.5 Liter water
Several different toning methods work well with the wine tannin, but I had the most luck with a variation of Christopher James’ #3 black toner because of my double emulsion coat.
- Pre-wet the image
- Dunk the image into the toner solution until the highlights go tan – about 5-10 minutes.
- rinse for 5 minutes
- Bleach the solution until the shadows go purple – not too long, about 30-60 seconds
- rinse for 5 minutes
- Dunk the print in a weak hydrogen peroxide solution for about 30 seconds
- return the print to the toner until the shadows go black, about 15 minutes
- final rinse for 10 minutes
Bleaching a print seems to be required with this toner – always a delicate operation because you run the risk of losing highlights and shadow density if you go too far. I theorize that because you tone the highlights first, the tannin binds to the iron and resists bleaching while the shadows are broken down enough to take the toner.