The first time I saw a Polaroid image transfer, I knew I had to learn how to make one. When gently transferred to watercolor paper, Polaroid photographs grow magically softer, dreamier, and more like paintings. The best thing? A quick trip to old-camera heaven — eBay — confirmed I could gather everything needed at a price I could afford.
There are several ways to make Polaroid transfers. I use a Vivitar Instant Slide Printer (available used for $50 to $75 on eBay) to copy images from 35mm slides to 3.25×4.25-inch sheets of Polaroid peel-apart Polacolor 669 film. The process doesn’t require a darkroom or much space — a kitchen or bathroom works well. All that’s required are slides. Still got a film camera? Here’s a reason to use it! The transfer process is simple.
1. Load Polacolor 669 film into the slide printer following the manufacturer’s directions.
2. Wet a sheet of watercolor paper, the smoother the better. (I prefer Arches hot press, available at art supply shops and online.) Place the wet sheet on a smooth, flat surface, and lightly squeegee it.
3. Load a slide into the printer, and push the button to expose. Pull the film out of the holder in one straight movement, and let it develop for 10 to 15 seconds. Using scissors, cut the white wax-paper end of the film, and gently peel negative and positive apart.
4. Place the negative face-down on the wet watercolor paper. Once it’s down, do not move it or the image will smear.
5. Using medium pressure and a brayer roller ($7 to $10 at any art supply shop), roll back and forth over the back of the negative approximately 20 times.
6. Float the transfer, paper side down, on the surface of a tray of warm water for 3 to 5 minutes. Slowly submerge it entirely, and gently take a corner of the negative and peel it back in a straight, slow motion.
7. Remove the transfer from the water, squeegee the sides of the paper — not the image itself — and set it on a flat surface to dry over night.
8. Wake the next morning and admire your work.
It’s funny what we value. I’ll take a box of Polaroid film over a Tiffany’s box any day!
A photographer specializing in alternative processes, Ann Texter posts transfers on her website.