Print Day in May: Anthotype Printing

This year we went experimental for Print Day in May, as we pushed the boundaries of printmaking with our experimental print labs. Along side our experimental labs, we had Open Studios for you to peek behind the scenes at what our resident artists get up to behind their closed doors as well as giving you a chance to support local by selling prints in our gallery shop as we celebrated the talent of our member’s community. Oh and there was plentiful tea and cake too of course!!

The print rooms at our HQ were transformed into three different  print labs by our staff and studio holders where they showcased live print demos in Electro-etching, Anthotype Printing and Photo-lino Etching.

Did our experiments work? Read on to find out – after all, that’s part of the fun of printmaking! 

Exploring Anthotypes:  

Our screen-print studio was the location for experimenting with anthotypes – a chemical-free, early form of colour photography using natural plant pigments as light-sensitive material. These pigments, extracted from sources like turmeric, onion skins, and beetroot, are mixed with various solutions and applied to paper. The paper is then exposed to UV light, with a stencil protecting certain areas from exposure. The light causes the coloured pigment to break down / fade which is what generates an image – the traditional method uses sunshine as the UV source meaning that the exposure process can take days to even weeks(!). 

Our experiments began with the creation of pigment solutions. Turmeric and onion skin solutions were boiled and steeped, some in water some in alcohol, while beetroot pickled in vinegar was mashed and strained. These colorful liquids were then painted onto different types of paper, ranging from cotton to wood pulp, smooth and textured, to explore potential variations in results.


To test the effectiveness of our UV exposure unit in speeding up the anthotype process; we exposed the painted papers to increasing lengths of UV light. Starting with simple black paper stencils, we gradually increased the exposure time, expecting quick results. However, whilst our initial attempts did yield some subtle changes, with turmeric showing the most promise, the test samples required a much-extended exposure than first thought. 

As we continued to experiment, increasing the exposure time up to 500 light units, the turmeric prints remained the most successful albeit still quite subtle in contrast. Interestingly, prints created with alcohol-based solutions showed more notable results compared to those which were water-based. Despite the challenges, our Print Day in May experiments left us eager for further exploration and determined not to give up on unlocking the full potential of anthotypes! Watch this space… 

P.S. Have you ever tried anthotypes or other experimental print techniques? Share your experiences we’d love to hear! 

Come back later to have a read to see how we got on with our other two print labs Electro-etching and Photo-lino Etching