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How to make an easy Sun print

Making Sun prints is a fun activity that can turn leaves and flowers into simple but distinctive artworks. They can make a great addition to a nature journal.

You can make an easy Sun print without any expensive materials. You just need construction paper and a sunny day.

You will need:

  • construction paper (also called sugar paper)
  • clear tape
  • plants, such as leaves and flowers
  • a window

1. Collect a selection of leaves and flowers. Always make sure that you have permission to take the plants and try not to damage them or pick too many. If you're picking wild plants, make sure you stick to the BSBI code of conduct.

2. Arrange your plants on the construction paper according to your artistic tastes. Gently flatten any bulky flowers so that the petals splay out.

Fingers taping down the stem of a leaf onto construction paper

Carefully stick your plants down. The flatter you can make the edges of the plants against the paper, the sharper your images will be.

3. Use thin strips of tape to secure your plants on the paper.

4. Tape your paper onto a window, with the plants facing outwards.

Hands taping the prepared Sun print to a sunny window, the plants facing outwards towards the Sun

If you haven't got a window that gets the full Sun, you could lay your paper outside, weighted down with stones and the plants facing up

5. Leave the paper in the Sun for a few hours. It may take a couple of days if it's cloudy or your window is north-facing.

6. When ready, carefully remove the tape and plants to reveal the Sun prints.

7. Why not save your Sun prints in a nature journal? You can describe what plants they are and where you found them.

An open nature journal, showing a drawing and description of a plant on one page, and a Sun print of the plant on the facing page

A nature journal is a great way to document all of your nature observations and activities

Tips and ideas for getting the most from your Sun prints

  • Try experimenting with plants of different shapes and how long you leave the paper in the Sun.
  • If you haven't got a south-facing window but do have some outside space, you could lay your paper outside in the Sun. Pin the paper down with some stones, or lay the glass from a photo frame over the top.
  • Flat shapes, such as leaves, will give more finely detailed images than bulky objects such as twigs.
  • Dark paper will generally give a better result - it will have a stronger contrast between the faded parts and those that were covered.
  • You can try making prints with other objects that you find in nature, such as feathers or shells.
A white photographic image of a algae, showing lots of delicate branched fronds, on a blue background

Anna Atkins used the cyanotype process in her pioneering book on British algae, which gives a blue and white image

Botanical photograms and Anna Atkins

A Sun print is a type of photogram - an image made by placing an object directly onto a light sensitive surface.

The dyes used in construction paper give strong colours but are unstable in ultraviolet (UV) light. The paper will quickly fade if exposed to a strong source of UV light, such as the Sun.

Plants are good specimens to capture with the photogram process, as they can be pressed flat but still keep many of their important details.

Anna Atkins (1799-1871) was a botanist and early photographer who pioneered the use of photograms to capture images of algae, ferns and other plants. She was the first person to illustrate a book with photographic images, using the cyanotype process. You can view images from her Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions, held in the Museum Library and Archives.