This month’s DIY is one of those projects I’ve wanted to do for years and could never get myself organized enough to actually do. So I’m finally doing Polaroid Emulsion Lifts! Emulsion lifts in the grand scheme of things are actually very easy to do and the results can be utterly wonderful and most importantly unique. I love any project where you can do your own spin to it. Now mine are technically not ‘Polaroid’ Emulsion Lifts as I shoot with Fujifilm FP-100C and the two types of film do require slightly different techniques so my steps are for Fujifilm emulsion lifts but the tips I have are useful to both in case you shoot with Polaroid/Impossible Project film. The two big things that you need are instant photographs and a surface, let’s get into it.
What You’ll Need:
- Fujilfim or Polaroid instant film
- Boiling & cold water
- 2 Baking container
- Paint brushes
- Canvas, wood, watercolor paper, metal…
Time and Cost:
Cost is roughly $10 depending on how many pieces you want to make if you already have the film. The small pieces of wood and canvas were around $1 each from my local art store. If you don’t have any old Polaroids or Fujifilm FP-100 you can easily buy a vintage Polaroid camera, and buy Fujifilm FP-100 film or Impossible Project film. The price for that would depending on how cheaply you can get the camera but I would encourage you that if you like these, it’d be worth your while. Plus then you’d have an instant camera you could keep and continue to use. The cost of film depends, Fujifilm is $10 per roll of 10 exposure and Impossible Project is $20+.
- Shoot the film and decided what ones you’d like to use for this project. Film can be used at anytime, most of the lifts I did were on ones I shoot a year ago.
- Cut the white sides of the film that frame the photo so just the image remains.
- Setup area, have both bake trays beside each other. Have paper towel, your surface, medium and brushes handy. Fill one tray with tap water.
- Boil water and place into other bake tray, let cool down slightly.
- Drop in film and wait for 1-5 minutes
- Place in cold water
*You can skip the cold water, it’s not necessary however I find the emulsion tends to be a bit more relaxed and less likely to curl in the cold water over the hot and you can leave it in the cold water.
- Start using the brush to remove the emulsion part of the film away
*You can use your fingers or a card to scrape it away as well
- Remove the paper part of the film and throw away.
At this point you have two separate choices on how to apply the emulsion to the desired surface:
- WET METHOD: With emulsion still in the water simple place surface below it and smooth out emulsion until you have it the way you’d like. Place back in water anytime if you want to uncurl the emulsion or rearrange it. Lift out of the water and dry the surface using a paper towel. Apply medium on top of the lift and the sides. Make sure fully coated and no corners are sticking up.
- DRY METHOD: Apply medium to your surface using a paint brush only on the area you would like the emulsion to be, acting quickly take the emulsion out of the water and dry before spreading it out over the surface, using your brush, fingers or roller to smooth out the emulsion or create patterns.
Now I know I usually have photos or a video for my DIY’s but this type of project has been around for decades and the internet is virtually filled with videos on how various people do their emulsion transfers. To be honest I don’t do mine like any of the video’s I’m about to link you but they are great for learning the ropes of how to get started doing emulsions lifts. It’s a very easy project and there isn’t a lot to figure out, it’s mostly just practice makes perfect / trial and error. Two great videos however are Tiffany Teske’s video of Fujil Emulsion Lifts & Transfer and Wayne Lam’s Polaroid Film Lift.
Tips and Tricks:
- I shoot a lot of instant film and sometimes mistakes happen so those underexposed, overexposed and just plain blurry shots are great to work with while you are building your confidence up and technique.
- Fujifilm emulsion is actually moderately sturdy, my general impress prior was that it would delicate and not allow for much handling but it’s surprisingly okay with being man handled. It’s similar to saran wrap.
- So now that I’ve said you can man-handle it a bit, here is where I say – try not to man-handle it too much. It can tear, but honestly most of my tears happened because I didn’t trim the edges of the film fully.
(I didn’t trim the white edges in this one)
- The white part of the film is very well secured to the emulsion so save yourself the hassle and trim it off.
- Hey maybe you want to tear your film, or make is wavy like the ocean, the emulsion doesn’t need to be laid perfect stretched out, in fact that gets a little boring after a while.
- Those shots you thought are ‘bad’ or not what you wanted could make an amazing lift, just try it out.
- Do not have the water too hot or leave it in the hot water too long, the film texture will change or bubble.
- Sometimes the water will go a yellow color, this is most likely just left over chemical from the development process, don’t be scared.
- Layer up!
(mine isn’t an epic layered lift, but just google emulsions lifts – there is so many amazing ones)
- Watercolor paper is my favourite surface, the texture it gives the emulsions I find really pleasing. The emulsion will take on the texture of your surface so keep that in mind. It will also to a degree take on the color of the surface as well.
- If you are doing the dry method and you make a mistake and think your medium will dry simply put back into water and rinse both the surface and emulsion and start work again. I use the water method the most as you can just play with the emulsion a lot. You can also use a piece of glass or clear plastic to play with the emulsion prior to drying.
- Do as many tests are you need to feel comfortable, don’t jump into doing your favourite Polaroid or Fujifilm shot in the first few tries as I’d hate for your to be feel like you wrecked a photo you really liked. I actually am terrified of ruining them even though I scan all my instant photography so I have a digital copy. So terrified that most of the lifts I’ve done so far are ‘whatever’ shots.
- Don’t be pretentious about them, and try any surface you can find.
This was mostly “I Tried” instead of full DIY as I just really wanted to do the project. I’m still no fully convinced I’d want to do this on my more beloved instant photos but it’s super fun and I can’t wait to actually shoot film with the intention of turning them into emulsion lifts. I’ll be showing all my emulsion lifts that I’ve done so far this upcoming Tuesday as this post is already pretty long. Let me know if you make any of your own and share below. I’m obsessed with these and love looking at them. This is a project I really want to get better at.