Tips for Gyotaku printing and Cyanotypes

Homepage Forums QA – Ask us anything! Tips for Gyotaku printing and Cyanotypes

Viewing 8 posts - 1 through 8 (of 8 total)
  • Author
  • #269


    I have a project that involves picking up textures from everyday objects, and I have referenced the Gyotaku printing technique heavily in my research. Now that I am at home without inks or rollers, I was wondering which inks (oil based, waterbased) I should invest on, and what are some tricks to get enough pressure to print the relief of said objects (or fish).

    I am trying to then use said prints as a positive for a second process, cyanotype sun prints, so any tips are welcome.

    Lisa Chappell

    Hi Claudia,

    Thanks for getting in touch!

    We would advise using water washable inks at home: Caligo Safewash Inks are oil based, and don’t dry out too quickly whilst you’re working, but clean up with soap and water.

    If you are brushing ink on, (on a fish for example) it might need thinning down slightly. Caligo make an oil specifically for these inks, as adding traditional oils would mean using solvents to clean up.
    Rolling on might require 2 different rollers, one hard and one softer, like a sponge roller, so you can adapt to different surfaces on objects.

    Applying pressure will depend on the object: sometimes hand pressure will be enough, especially on soft objects, but you could also try a rolling pin, a wooden spoon, or a traditional “baren”.

    Thinner, lightweight papers will make this easier, newsprint, tissue paper, or if you’re lucky enough to have any Japanese paper to hand. Maybe you could even experiment with lightweight fabrics, such as old bedsheets or pillow cases, that could mould around the objects?

    To use the prints as negatives/positives for cyanotype, there will need to be some transparency to the surface you’re printing on, so again thin paper such as tissue, layout paper or tracing paper might be suitable, but will need testing.

    If you need any more information, or suppliers, please ask away!

    Let us know how you get on!


    Jacqueline Chiu

    Hi Claudia!

    Three tips for you:

    – keep the fish as dry as you can
    – careful around the eyes
    – if you can, gently moisten the paper or fabric, to make it softer and more pliable

    The drier the fish is, most you’ll print ink, rather than fish juice.

    You can use a brush to apply inks, including waterbased, india inks, etc. This would be the traditional method, but there is a ‘speed’ element to it.

    If you’re using thinned oil based inks, rub it all over your fish, and then remove excess with kitchen roll before taking the print. One inked fish will usually yield 2 or 3 prints per inking, and often the second one is clearer than the first. Depending on the flatness or roundness of your fish, it may be easier to press fish onto paper, or to press paper onto fish. Cut up test squares to see which method works best for you.

    Lisa is right, if you’re going to make cyanotypes, you’ll need to try transparent materials. If you do not have acetate, you could try:
    – cellophane – the plastic that you might already have from packaging is a good re-use option
    – cut up a freezer bag or similar
    – overhead transparencies – these are a bit more robust and can be reused but will not mould to your fish as easily as the other two

    In both these cases this would work better with oil based inks, and if the image is not what you want the first time around, you can always wipe off and start again!

    Let us know how you go, and if you ever want to simul-print with me, we can set up a Teams/Collab ULTRA session.



    Hi Lisa!

    Thank you so much, the tip on the ink was much needed.What is the name of the oil?

    In terms of rollers, for the hard ones I can see suppliers such as Lawrence Art Supplies offer felt, Durathene, or rubber. Is there any particular material preferable for a firm roller?

    In terms of the printing medium, I have ordered some muslin fabric for the cyanotype, but perhaps should also invest in some tissue/newsprint for the actual relief prints. I will definitively try using household fabrics to see what results they yield!

    One more technical question about preparing the paper for the relief printing (with lightweight paper)
    Should I soak my papers or spray them before printing?

    Jacqueline Chiu

    Oh, as an add-on, if you haven’t already started with fish,

    I would start with lettuce and cabbages. Leaves only, and cut through. Same problems with a variety of surface textures, juiciness, etc. Kales, napa/chinese cabbage, savoy, all beautiful to print.

    Lisa Chappell

    Hi Claudia,

    The oil is Caligo Safewash Oil, here, and or other printmaking suppliers listed under the Printmaking menu.

    Normally you would print with dry paper for relief, but as Ling says in her reply, paper will be softer and more pliable if slightly damp, especially for the fish printing (or other awkwardly shaped objects!) Just a gentle sponge or spray will be enough.

    Don’t spend a fortune on rollers! Plenty of economy options here and here

    Hope that helps…


    Jacqueline Chiu

    Hey there,

    To soak paper up to A3, without a bath, you will need:
    – bin bag or large reusable plastic shopping bag
    – a spray/mister OR a very clean sponge
    – fresh water – don’t let the water sit in the sprayer for too long
    – small squares or ‘tabs’ of paper, something 5cm x 5cm will do

    Lay out the bag very flat.
    – Mist or sponge the top of the bag with water – you can be a bit more generous in this layer
    -Put a sheet of paper on top
    – Mist or sponge a thin layer of water – if sponge, lightly press only, do not rub
    TOP TIP: put a small ‘tab’ or square of paper on the bottom righthand corner, so the tab is half on the paper, half off the edge
    – Put a sheet of paper on top
    – Mist or sponge
    – Add another tab, next to the first one
    – Repeat putting sheets of paper on top, misting, and adding a tab

    Mist the top layer of paper

    If you have a second bin bag, or reusable shopping bag, lay this flat on top of the pile. Otherwise, you can also turn the it inside out, so the paper is snug in the bag. Put something flat and heavy on top – two books, a chopping board, etc. Covering the paper prevents the water from evaporating, and encourages even absorption. Preparing all your paper in advance means you can focus on the printing, without having to pause and deal with wetting more paper – especially good if you use waterbased inks that dry very quickly.


    Hi all!

    I just wanted to post some of the results and check back on some of the tips I used and how they worked out!
    The rollers you recommended Lisa worked like a dream, as did the delivery from Handprinted, really cool and affordable stuff!

    I took all of Ling’s advice on paper, which really saved some time and stress. I did, however, try to use a foam roller to ink the fish instead of brushing it in…It was quite hard! It stripped the fish from quite a few if not all its scales!
    On top of that, plastic bags will work the absolute best as a medium with rounded shapes like the fish, but tissue paper also makes beautiful prints. The sturdier paper was incredibly hard to print with because I could not ‘see’ where I had applied pressure and where I still had to go over. It meant I was blindly printing for the most part with paper with higher gsm.

    I did find it a bit challenging to print the fish with the water-based ink because:

    a. you actually need A LOT more ink than you’d think (thank god for the oil extender) are surprisingly wet things, even if you pat dry, so the ink tended to slip off its surface
    c. if the paper was too moist, the ink would smudge rather than sit on top

    Regardless, I am quite happy with the water-based ink despite these challenges, It is a real treat to not have to clean with solvents!

    Thanks a lot for all the help guys, I am so happy to have been able to try this out at home!

Viewing 8 posts - 1 through 8 (of 8 total)
  • You must be logged in to reply to this topic.