Instant photography was invented in 1947 by Edwin Land, the owner of Polaroid. His technique allowed images to self-develop within a few seconds after shooting.
Thanks to that feature, it revolutionized modern photography, and the word “Polaroid” became synonymous with instant photography. The popular and fashionable Polaroid era began, lasting nearly 60 years.
But, unfortunately, nothing lasts forever. Polaroid lost it’s fight with digital photography, and, in 2009, the last manufacture of instant film closed.
What Is A Polaroid Transfer / Emulsion Lift?
A Polaroid transfer is an image manipulation technique in which you transfer the image from a Polaroid instant print onto paper, wood, or other substrate.
Similarly, a Polaroid emulsion lift involves separating the top layer (emulsion layer) from a Polaroid and placing it on paper or other substrate.
Here are step-by-step instructions for a Polaroid emulsion lift, and you can also watch below for a time-lapse video of the process.
Cut off the white border of the Polaroid print. You can bravely grab the print with your fingers; you will not damage the print.
Now gently pull the image apart and remove the plastic cover from the emulsion. In older prints, it could be easier to remove the background instead of the transparent plastic. Remember to do it gently, and try not to tear the emulsion.
Soak the image in the hot water tray. The hotter the water the faster the emulsion will release. If your print is old or the water is too cold, it will take more time.
If the emulsion still sticks to the background (or front plastic cover), brush it gently. Be sure to remove all white parts from the emulsion. Otherwise, the emulsion will peel off the paper after drying.
Now, put a sheet of watercolor paper into the cold water tray, and use a brush to gently move the emulsion from the hot water to the cold water tray.
The hotter the water in the first tray, the more the emulsion will curl after putting it in cold water. The emulsion isn’t as delicate as you might think, but avoid being too aggressive with it or the emulsion might tear.
Try to straighten the emulsion over the paper. You can grab the emulsion at corners and pull the paper out from water. Doing this will straighten the emulsion on the paper.
You can easily move the emulsion across the paper while it’s wet. Remove it from the tray, and use a wet brush to add some folds and wrinkles to the image.
You can play with the image as long as it is wet. After it dries, everything you’ve done to the image will remain, and you won’t be able to add more wrinkles or straighten the emulsion.
I hope you have so much fun doing Polaroid transfers!
Thank you so much, Aleksandra! This is going to be so much fun to try! Be sure to follow Aleksandra on YouTube to see more how-to videos, and you can find more of her amazing work on her website, Instagram, and Facebook!
Check out all of our film photography tutorials here, and if you’re interested in learning more about experimental film photography, check out these articles!