How-To: Turn Digital Photos into Artistic Sunprints!

Extra photos for bloggers: 1, 2, 3

Boy, do we love digital photos.

They’re easy to make, and we can take hundreds of pictures every day without wasting a single roll of film.

Yet after hours of photo-editing and Instagramming from our phones, sometimes we’re left yearning for some old fashioned hands-on photographic fun.

So, imagine how happy we were to discover a super fun, easy, and chemical-free method that you can use to transform your digital pictures into homemade photo sunprints!

While we’d love to spend lots of time in darkrooms printing all our photos, this method let’s us get into some analog printing fun while playing with our digital-based creations.

Make Sunprints from Digital Photos!

p.s. Tumblr isn’t what we drink out of or how we do gymnastics. It’s where you should follow us.

So, what’s a sunprint, anyway?

beforeA sunprint is a print made on special photographic paper that is sensitive to the sun. Unlike normal photo prints, these prints can be made quickly and without any photo chemicals at all.

In fact, they develop in water in less than a minute!

Read on to see how you can transform your own digital pictures to authentic homemade photo prints using this quick and easy process.

What you’ll need:

  • A printer or copier to print out a paper negative.
  • Sunprint paper (We’ve got some here, or check for it at your local art supply store.)
  • A piece of glass (picture frame glass is perfect!) or plexiglass (some sunprint kits already include this)
  • A digital photo to transfer
  • A dish/bowl of water
  • Tape
  • A sunny day!

Step 1: Picking & preparing your image.

beforeYou’ll want to pick a photo that’s clear and high in contrast without a lot of tiny important details.

If you have digital image editing software, open your digital image, convert to black and white, and invert the colors. (In Photoshop, you’ll find this option under Image > Adjustments > Invert, or Command + “I”.)

You will get better results by increasing the contrast on your negative images before you go on to the next step, but if you don’t have software to edit your images, don’t worry! You easily can get them printed at a local copy shop.

Step 2: Printing your negatives.

beforeNow you’ll want to print out your paper negative.

If you’re printing from home, set the size of the image to the same size as your sunprint paper (ours was 4″x4″).

If you’re printing at a copy shop, simply let them know how large you want the image printed and that you’d like it inverted to make a negative print.

Make sure you print your images in black and white only on everyday printer paper (not on photo paper!)

Step 3: Get ready to make pictures!

beforeSet up your “developer tray”, (a.k.a. dish of water) and other supplies on a table indoors.

To prepare the sunprint for exposure, place your paper negative directly on top of the paper (blue side up), and cover with your glass or plexiglass.

Once the negative, sunprint paper, and glass are lined up, flip them over and use a few pieces of tape to secure their spot on the glass.

Step 4: Expose it!

beforeNow it’s time to let your print sunbathe! Bring it outside and sit it somewhere safe in the sun where it won’t be moved easily. (We put ours in our front lawn.)

Next, give your print some alone time. Let it sit in the sun for 10-20 minutes until the sunprint paper is fully exposed.

To check the exposure of the paper, carefully lift one corner of your sunprint paper up from the back of your frame. If you can see a clear imprint of your image on the paper, you’re good to go!

If not, let your print stay in the sun for an additional 5 minutes and check again.

Step 5: Developing your sunprint.

beforeThe best part!

Now that your paper is done exposing, you can develop it in the most simple developer of all time: water!

Just take your sunprint off the back of your glass and place it into your dish of water.

The print will change from a negative to a positive before your eyes! This really gets our photo nerd engine revving.

Step 6: Tada!

beforeAfter your print has been in water for 30 seconds, it’s good to go.

Take it out of the water and let it air dry. (Be careful! Don’t wipe it dry, or you could wipe away some of your picture!)

After it’s dried, you’re done! (You may now proceed to make sunprints of your entire Flickr stream :D)

Want to do even more?


  • Check out this construction paper contact print that photographer David Friedman found at his parents house. It took 30 years to make!
  • Want to add some color to your sunprint? Cool! The paper surface is perfect for adding your own artistic style to each print, so why not draw, color, paint or collage over your sunprinted photos?
  • Try making a double exposure with two paper negatives at the same time, or one object (like a flower or your keys) and one paper negative.
  • Mash up this method and our instagram (instant photograms) method to make prints of your digital photos on instant film! (If you try this, print out a paper positive instead of a negative)
  • Love sunprint paper? Try using it in a pinhole camera! (and if you don’t have a pinhole camera, make one out of an oatmeal box!)