Pack Film Techniques: Image and Emulsion transfers

What are Transfers?

Image transfers are done while the film develops. Instead of using the normal print paper, another receiving surface, such as watercolour paper, is used. The effect is a softened, more diffused picture. I've also had some success doing image transfers to a desk.

Emulsion transfers are done after the print has dried for a while. The emulsion is actually lifted from the original print and transfered to another surface, like paper or even a hard surface. This only works with Polacolor film.

Why do transfers?

Good question! There's something about manipulating the process of producing a picture which brings out a different artistic aspect to photography. And, it helps understand the actual diffusion process of Polaroid film. Transfers take some of the mystery out of the nature of pack film. Plus, if you ever get bored of taking normal Polaroid pictures, transfers can breathe new life into Polaroid picture taking. I'm sure Polaroid doesn't mind selling the film for transfers! The even sell emulsion transfer kits complete with all you need to do emulsion transfers.

What's a good camera to use?

Any 100 series pack film camera will work. Check the camera chart to see which cameras are pack cameras. You can also read my opinion on purchasing a Polaroid camera.

Image transfer instructions:

  1. Remember you can only use Polacolor film for this process
  2. Compose and take the picture, but don't pull the film out of the camera
  3. Soak a piece of heavy paper (watercolour paper works well) in warm water for 1 minute
  4. Take the paper out of the water and lay it on a flat surface
  5. Squeegee the paper, leaving it on the flat surface
  6. Pull the film out of the camera and wait around 15 seconds before peeling apart
  7. Peel the negative off of the print and quickly lay it face down on the soaked paper
  8. Use a rolling pin to roll over the negative 5 or so times
  9. After around 2 minutes, peel away the negative slowly
  10. Let the transfer dry by hanging it up
  11. You can add colour with watercolour paints or coloured pencils

My experience with Image transfers:

Emulsion transfer instructions:

You'll need the following:

  1. 2 trays big enough to hold your print
  2. 160 degree water, and cold water
  3. an acetate sheet
  4. tongs (unless your fingers can take hot water)
  5. a rubber roller, or you can try a rolling pin


  1. Put the acetate sheet in the cold water
  2. Soak the paper you will be transfering to in cold water for a few seconds, then remove and squeegee it
  3. Soak a Polacolor print that has dried at least 12 hours in the 160 degree water for 4 minutes (face up)
  4. Put the Polaroid print in the cold water and push the emulsion from the edges while it's underwater
  5. Peel away the emulsion from the paper and flip it over
  6. Remove the old paper from the tray
  7. Stretch out the emulsion on the acetate sheet and try to remove the wrinkles by moving it and out of the water
  8. Take the acetate sheet with the emulsion out of the water and place it upsidedown onto the receiving material
  9. Carefully remove the acetate sheet
  10. Stretch or manipulate the emulsion as desired
  11. Using a rolling pin, or better yet, a rubber roller, start in the middle and try rolling out the air bubbles
  12. Hang to dry

Emulsion transfer experiences

This is an example of an emulsion transfer using 108 film. The picture was way too dark, so was suitable for experimenation. The emulsion was slimy and easily stretchable or wrinklable.

This is an example of an emulsion lift using 689 pro vivid film. I'm actually holding the emulsion by itself in this photo. Notice the robust nature of 689 emulsion. Even when it's wet, it supports itself and is quite stiff. After it's dry, you can handle it almost like a transparency.