Cyanotype toning: Wine Tannin

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

Bleach bath:

  • 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.


4 thoughts on “Cyanotype toning: Wine Tannin

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

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