Creating a Digital Cyanotype in Procreate

Having just published my latest Skillshare class on creating digital cyanotypes in Affinity Photo, I have cyan blue on the brain. Knowing there are a lot of Procreate only folks out there, I thought I would put together a quick tutorial on how you can easily create a digital Cyanotype there as well!

Before we begin, here are the two free use texture images I pulled from Pexels, the eucalyptus photo I’m using, which I pulled from Unsplash, and the deckling mask I created. I will be using all of these later in the tutorial.

https://www.pexels.com/photo/a-texture-of-a-white-paper-7598248/

https://www.pexels.com/photo/concrete-wall-2768389/

https://unsplash.com/photos/hX_hf2lPpUU

Ok, with all that out of the way, let’s get started!

Setting Up the Canvas

I’m starting with an 8×10 canvas at 300 dpi. Set yours up to however you would like, just remember that we will be adding texture so, if you plan to print this, your dpi needs to be at least 300. Also remember, the larger the file, the less layers you have to work with.

I’m going to pull the eucalyptus image in by going to Actions > Add > Insert a File (mine was in the Cloud. Select yours from wherever you saved it) I’ll place it where I want it and size it as needed.

Making Adjustments to the Image

We’re going to convert our image to prepare it for the cyan blue tone, but first, a little background in what we need to do…

In traditional cyanotype, photographs can be converted to digital negatives and printed on transparencies which are then laid on top of the medium. Any of the dark areas of the transparency blocks the UV rays from the sun and doesn’t allow the medium to develop, so that stays light. Any of the partially (light) or completely transparent areas do allow UV rays to come through so the medium develops and ultimately turns cyan blue once it’s washed.

In digital negative, the opposite is true. Anything dark, takes on the cyan blue and anything light stays light. Knowing that, and taking a look at my image, I know that I want the area that is predominantly light to ultimately be cyan blue… so I need to invert it. Let’s take a look…

Step 1. Convert Your Image to Black & White

I’m going to duplicate my image layer and turn off the original. That way, if I need to go back to it, the original is still in tact.

Next, I’ll go in to my Adjustments menu and select, “Hue, Saturation, Brightness,” and turn saturation all the way down. Now, this is a good start but it’s really flat and this isn’t going to look very good once the cyan blue is laid on top of it. So let’s fix that…

Step 2. Add a Curves Adjustment

This is ultimately to taste so you can set yours however you would like but what I’m aiming for is to bring some of the rich tones that were in the color version of the image, back in to the black and white. So I’m darkening up my darks (and in some cases doing it enough that I lose any detail… more on that in a bit) and lightening my lights. The setting above worked best for me with this image.

The reason I’m darkening some spots up to the point of losing detail is that those are ultimately going to be the lighter areas of my final image. In traditional cyanotype, part of the beauty of the craft is that you have some of these really bright, ethereal blobs of lighter areas. So that’s what I’m aiming for here. Ultimately, I know this image is going to be inverted and those really dark areas will end up looking like blown out highlights which will give me those nice ethereal spots in the final image.

I’m going to accept that adjustment, then I’m going to duplicate that layer and turn the first one off because now it’s time to invert the image…

Step 3. Invert the Image

As I mentioned above, ultimately I want the open area next to the eucalyptus to be cyan toned so, since this is a digital cyanotype and everything is opposite of the normal analog process… I need to invert my image so that white is black and vice versa.

I’ll tap on my image layer to access the menu above and choose Invert. Done! An inverted image.

Now for the fun part… adding the cyan tone!

Creating the Cyan Tone

Alright, I may have oversold how fun adding this tone is because, in reality, we are just going to add a new layer, fill it with color and change the blend mode. OK, so, if not fun, it will at least be pretty…

Step 1. Add a New Empty Layer

Go ahead and add your layer, then fill it with a nice blue tone. The one I’m using in the tutorial is HEX # 30537c. You can just key this in under Value in the Color Picker if you want to use the same one.

Step 2. Adjust the Blend Mode (and possibly the Opacity)

Go to the blue layer, tap on the “N” to open up the opacity and blend mode menu and change your blend mode to “Screen.” If you feel like it’s too light, you can also adjust the opacity and bring it down a touch. Again, this is totally up to taste and, in reality, there are so many differently shades of blue in real cyanotype.

That’s it! You are halfway there. Now, while this is pretty, it’s still looking really digital and, given cyanotype is an analog process, I want to make some adjustments. In a moment, we’re going to be adding texture, but first, I want to adjust my image a bit.

