Cocktail Of Chemicals Makes This Blueprint Camera Unique

When you’re looking at blueprints today, chances are pretty good that what you’re seeing is anything but blue. Most building plans, diagrams of civil engineering projects, and even design documents for consumer products never even make it to paper, let alone get rendered in old-fashioned blue-and-white like large-format prints used to produced. And we think that’s a bit of a shame.

Luckily, [Brian Haidet] longs for those days as well, so much so that he built this large-format cyanotype camera to create photographs the old-fashioned way. Naturally, this is one of those projects where expectations must be properly scaled before starting; after all, there’s a reason we don’t go around taking pictures with paper soaked in a brew of toxic chemicals. Undaunted by the chemistry, [Brian] began his journey with simple contact prints, with Sharpie-marked transparency film masking the photosensitive paper, made from potassium ferricyanide, ammonium dichromate, and ammonium iron (III) oxalate, from the UV rays of the sun. The reaction creates the deep, rich pigment Prussian Blue, contrasting nicely with the white paper once the unexposed solution is washed away.

[Brian] wanted to go beyond simple contact prints, though, and the ridiculously large camera seen in the video below is the result. It’s just a more-or-less-lightproof box with a lens on one end and a sheet of sensitized paper at the other. The effective ISO of the “film” is incredibly slow, leading to problematically long exposure times. Coupled with the distortion caused by the lens, the images are — well, let’s just say unique. They’ve got a ghostly quality for sure, and there’s a lot to be said for that Prussian Blue color.

We’ve seen cyanotype chemistry used with UV lasers before, and large-format cameras using the collodion process. And we wonder if [Brian]’s long-exposure process might be better suited to solargraphy.

18 thoughts on “Cocktail Of Chemicals Makes This Blueprint Camera Unique

  1. Ammonium Dichromate is a carcinogen in addition to just toxicity. Read the MSDS before you even think about using this stuff. A mask is not enough protection. That may protect against inhalation in the short term but if you contaminate your workspace, especially inside your home, you have a real problem. Toxicity limits are a fraction of a microgram and there may be no lower limit for carcinogenic effects. After you ‘safely’ handle it with a mask and gloves now you have potentially contaminated equipment which should be discarded (how?). You’re going to take off your expensive mask and goggles and leave them laying around the house. The next time you handle them you’re going to be in contact with the stuff.

    1. Most use Ammonium ferric citrate and Potassium ferricyanide. Both are relative safe, the 1st is used in foods as an acidity regulator and the 2nd has low toxicity. Not sure why anyone would use Ammonium Dichromate

      1. The old ferricyanide and ferric ammonium citrate method works well but the chemistry is prone to molding, it has poor contrast control, and requires a lot of light to make an exposure. If this individual is using dichromate then I suspect he is using a newer process invented by Mike Ware that solves these problems. Now that I think about it, the new dichromate process is so light sensitive that this likely the only way to make effective in-camera Cyanotype exposures.

    2. It always boggles me how these diy scientists with YouTube channels don’t get called out more frequently on their safety protocols. I know not everyone has a flow/fume hood, but if they don’t, they should really avoid chemistry like this.

  2. When I was a kid my father brought home a blueprint machine from work and used it a few times. I remember the smell of ammonia- probably why he only used it a couple times before it was gone.

  3. Ahh, the sweet smell of ammonia!!! :)

    “Back in the day” I ran many hundreds, probably thousands of sheets through a blueline machine… even after we had mostly transitioned to CAD a blueprint was still the fastest and cheapest way to make copies of the final drawings. Plus, keeping originals vs copies differentiated was essential. Spending the time/ink/paper plotting a new original that was going to be rolled out on the hood of a pickup somewhere was wasteful. That’s what it often boiled down to- several guys standing in ankle-deep mud gathered around the drawings rolled out on the hood of a pickup. AND, really, not that different today.

    I would say the “never even make it to paper” comment isn’t correct, at least in my experience. At the end of the chain the trade-folk (if I said “tradesmen” I’d be labeled a sexist dinosaur) usually are working from a paper copy… construction sites are rough environments and hard on delicate electronics. a print and a pen/pencil/sharpie to make notes and you’ve got a solution that can take being dropped, folded, stepped on, rained on, and doesn’t care if it gets to -20f or +200F sitting on the dash in the truck.

  4. Does anybody have some good data on how to preserve blueprints for display?

    I have some really cool prints that are germane to my industry (blue lines on white paper, so… diazo?) that I would love to frame and hang on my office wall, but I suspect that this will kill them.

    Googling the subject brings up lots of “home decorating” type noise, but I can’t seem to find something that feels authoritative

  5. Will the sensitizing solution work on cotton, I want to make some blueprint t-shirts? (But the non-cancer causing solution “hammarbytp” mentions.) Also for the camera why doesn’t he just use something sticky but easy to remove to hold the paper in place, a sheet of blue-tac or something similar?

    1. As I found out to my cost, Cyanotype will work quite happily on fabrics. My wife still has not forgiven me spilling some on the carpet and it has proved impossible to get out because it is not water soluable

  6. This is something I have wanted to do for a long time. I had been through a few moves with a pair of 8×10 view cameras I had been saving just for it. Sadly I parted with them. So time to make the camera out of wood and or cardboard. I have two lenses I wanna play with. One is a near a fisheye and the other is a big mother out of a projection TV. As an aside for a while I had wanted to just use a sheet of the flow in the dark vinyl and no chemistry. A camera that takes pictures that last for a few minutes and than fade away.. But this is cool.

    So, for minimum exposure time you want a large diameter lens. A wider angle lens has a deeper depth of focus, so you want a wider angle lens. This is why all the fixed lens point and shoot cameras had wide angle lenses focused at infinity, which in reality was more like about 20′ to infinity. Which brings up the next point, the lens has more depth of focus behind the focal point than in front of it. So if you have to err, err on the far side. You may wanna try one of the plastic Fresnel lenses.

    The other thing I am surprised that you have not tried yet is starting out with your solution on glass or some kind of transparency film, and contact printing positives on paper from that.

    At any rate you have inspired me, I may look into this as it is somethin I have pondered for a while and have some ideas I would like to play with.

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