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Alternative Photographic Processes - (Hand made photographic -emulsions and processes)

 Polaroid Transfer

Image transfer is a technique by which any colour Polaroid peel-apart film ( any emulsion ending with 9 - type 59) can be used to create an original print on a range of non-photographic surfaces. After the film has been exposed in the normal way it is pulled from the camera or back to start the development. However without waiting the usual 60 seconds, the film is almost immediately peeled apart, the print discarded, and the negative placed face down on a suitable receptor sheet. The back of the negative is then lightly rubbed to help transfer the image and after one or two minutes gently peeled from the receptor, hopefully leaving the image behind. Due to the nature of the process each print is an original and it is unlikely that you could ever get exactly the same result twice. The timing of peeling of both the original film and the transferred print, along with the receptor surface texture, temperature, and humidity, are all variables affecting the final result. Listed below is a step by step guide to the basics of the image transfer technique.


Any Polaroid colour peel-apart films can be used. These include:
Type 669 for cameras, medium format backs and the Vivitar instant slide printer
Type 59 for the 5x4" 545 sheet back.
Type 559 for the 5x4" 550 pack back.
Type 809 10x8" sheet film.
Black and white peel-apart films cannot be used.


The film is exposed directly in a Polaroid camera or back creating an original Polacolor image specifically for transfer. The transfer in all cases except when using film Type 59 must take place immediately, therefore it is difficult to work on location. With Type 59 this problem can be avoided as the film can be removed from the back after exposure and taken back to the studio for development and transfer.


Existing slides can be copied onto Polaroid film using one of the various Polaroid or Vivitar instant slide printers or projected directly onto the film using a conventional enlarger. Working with a slide printer or enlarger gives greater freedom in image control allowing multiple copies of the same image and easier experimentation with transferring techniques and materials. Using an enlarger allows greater freedom for cropping, composition and burning and dodging. To print from an enlarger a Polaroid back is laid on the baseboard with a sheet of white paper in place of the film. The image is composed and focused and then the location of the back marked before it is removed, loaded, replaced and taped in place. Test strips for exposure and colour are easily produced by closing the dark slide by incrementally.


Paper designed for watercolour or printmaking purposes makes the best receptor although a wide variety of materials including silk and velvet can be successfully used. The main requirement is for the receptor to absorb sufficient of the emulsion to prevent it being peeled away when the negative is removed. Some papers can be used dry while others require soaking in water. Dry transfers usually retain more detail although they run the risk of emulsion peeling, while wet transfers give a watercolour effect. It is important that the receptor is placed on a flat surface such as a piece of glass or perspex. To avoid image blur due to movement the receptor must be held firmly in place. With wet transfers the adhesive action of the water is sufficient, however with dry transfers it is best to tape the sheet in place. Excess water should be removed from the surface with a paper towel, squeegee or windscreen wiper.


The film is exposed as normal and pulled from the camera or back. This spreads the developer across the film and the image dyes begin migrating from the negative to the positive, reaching completion in sixty seconds. For the transfer process however the film is peeled apart prematurely, after about fifteen seconds. This arrests the dye migration, leaving the negative with virtually all the cyan dye, about half the magenta, and very little yellow, resulting in a cyan bias to the final image. This can be allowed for by using about 20 CC red filtration when making the initial exposure or slide copy.


Once the film has been peeled discard the PRINT and place the NEGATIVE face down on the receptor sheet. Pausing for too long at this stage risks drying out the dyes. Gentle, even pressure is then applied to the back of the negative by hand or roller to ensure complete contact. After about a minute and a half the negative is gently peeled away in a smooth motion, to reveal the transferred image. This can then be reworked and cleaned up while still wet. To seal the image and prevent colours fading over a long period of time a UV absorbing varnish can be applied.



The process has an overall 'dulling' effect, bright colours appear less saturated while contrast is reduced. This can produce pleasing results, however, it is well worth bearing in mind if creating an original image for transfer. Due to the high contrast and colour saturation of transparency film this is less of a problem when making copies from existing slides.


Although Polaroid recommended normal exposure, in practice I found that images for transfer required over-exposing by one to one and a half stops. It has been suggested that using the film cold, (i.e. straight out of the fridge) gives better colour rendition, however this will considerably alter the development and subsequently the peeling times. In general CC20 red or CC20 magenta gives fairly reasonable colours in flash or daylight.


The receptor surface must be sufficiently absorbent to take the emulsion. In practice I found it best to pass all papers through a water bath before removing excess water with a squeegee. Less absorbent papers are left to soak for up to five minutes while more absorbent types require only a quick dip. Some workers wipe down the receptor surface with alcohol to make the dyes adhere better. A good paper to start with is either Silver Safe 200g/m2 (absorbent) or Waterford Tub sized Printmaking Paper (less absorbent). Successful transfers have been made onto silk, velvet, vellum, rice paper, wood veneer and unglazed ceramics, so experiment.


After fifteen seconds development, the print is peeled from the negative and discarded. (If using Type 59 film snip off the metal clip at the trap before peeling). Waiting longer before peeling will allow more of the dyes to transfer to the original print and give a heavier cast. If peeled sooner than ten seconds, the dyes may not have developed sufficiently to transfer. In practice I found that with early peeling the emulsion is too fluid to transfer well and waiting too long risks the dyes running out. Once peeled the negative must be transferred immediately or the emulsion will very quickly dry out.


Care must be taken to apply pressure evenly to the back of the negative during the transfer. This is best achieved by placing a piece of card over the negative before using a roller or squeegee. Continued pressure will increase the density but may result in a muddy image. Light areas transfer well but shadows and blacks may require local pressure to give sufficient density. This is best applied with the back of a spoon or similar implement.


The timing of peeling depends largely upon paper type and absorbency. Highly absorbent surfaces may require shorter times, as if left for too long, the negative may begin to dry onto the receptor and prevent successful peeling. Conversely, less absorbent surfaces will require longer times. A good time to start with is one and a half minutes. Peel too soon and the dyes will not have fully transferred to the receptor giving a colour cast. Care must be taken when peeling back the negative to avoid lifting the emulsion. A slow gentle motion at a sharp angle seems to work best. If the emulsion does start to lift it can be carefully replaced with a craft knife before peeling continues.


Subsequent retouching of the transfer depends upon the receptor used. Transfers with a paper base can be retouched or highlighted with watercolours, crayon, water soluble pencils, pastels etc. Transfers onto silk and other fabrics can be further coloured using fabric dyes.


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