Adding More Depth to the Image

If you feel as if, after adding the cyan tone, your image is feeling a bit flat, there are a couple of ways to adjust it…

Step 1. Adding an S Curve

Select your inverted image layer, go back up to the Adjustments menu and select curve. Adding a slight S curve like the one above can help add a little richness to the inverted image. If it’s still not quite where you want it…

Step 2. Add a Duplicate Layer

Duplicate the inverted image you just added the S Curve to (don’t turn off the original) and change it’s blend mode to Multiply. This might take it past where you want it so just bring down the opacity until it’s right where you want it.

Ok great, so the tone is good, the image looks way better… but it’s still to digital! Let’s add some texture…

Adding the Texture

Step 1. Adding Some Noise

Since I’m trying to mimic the textural nature of analog cyanotype, I’m going to add a touch of noise to my image layer. I don’t want to go overboard on this, it’s just to, “rough it up” a bit and make it less digital.

I’ll go to my Adjustment menu and choose noise and bring my settings to about here:

Step 2. The Concrete Texture

The next thing I’m going to do is add the concrete texture that I linked to above.

I want to change the blend mode of the texture to Soft Light and bring it’s opacity down to about 20%. I’m just looking to add a bit of grunginess to everything because, in reality, no cyanotype background ever looks perfect!

Step 3. Adding Some Splatter

Next, I’ll add a new layer, and grab one of the built in Spraypaint brushes. I’m specifically choosing the “Flicks,” brush in this case and I’m going to choose an off white color.

I’m just going to place random splotches around the canvas so that it will ultimately have the appearance of tiny, perfect imperfections. I want to change the blend mode of this layer to Overlay and drop the opacity to about 30%. Ultimately, I don’t want anything distracting, I just want touches of texture here and there.

We are going to hold off on adding the paper texture until the very end.

Adding the Deckled Edge

This next step is totally optional…

In traditional cyanotype, some artists bring the medium all the way too the edges of their substrate while others leave bits of the paper visible and create a raw, deckled edge to their medium. I’ve created this deckled edge mask that I’m sharing here if you would like to add it to yours. (download the file above)

Step 1. Place the Deckling

I’ve just placed this at the top of the layer stack and sized it to fit my canvas. Now, at this point, what I’m aiming for is to have the image, texture and the cyan tone show through the area where the white is and the black to recede. There are two ways I can do this.

The first is I can simply change the blend mode of the layer to Divide and I’m done. The problem with this is, if you want your background to be independent at all (so, for example, you could change the color to something more like off white), it’s completely covered. If that isn’t an issue then you’re done. If you do want that flexibility, let’s try something different.

Step 1. Group Your Image Layers

Turn off the visibility of the deckled edge layer for a moment.

Group all of your image layers, except the deckled mask layer we just added. If you have enough layers left in Procreate (remember size of file dictates this), duplicate the group and turn the original one off (we’re keeping it safe in case we need to make changes. Merge all the layers of the duplicate group and pull them out on their own. You can then discard that empty group layer.

Tap this layer and choose Mask to add an empty mask layer to it. We’ll come back to that in a bit.

Step 2. Copy Your Deckled Edge Layer

Turn your deckled edge payer back on and Copy it, either by tapping on the layer and choosing copy or swiping three fingers down on your canvas and choosing copy there.

Turn this layer back off. We won’t need it anymore.

Step 3. Paste the Deckled Edge to the Empty Mask

Go back to the image layer and select it and it’s mask. Then three finger swipe down on the canvas and choose Paste. The black of the deckled edge mask should knock out the sides of the image while leaving the rest in tact.

And that’s it! You have masked away a portion of the image and created a deckled edge for your digital cyanotype. By using a mask, you can change the color of your background slightly if you’d like.

Alright, one final step…

Adding the Paper Texture

Traditional cyanotype is created on pours substrates like fabric or watercolor paper so we are going to create this as if we’re using the latter.

Grab the paper texture image I linked to above, place it over the entire canvas and change it’s blend mode to Linear Burn (no, seriously… trust me on this one). Then change the opacity to somewhere between 20 and 30%.

That’s it! You could really add any textures you would like. I have simply found textures like these work best for me but have fun with it!

One Important Note…

When choosing your images for the digital cyanotype, remember wherever the darker spots are, the cyan blue will replace it and wherever the light spots are, they will remain light. So, when choosing your images, think about how you want them to look in the end.

If the spots that you want to take on the cyan tone are already dark, you may not need to invert the image, as, if you do, it may end up looking like an x-ray image instead. So invert on a case by case basis but make sure you always follow the steps to convert it to black and white.

Thank you!

If you would like to check out some of my online tutorials and classes, head on over to my Skillshare channel, or my YouTube channel. I have content not only on Procreate but also the Affinity and Adobe suites as well.

If you have any questions about the process above, please don’t hesitate to ask in the comments. I will be posting lots more written tutorials here on the blog so be sure to follow so you always know when I post new content.

Thanks so much for joining me here and Happy Creating!

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