One of my favorite alternative photographic processes is the Polaroid transfer. The resulting image can be unpredictable, and the manual process provides a much-needed break from formulaic and uncompromising digital photography.
Here is a quick guide to producing your own Polaroid transfers. But you'll need to act fast, because the much-loved Polaroid film has been discontinued, and it's virtually impossible to find in department stores.
An old Polaroid camera
A pack of 669 or 559 Polaroid film
A hair dryer
Your favorite paper (see below for possible paper types)
1. Take a photo using your Polaroid camera. As a general rule of thumb, try to avoid dark backgrounds. Blacks and shadow areas are tough to transfer from the film onto the paper.
2. Pull the film out evenly so that the chemicals disperse evenly. Do not stop midway through pulling out the film, as it will cause inconsistencies in your exposure.
3. Wait 15 to 20 seconds, then peel off the emulsion layer from the Polaroid print.
4. On a flat surface, press down the emulsion layer to the paper of your choice (for paper details, see below). It helps to adhere one end of the emulsion down first and use a bending/rolling motion to slowly adhere the entire layer to the paper.
5. Use a roller (a round pen or marker works good, too) to press the emulsion layer onto the paper. Roll for about two minutes, exposing all areas of the print with even, consistent pressure. I sometimes use the backside of a spoon to create a print with patterns.
6. Use the dryer to heat up the emulsion, which makes the transfer process smoother. Apply heat for 30 seconds.
7. Grab a corner of the emulsion layer and slowly peel it off from the paper. Dark areas tend to stick easily, so pull slowly.
8. Allow your print to dry for about five minutes and then put the print in a water bath containing one part vinegar to four parts cold water. Soak for about 1 minutes, remove, and let hang dry.
1. Hot press watercolor paper: This paper is by far the most popular paper used to make Polaroid transfers. Before you adhere the emulsion layer, soak the paper in warm water for one minute. Lay the paper on a flat waterproof surface and pat dry with paper towels, removing all excess water. Right before you adhere the emulsion layer to the watercolor paper, use the hair dryer to heat up the paper a little. This helps make a good transfer.
2. Newsprint: I've had consistent results using blank newsprint for Polaroid transfers. Unlike watercolor paper, you do not want to use water to soak the paper. Adhere the sticky emulsion layer directly to a dry piece of newsprint.
The more you experiment with the process, the more you will be able to fine-tune your Polaroid transfers. If you have Polaroid transfers, e-mail them to firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll post them on the Behind the Lens feature page.