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How to Make Sunprints (& Who Was Anna Atkins?)

by Rachel Withers
July 22, 2020

Kids learn how to make sunprints in just a few easy steps. And see our book recommendation about Anna Atkins, botanist and early female photographer! Post by Rachel Withers (our Editorial Manager here at The Artful Parent).


A long time ago, I was a photojournalism major in college. I loaded up all my electives on photography classes and dove into traditional film photography. I spent many a Friday night in the darkroom working on projects, but by far one of my favorite classes was non-silver printing.

In this class I learned how to make cyanotype and Van Dyke prints by painting a photo sensitive emulsion onto thick watercolor paper. These created beautiful painterly photograms in blue and browns respectively.

Boy placing plexiglass on sunprint paper & flowers

Years later I taught photography classes in after school & elementary school settings (K-6). I liked to incorporate a sunprint project with the kids because it’s not only fun, but acts as a bridge to the past, connecting digital photography to the traditional methods.

This process is super accessible to kids–all you need is sunprint paper and water to make the magic happen.


How to Make Sunprints

My son William and I created our first sunprints together this summer. This is our first foray into photography together as he’s a little young still. But this activity is definitely accessible for preschoolers with assistance.

This post contains affiliate links.


  • Sunprint paper or kit (these come in various paper sizes)
  • water
  • flat objects to print: from nature (flowers, leaves, feather, ferns) or household objects (paper clips, lace, keys, etc.)


  1. Gather items for sunprints.

    Begin by going on a nature walk or gathering flowers and plants from your yard. Alternatively, gather flat household items with interesting shapes and patterns.

    Flowers and ferns for making sunprints

  2. Prepare supplies.

    We used a tray to place our paper on along with a separate shallow tray filled with water.

  3. Arrange items on sunprint paper.

    Remove one or two pieces of sunprint paper from the bag. Work quickly to arrange your items onto the paper. If you have plexiglass, place this on top to keep everything in place.

    Then place tray in a sunny spot.

  4. Expose sunprint paper.

    Set a timer and leave the paper for at least 2 minutes while it exposes in the sunlight. The paper will begin to turn a pale blue; then it’s time to remove all your items.

  5. Place paper in water.

    Gently slip the paper into the tray of water. This will stop the exposure. Let sit for 1 minute then remove.

  6. Let dry.

    Lay sunprints carefully out on a clean, flat surface. Gently remove any wrinkles and let dry. Then put those sunprints on display because they’re sure to be beautiful!

    Sunprints drying on steps

Who was Anna Atkins?

Anna Atkins was an English botanist from the 1800s who created a large body of work documenting British algae & seaweed. She made photograms of dried seaweed using the cyanotype process that were published in three separate books. She remained relatively unknown for many years but is now believed to be one of the first female photographers (if not THE first).

I highly recommend The Bluest of Blues by Fiona Robinson. I originally saw this book on artclasspdx’s Instagram account and it’s a retelling of Anna Atkins’s story with beautiful art .

Do your kids love taking digital photographs? Would they be interested in learning more about how to develop a photographer’s eye to create amazing photos? Things like angles, framing and shadow & light activities? Let us know! I’d love to continue to explore elements of photography with your kids on the blog.

More Sunprints Ideas for Kids

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