Jane A. Linders shows us how to make Polaroid emulsion lifts, done by lifting the image of a Polaroid photograph.
Always be careful when handling chemicals. Read the health and safety instructions.
The emulsion lift process is both deceptively simple and complex. An emulsion lift is basically a Polaroid 669 print that has been soaked in hot water until the top emulsion layer floats off of the backing. Once the top layer is loose, it can be transferred and manipulated to a new surface receptor. This could be a rock, a sheet of glass, wood or watercolour paper to name a few. The result is an exciting mix of creativity, explorations and an enormous potential for manipulating the image.
You can use any Polaroid camera that will accept type 669 film, but I have never used a Polaroid camera. Using the Polaroid cameras that accept the film is not a very good idea, most people do this process using slide film and a 35mm camera. I always print off of 35mm slide film using the Vivitar slide printer which has been loaded with 669 film. The image quality when using the Polaroid instant cameras is never as good as using transparencies or slide film and using a camera where you can adjust the focus, f stop, shutter and speed.
Emulsion lifts can be done with Polaroid ER film type 669 (most common), 59, 809 and 559 as well as black and white Polapan Pro film.
It is important that the prints be completely dry before the emulsion lift process begins. I have dried the print for only one hour before I attempted the lift and achieved marginal results. Ideally it is better to dry the prints over night.
It should be noted that the image selected for the emulsion lift is important as well. Simple, uncluttered images seem to work better. Avoid images with excessive amounts of black, because the black part of the emulsion can be difficult to “lift off”.
The transferred images are fairly stable, except when exposed to bright lights, particularly UV light. Use UV absorbing glass when framing images and all direct sunlight should be avoided. I have transferred images to rocks and left the untreated image-rock outside exposed to the elements as an experiment and the resulting image was completely faded just inside of a weeks time. I have also coated image transfer rocks with UV absorbing varnish and although the image remained more stable, I would not recommend leaving this image/art-rock outside exposed to the rain and sunlight.
Materials for making Polaroid lifts
- 35mm Transparency or slide Polaroid 669 pack film
- Vivitar slide printer (purchased on e bay for $65 or the wildly expensive, but versatile Daylab slide printer)
- Kettle for heating water
- Watercolour paper or other receptor (rocks , glass, wood, lampshades)
- 2 water trays
- optional rubber gloves
The process of lifting images from Polaroids
1Polaroid 669 film is loaded in a Vivitar slide printer. A slide or transparency is placed in the vivtar slide printer. Press the red print button on the Vivitar slide printer to expose the film and then pull the Polaroid 669 through the rollers of the Vivitar slide printer. Wait for one minute and then peel the positive from the negative. Set aside this print to cure (or dry) for 24 hours.
2Fill a tray with hot tap water heated to approximately 150 F. Fill another tray with warm tap water.
3Immerse the dried Polaroid print face up in the hot tap water for 2 to 4 minutes. When small bubbles appear on the surface of the print, then it is ready for the next step. Different film requires different time in the hot water bath. Expired polaroid film requires longer time in the hot water bath as does black and white Polapan film.
4Transfer the print from the hot water bath (after about 4 minutes or so) to the warm water bath and gently push the emulsion layer from the edges of the print to the centre using your fingernails. Carefully lift the emulsion and peel it away from the backing. Throw away the backing and place your receptor sheet (watercolour paper, rocks, wood, glass) in the warm water under the thin emulsion. The emulsion is very fragile at this point, so be careful not to tear the image. Gently float the emulsion layer on top of your receptor. Hold the emulsion lift by the corners and lift it in and out of the warm water a couple of times to remove the wrinkles and stretch the image. Allow the wrinkle free, stretched image to lay on top of your receptor sheet and lift the entire image and receptor out of the water bath.
5You can begin manipulating the image by purposely causing wrinkles and tears to add texture and interest to the image. When you are satisfied with the placement and manipulation of the image on the receptor sheet, gently roll the image with a rubber brayer to remove air bubbles. Let the image lift dry overnight. Press the image under a press or under a large stack of books overnight to remove any lumps or waves in the receptor sheet.
6Once the images is flat and dry, you can manipulate the image further by applying watercolours, pastels, marshall oils and pencils to further enhance the image.
Comment from Ivy Bigbee:
A brief note re the new Polaroid 690 film: although this product has many advantages (proofing, development time latitude, vivid colors, and tack-sharp focus), I find the older Polaroid 669 film, with its denser emulsion layers and backing, provides more dependable, stable lifts.
The thinner, more sensitive emulsion layers of Polaroid Type 690 film, however, enhance the serendipity of emulsion lifts, as cyans and blues, particularly, acquire a florentine or crazed surface unequalled by Photoshop filters or hand applied chemicals. The aim here might be to achieve a crackled, aged effect some photographers have previously achieved by using dry ice, hammers, and brute strength.
Comment from Christina Joch:
I have tried the Polaroid 87 (b/w) / 88 (colour) and find that they too are usable for Emulsionslifting!