Photoshop tutorial: Polaroid transfer effect

Give portraits a retro film look with this simple Photoshop Elements tutorial for recreating a Polaroid Transfer effect

Want to recreate an analogue film effect for your digital photos? In just 6 easy steps, this Photoshop Elements tutorial will show you how to achieve a Polaroid transfer effect. The original technique involved applying a sheet of film to a piece of damp paper and then peeling them apart. The result would be an attractive torn-edge border and unusual shifts in colours. In this tutorial you’ll learn how to desaturate colours while maintaining great skin tones and also find out how to use Levels and Adjustment Layers. To finish you’ll add the border for a final touch. You can download the border for this tutorial by clicking the link above, but remember to check the links on the right for more free borders and Photoshop resources to download.

1. Tweak the tones

Open polaroid_before.jpg. Go to Windows>Layers to open the Layers palette. Click the Create New Fill or Adjustment Layer icon at the bottom of the palette and choose Levels. Drag the grey Midtone input slider to 1.30 to brighton the midtones, then set the white Highlight input slider to 205 to blow out the highlights.


2. Target the channels

By tweaking the tonal levels in individual channels, you can recreate the distinct colour hues of the Polaroid Transfer process. Set the drop-down menu to Red, then set the grey Midtone slider to 0.80. This reduces the reds in the scene, adding a colder green/blue tint to the background.


3. Moody blue

Set the drop-down menu to Green, then drag the grey Midtone slider to 0.90 and brighten the green highlights to 220. Next, choose the Blue channel and drag the Midtone slider to 1.45 to lighten the blue midtones. This further enhances the cold blue background while preserving the warmer skin tones.


4. Selective saturation

Create a new Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer and drag the Master Saturation down to -25 to create the faded colours associated with the Polaroid Transfer technique. Select the Reds channel and set Hue to +15. Push Saturation up to +43 to make the colours of the skirt and shoes look more vivid.


5. Soften the skin

To add a flattering blur effect, duplicate the Background layer by dragging it onto the Create a New Layer icon. Choose Filter>Blur>GaussianBlur, then enter a Radius of 8px and click OK. Set the Background Copy layer’s Blending Mode to Lighten and reduce the layer’s Opacity to 20%.


6. Add the border

To get the rough-and-ready border texture that typifies a Polaroid Transfer print, open polaroid_border.jpg. Go to Select>All, then Edit>Copy. Return to the main document and choose Edit>Paste. Finally, set the border’s Blending Mode to Lighten. The black sections of the border layer will vanish. As a finishing touch you can make the model look more mysterious by crushing the black levels to hide shadow detail. Click the Create New Fill or Adjustment Layer icon, choose the Levels and drag the black Shadow input level slider to 34."