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How to make a digital Polaroid image transfer

OK, here’s the verdict: it’s difficult to come up with a convincing digital version of a Polaroid image transfer, and it takes a LONG time to do it. It is a lot easier to do these physically with the DayLab machine. But I am so addicted to my Photoshop, I just have to try to see everything that it can do.

Compare these two shots:

The frame on the second one still needs a lot more work. It is way too solid and dark. The upper one is better, but probably still needs a few ink smears along the edges to make it really good. Anyway, here’s what you’ve gotta do, and you can decide for yourself if it’s worth going to all this effort:

1. Scan a piece of watercolor paper or canvas to use as the base. You could also just create this in Photoshop using the texturizer. Save this as an 8 x 10 image.

2. In a separate file, create a border for the image transfer. I adapted the directions for creating a "grunge" border found here at You’ve got to size your border to either 3 x 4 or to 6 x 8 to match the sizes of Polaroids (at least the ones produced by a DayLab machine).

3. Slop up the border a LOT, by erasing, smudging, etc etc.

4. Add a cyan layer underneath your border.

5. Move your transfer border onto the background that you created in step 1.

6. Open the image that you wish to "transfer". Size it to either 3 x 4 or to 6 x 8. Drag it onto the border and nudge it into place, transforming it as needed to fit within the border.

7. Use the rectangular marquee tool to select a thin border within the image and feather it a bit (only on the image layer). Apply a slight Gaussian blur. Use the blur tool and the burn tool around the edges as needed to blend.

8. Pick the color replacement tool, and using the cyan color from the transfer border, "remove"areas of paint.

9. Speckle the paint with a large brush eraser.

10. Set a clipping path to just the image layer, and adjust the lightness, brightness, and color balance until the fading looks like the subtle colors of a real image transfer.

11. Think about whether or not it might be better to buy the machine!

Copyright 2007 Cyndi Lavin. Not to be reprinted, resold, or redistributed for profit. May be printed out for personal use or distributed electronically provided that entire file, including this notice, remains intact.

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joe zarba said…
the problem is that if you buy the machine of which I already have two, you can only work from film slides which you must already have if I am not mistaken.

I want to be able to do it from images taken with a digital camera.
Thank you
joe Zarba
Cyndi L said…
Joe, here's an old post of mine about my experience using the DayLab machine. The DayLab website still has a "contact us" button, which I think is your best bet for this type of help. I don't know if there is any way to do it short of having your digital images put on slides, which a printing service can certainly do for you. Best luck!