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Practical tips for Polaroid Emulsion Lifts

Information on how to create Polaroid Emulsion Lifts.

I use different techniques in my work, Cyanotype process and Polaroid Emulsion Lifts being firm favourites.

How to make a Polaroid emulsion lift short video on my YouTube channel.
Polaroid emulsion lift on stone from Horden beach made with Seascapes project

How to make a polaroid lift

Set up for polaroid emulsion lifts

You will need:

  1. Cut the frame away from your polaroid in the crop that you would like to use. Dispose of the frame.
  2. Fill one of the tupperware containers with boiling water.
  3. Put the cut polaroid into the boiling water to soak for a minimum of 10 minutes.
  4. Get a cuppa.
  5. Check the polaroid to see if the plastic front and back have started to come away. The hot water should soften the glue that binds the polaroid together.
  6. Carefully using your fingers (make sure the water is not too hot at this point), peel one of the plastic sides away. I generally try to aim to take the back off, but go with whatever seems to be the easiest.
  7. Place the remaining part of the polaroid into warm water and using the soft brush gently peel away the gel that contains the image. This is very fragile so take your time.
  8. Once the emulsion is free it will float in the warm water. Place your watercolour paper into your second bath.
  9. Transfer the polaroid gel to your second bath of very cold water. This will act to firm up the gel and will make it easier to manipulate.
  10. Carefully float the gel on to the paper. Flatten and shape the gel using the brush, and then leave to dry.

You don’t need any glue for this. As the gel and paper dry they contract and bond together, though you may want to use a clear varnish to help seal the image more thoroughly. This video may help.

Polaroid Emulsion Lift on wood

I had a nice piece of bur wood that I wanted to try the technique with. To prepare the wood I sanded it down to a near polish. The flatter the surface the easier it is to apply. Using the exact same instructions above you can apply the emulsion gel to quite a few surfaces. Wood was probably the least successful for me. You need to use glue on the wood to get the gel to adhere, as it will just curl away from the surface when dry. And once dry I had to add varnish to ensure it stayed. I only did this the once because I was a bit disappointed with the result vs the effort.

Polaroid Emulsion Lift onto glass

Once again you use exactly the same two bath technique to get your emulsion out of the polaroid. Carefully brush the wet polaroid onto the glass. The suction created by the gel as it cools and contracts should be enough to adhere the emulsion to the surface.

Another attempt on to glass that I had collected from the beach. The sea had rasped the surface of the glass so I wasn’t sure how the emulsion would fix on to it, but I had some nice results. The abrasions on the glass make it more opaque than transparent which meant that the image was more defined than those on glass that hadn’t been abraded. It is very much a game of chance with this process until you have trained your hands to be steady and delicate when removing the emulsion, and transferring it on to the given surface. I didn’t use any glue in this transfer but I did seal the edges with varnish.

Emulsion lift on safety glass

Polaroid emulsion lifts on random found objects from site visits

Some of these objects are made with members of the public.

Polaroid emulsion lift on a shell found at VENJ in Jarrow
Polaroid emulsion lift on a shell found at VENJ in Jarrow
Viaduct on a stone found in hawthorn dene
Hag stone, seascape,
found on Horden beach and made by Ruby

Working back into your emulsion lift

You may just want to leave the polaroid lift exactly how you managed to make it, but I found that I quite liked the fun of working back into the resultant images on the watercolour paper. You can use pens, gold leaf, paints, inks etc as long as the paper doesn’t get wet enough to effect the transfer.

So, I hope you find this information helpful. Enjoy making your emulsion lifts!

I offer more on my Patreon including a mentorship tier ❤️

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