Polaroid Transfer: how to recreate this cool, retro effect

Recreate a Polaroid Transfer effect in Photoshop: Step 6

For an unusual way to make your digital portraits stand out from the crowd, why not recreate the look of a Polaroid Transfer effect in Photoshop?

Polaroid Transfer: how to recreate this cool, retro effect in Photoshop

The old-school Polaroid Transfer technique involves applying a sheet of film to a piece of damp paper (textured watercolour paper, for example) and then peeling them apart.

As well as producing a print with an attractive torn-edge border, with a Polaroid Transfer effect you get unusual shifts in colour – warm colours can take on a cold hue, for instance.

While the majority of the colours in your shot tend to become desaturated, others can become more intense, such as the vivid reds on our model’s shoes.

The colours and textures produced by the Polaroid Transfer can add a moody or romantic feel to your shots, so it’s good to know that the look can still be recreated easily and effectively in the digital darkroom.

Recreate a Polaroid Transfer effect in Photoshop: our before image

Here, we’ll show you how to use Photoshop’s Levels command to change the colours in your source file. By adjusting the tonal levels of individual colour channels, you can cool down a warm background without producing unnatural-looking skin tones.

We’ll also use a Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer first, to desaturate the shot as a whole, then to target and boost the colour of the red shoes to really make them stand out. So let’s 
get started…

Step-by-step how to recreate a Polaroid Transfer effect in Photoshop

 

Recreate a Polaroid Transfer effect in Photoshop: Step 1

01 Tweak the tones
Use your own image, or download our photo. 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 select Levels. Drag the grey Midtone slider to 1.30 to brighten them, then set the white Highlight slider to 205 to blow out the highlights.

 

Recreate a Polaroid Transfer effect in Photoshop: Step 2

02 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.

 

Recreate a Polaroid Transfer effect in Photoshop: Step 3

03 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.

 

Recreate a Polaroid Transfer effect in Photoshop: Step 4

04 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.

 

Recreate a Polaroid Transfer effect in Photoshop: Step 5

05 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%.

 

Recreate a Polaroid Transfer effect in Photoshop: Step 6

06 Add the border
To get the rough-and-ready border texture that typifies a Polaroid Transfer print, get the border image from the source images folder. Go to Select>All, Edit>Copy. Return to the main document and click Edit>Paste. Set the border’s Blending Mode to Lighten. The central area of the border layer will vanish.

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