Polaroid Image and Emulsion Transfer

Andrzej Gutek

  PART 1:

To begin, you will need self adhesive contact paper, scissors, a roller, and of course, a polaroid print (I use Polacolor 669 film). The print must be completely dry and cured, which takes about eight hours. I wait more than that and usually prepare around 20 prints for the emulsion transfer. It takes a few hours to complete the whole process with that number of prints.

  When the print is ready, cut the adhesive contact paper slightly larger than the print, separate the adhesive part from the paper backing ...
  ... and cover the back of the print with it. Use the roller to remove any bubbles that may have formed. The adhesive paper prevents the plastic backing of the print from dissolving in the hot water later on in the process.
  Trim off the white border around the print with scissors or a paper cutter. This step is essential if you want to combine several emulsion transfers on the same piece of paper. It also makes the emulsion lift easier.
If you leave the print as it is, there will be a bluish border around the finished transfer (see the picture on the right).
  PART 2:

To continue with the emulsion transfer, use a skillet full of hot water, a metal tray full of cold water, a dry styrofoam tray, rubber roller, thermometer, spatula, cotton swabs, and wet watercolor paper.
Use the thermometer to make sure that the skillet maintains a water temperature between 165 and 175 degrees Fahrenheit.

  Put the prepared print face up in the hot water. The print usually curves up and the middle part is not submerged. Use a cotton swab to push it gently under the water. It takes about five minutes before the emulsion starts to lift off. If the print is removed from the hot water too soon, the emulsion will not lift off.
  Use a spatula to lift the print gently from the hot water. Then put the print into the tray filled of cold water. Before I begin to manipulate the first print, I usually put another one in the hot water so that it is ready to be manipulated after I finish doing the first one.
  Making sure that the print is submerged, use your fingers and nails, when necessary, to gently remove the emulsion from the paper. After around three quarters of the image is lifted off, turn the print around and start from the opposite side.
  Once the emulsion is floating, remove the base paper from the tray. This needs to be done with care because it is easy to rip the emulsion.
  Next, immerse a piece of wet watercolor paper in the water and gently place the emulsion on the paper with your fingers. Be careful! The emulsion can get tangled or ripped at this point.
  Use a wet cotton swab to make the final adjustment. It is also OK to use your wet fingers. As usual, great care needs to be exercised because it is easy to tear the emulsion. Make sure that the paper is wet when you manipulate the emulsion!
  Sometimes I use a wet roller to press the image into the paper. The paper has to be well drained and left for about ten seconds before using the roller The movement of the roller is from the center towards the edges of the paper.

For my project, I wanted to transfer two prints onto the paper. I had to repeat the procedure described above and making sure that the first print did not float off. I submerged the paper in such a way that only part of the first print was under water. Then I floated the second one onto the paper. I used cotton swabs to position the floating emulsion onto the paper because my fingers disturbed the floating emulsion too much.

When all is said and done, this is a lot of fun!

For more information about Polaroid transfers I recommend Polaroid Transfers: A Complete Visual Guide to Creating Image and Emulsion Transfers by Kathleen Thormod Carr, published by Amphoto Books in 1997, and Photographer's Guide to Polaroid Transfer  by Christopher Grey, published by Amherst Media, Inc.

Designed by the late Andrzej Gutek in 2010. Photos by and maintained by Carol Ventura.