Polaroid Emulsion Lift

5 DM Polaroid Transfer

Polaroid is dead.

Long live Polaroid.










1 Polaroid-Image, or more
2 Bowls for water
1 Electric kettle
1 new media (e.g. water colour paper)
1 plastic spoon

Create some tiny piece of artwork from what was intended to be some mass product

It is told that the transfer technique was discovered reather erroreous just by some sloppy worrk within the Polaroid laboratoires. Now the idea of producing unique litle piecies of art has become quite fashionate.

Unfortunately the original polaroid films were disconintued and those occasionally being offered via eBay and similar are way to outdated. Meanwhile even Fuji has discontinued the production. Fresh Fuji material is still on the market though.


The Impossible Project does not seem to have plans for the near future for producing peel-apart films.

Introduction and preparation

You can still get stock of Fuji FP 100C from their last batch. Should not yet be outdated at all. However, some years over their best-before date should be fine anyway.

Unless I highlight the differences between Fuji and Polaroid material, all statements match both films alike.

You will have to consider, that the Fuji got 100 ASA and the Polaroid used to be at 80 ASA. Anyway you can easily use the Fuji in old Land cameras or Pola backs or slide copiers as Daylab or Daylab Jr when you correct the exposure accordingly. Copying slides to Polaroids in the darkroom is no problem at all.

Sheet films like Polaroid 600 or SX-70 cannot be used as described in this article.

Taking pictures

However you created the images, wether they were photographed in a camera or copied from slides in a copier or in your darkroom, does not matter at all. It is important that the films were dried for one day at last. You could, of course, use quite old pictures for this process.

Prepare your workplace

You will need some space on a clean table. Make sure that you can move feely and savely as you are about to work with boiling water. A sink close by is quite convenient.

Fill a (small, flat) bowl with boiling water while another while another larger one is filled with water of convenient temperature. The large one should be large enough to work with both hands in it on the target surface. If that is a vase or something then the vase should fit into that bowl too. You may want to youse your sink for that.




Emulsion Lift

Detach the Emulsion


Now put the first film into the boiling water with its image upwards and observe it closely.

The gelatine itself migt get some colour tone while it starts dissolving. That is fine. Just be patient and continue your observations.

Now the imgage should get blisters. Once it has blisters all over then you can start separating the emulsion. See the image on the right which shows - a bit blurry - the blisters on the surface of the image.

Use the plastic spoon carefully and start at the edge of the image with peeling the emulsion apart. Be patient. With time you will manage to separate all of the emulsion. Anlösen

T(Side note: Strictly speaking this is not the emulsion. It is the gelatine layer into which the dyes transfeered to from the actual emulsion during the development process. The emulsion was then thown away. However, as the general literature refers to this process as emulsion transfer, I, too, use this expression.)

When using original Polaroid material you must be very careful with this and the following steps. The emulsion is not very stable and easily rips apart or clups together. (See the British Pound example below)

Compared to that the Fuji film's emulsion is rahter stable.

Well, using Fuji means that lots of the original flair of polaroid emulsion lifts got lost. Especially the final result is less unique. Unfortunately for new images we do not have much of a coice. 


The part of the process which gave its name to this technique, the "Emulsion Lift" is done by now, but what to do with the lifted emulsion that currently clumps togehter in the hot water?





Transfer the Image

Next the spoon comes handy to transfer the emulsion from the boiling water into the larger bowl.

Übertragen ins kalte/lauwarme Wasser









In the large bowl try unfolding the emulsion carefully with your fingers and position it on your target surface as you want.


Here, too, the Fuji emulsion is much more convenient. You can even detouch it and position it over and over again on the target surface. 
Using Polaroid this is the most crucial part of the process.

In this exmaple I am transferring the emulsion to some cardboard poscard (water colour postcard as you can easily buy it in art supplier shops or online).

I find it most promissing to fix the emulsion with one or two fingers and use the other hand to unfold the picture. Then fix it with both hands while you lift it off the water.

Put it aside and let it dry.

For the next image I suggest using fresh boiling water. 


TrocknenPolaroid suff will fix itself quite well on most surfaces once dried. The Fuji emulsion on the contrary may not stick too well. However, even Fuji emulsions will stick good enough when the image is supposed to be framed behind glass anyway. For other purposes using spray adhesive came quite convenient.  Waschmaschinen oder Spülmaschinenfest ist. 








The era of Polaroid emulsion manipulations is nealy over, unless The Impossilbe Project comes with some surprises.

The Fuji Film is still available from stock, although discontinued, is more convenient to be processed but creates less unique results.

Below you see a lift from Fuji on the left and one from Polaroid on the right.












Polaroid Fujifilm Format Zoll Format cm
669 FP 100C 3.25" x 4.25" 08,3 x 10,8
559 FP 100C45 4" x 5" 10,2 x 12,7
59 FP 100C45 4" x 5" 10,2 x 12,7
809  ./. 8" x 10" 20,3 x 25,4


Als neues Trägermaterial bieten sich insbesondere für den Fuji glatte Oberflächen an. Glas, (z.B. ein Spiegel, später gemeinsam mit enem zweiten Spiegel gerahmt, so daß die Emulsion zwischen den Gläsern liegt), Metall, Papier, Pappe. Gut geeignet ist helles bzw. weißes Material. Andere Farben können interessante kreative Gestalungsmöglichkeiten sein. Je dunkler das neue Trägermaterial ist, desto kontrastärmer wird das Polaroid darauf wirken.  

Weiches Material wie z.B. Stoffe sind in Verbindung mit dem Fuji-Material weniger geeignet. Einerseits bietet die Struktur des Gewebes wenig Fläche für die Emulsion, um haften zu bleiben, andererseits wird sich das spröde Material vom Stoff lösen, sobald er bewegt wird.

Da das Fuji-Material nicht genau so gute Klebeeigenschaften hat, wie das Polaroid-Material, sollten Lifts anschließend hinter Glas gerahmt werden. Ein geeignetes Passepartout sorgt für den nötigen Abstand zwischen Papier und Glas, so daß der Lift nicht gequetscht wird und seine typische Form dadurch beibehält.  

Weiterführende Links

Die Marke Polaroid (hat nichts mit den für Transfers geiigneten Filmen zu tun)

The Impossible Project

Kathleen Carr: Polaroid Transfers (Buch, Englisch)