Solar Fast Printed Hankies by Elaine Luther Copyright Elaine Luther 2022

Solar Fast Printed Hankies by Elaine Luther Copyright Elaine Luther 2022

Printing with Solar Fast on Vintage Hankies, with Vintage Doilies

Solar Fast is a light-reactive dye from Jacquard. You can use it to make images in much the same way you would cyanotype. In the images above, you can see multiple works that I’ve made using Solar Fast, mostly blue, plus two using sepia. (Note that my bottle of sepia is very old, and that may be why the prints turned out that odd mustard yellow color instead of sepia.)

For this series, I’m using vintage doilies to make photograms, or contact prints, of (mostly) vintage doilies, plus a few plants, that have been dried and pressed. (If you try this, know that the process will stain your vintage doilies.)

It’s a fun process and I’m delighted with how these turned out.

The first two images – that’s a commercially printed hankie that I’ve added a collage to.  It’s a collage of skeleton leaves with handwritten letters on them, and additional, curved leaves added to the top of that.

In the photo on the bottom right, that’s a wall hanging, a vertical row of four hankies plus a fragment of a cloth napkin, all printed with Solar Fast.

I made all of these prints, and more, in February and early March, as part of a virtual residency with an online group.  Members who were participating set their own goals and studio hours.  For the 29 days of the residency, I managed to be in the studio for parts of 19 days.  I have some Solar Fast for a while, and had done a few tests, but hadn’t really gotten into it until now.  I’m so glad I did!  I love the way it looks.

In a gallery show of these works, I’m picturing them pinned to the wall using T-pins, in groups.  They would also look great framed in a shadow box.

Solar Fast vs. Cyanotype

What’s the difference between cyanotype and Solar Fast?  Solar Fast is a light reactive dye that is sold by the color and comes ready to go, out of the bottle.  You apply it to your paper or fabric in a low light setting and then expose it to light, along with your transparency (negative) or objects (dried plants for doilies, for example).

Cyanotype is the stuff they used to use for architectural blue prints, and it’s been used in history of making photograms of plants as a botanical record.  (I’ve noticed photographers call making cyanotypes photography, and printmakers call it printmaking.  They’re both right, I suppose.)  Two chemicals are used to make the liquid for cyanotypes, you need to apply the liquid to your paper or fabric in a dark room setting, and then allow the paper or fabric to dry, in the dark, before exposing it to light and making your image.

You can also buy pre-treated cyanotype paper, you may have done with with a product called Sun Prints, as a kid.  All the art bloggers who write about cyanotype prefer to coat their own papers, I think this is (in part) because it allows you to choose better quality paper.  I bought a package of pre-treated cyanotype paper to play with and the color I’m getting is not as nice a dark blue as I’m getting with the Solar Fast.  But that’s not an indictment of cyanotype.  I’m a beginner and I’m using the cheap, pre-treated stuff.  Still it’s a start.

You can get other colors with cyanotype by taking your dry, finished prints and then “toning” them with tea, for one example, to change the colors.  With Solar Fast, you can get the desired color in one step.

Solar Fast also holds up better to washing, so if you wanted to print clothing, Solar Fast dye would be a better choice.

Why might you choose cyanotype over Solar Fast?  It’s much cheaper.  And you’ll be part of a tradition that stretches back hundreds of years.  However, that bit about needing darkroom like conditions and a place to dry your paper or fabric in the dark for 24 hours, that’s a bit of a hurdle.  That’s what makes Solar Fast and pre-treated cyanotype papers so great, you can get started, and then decide if you want to go further with it.

One more difference – with Solar Fast you need the Solar Fast Wash as part of the rinsing process, while cyanotype rinses with just water.  (Though some folks also use a post rinse of water with hyroogen peroxide.)

What about light sources for printing with Solar Fast and cyanotype?

The classic choice is to use the sun.  The summer sun.  Apparently, from what I’ve read, winter sun (in the Northern Hemisphere) won’t do the job.  Your paper needs to be perpendicular to the sun, so it can lay flat if you’re printing at noon, but otherwise, you’ll need to angle your paper.

If you don’t want to wait for summer, you’ll need a UV light box, such as the kind used to expose silkscreens.  And you’ll need to make sure you use that light box carefully and correctly so that you don’t harm your eyes.

The exposure time is longer with a light box than with the sun, but at least we don’t have to wait until summer.

Need more specific instructions?  Jacquard, the company that makes Solar Fast, has very clear videos and printed instructions, all free and online.  They even have an online tool to help you make files for making transparencies to print with.  Also free.  And cyanotype instructions are also online.  Here’s a good, clear pdf on cyanotypes.

I’m using a light box to print my Solar Fast and cyanotype prints, and I look forward to summer, when I can try printing outside, working larger, and making more prints at once.

This is not intended to be a complete how-to on either process, but I wanted to share some basics to help you get started and know where to look!