Jellyfish Emulsion Transfers
Emulsion Transfers From Digital Images
Devotees of the Polaroid emulsion lift process will remember the fun (?) of lifting off a polaroid emulsion by soaking it in hot water, removing the emulsion, floating it in a tray of cool water, and attempting it get it successfully stick to a piece of paper beneath it in the tray, all the while trying to stretch it out with fingers or a paintbrush. Results were as flat or wrinkled as desired. Photographers were limited by the size of the instant film, and practice made perfect.
Now there is a new way to lift emulsions off digital inkjet transparencies, and though the technique used is reminiscent of Polaroid emulsion lifts, there are some excellent advantages:
-Transfer sizes are now larger (A4, 11.69″ x 8.27″ or A3, 11.69” × 16.54”).
-High res digital camera or scanner files are used instead of small Polaroid prints.
-Dpi, color, contrast, etc. are user controllable before prints are made.
-To transfer images all you need is a substrate, a tray and cool water.
-The image is made with pigment inks, so technically, they should have excellent light stability.
The transfer product is called Jellyfishphoto, and is offered as a printing service from the company with the same name located in Bilbao, Spain. Upload your photographs to them and they will mail you back completed printed transparencies ready for transfer. This is a handmade product that (like other handmade products) may vary in quality. The sheets I tried out worked well.
How it works
Jellyfishphoto may share some similarities in handling to the Polaroid emulsion transfer method—it’s clever name comes from the ‘jellyfish’ appearance the emulsion takes on in the tray—but it relies on pigmented digital inkjet ink to create the color or black and white image. The ink is printed onto a receiving layer and that in turn is adhered to a transparent polyester base with a water-soluble adhesive. The digital transparency is soaked in cool water for approximately two minutes. When it is softened, the emulsion aka the ‘jellyfish’ is gently lifted and re-applied to the substrate of your choice. Besides the final substrate such as fine art paper, all you need is a tray, cool water and a table to work on.
30 years ago, I exposed lith film negatives in the darkroom and processed them in Dektol to get a continuous tone positive. I layered the processed film over a lighter hand-colored version of the same photograph, and add bits of paper, glitter, feathers and other stuff to “color” the image. This sandwich of materials was matted and framed.
When I heard about Jellyfishphoto’s digital inkjet emulsion transfers the memory of those lith film composites came back to me, and I thought I could try a similar technique with this product, laying the emulsion over fine art and decorative paper for a unique look.
NOTE: If you have ever made Polaroid emulsion lifts, this process may appeal to you. But this technique is not for the faint of heart—you must have patience to separate and re-apply the emulsion to a substrate! Practice makes perfect. Set aside some quality time to make your transfers. There are a number of excellent “how to” videos on the Jellyfishphoto website, and on YouTube.
Ordering the digital transfer Prints
Prepare your digital files as you normally would for printing.
Upload the files to the jellyfishphoto.es website. At the time of writing this article, prices range from less than $7.00 for an A4 size sheet to less than $20 for an A3 sheet. There are discounts for larger orders. You will receive your images printed on the transfer paper, in about a week to ten days depending on where you are located.
A4 JPG format, at 300 dpi and no larger than 20 x 27.5 cm (7.8″ x 10.7″).
A3 JPG format at 300 dpi and no larger than 27.5 x 40 cm (10.7″ x 15.6″)
As of this writing, Jellyfishphoto is only providing the service of making the transfer material to use in your studio.
I scanned some older 6×7 Fuji Reala color negatives photographs I made years ago in the Paramount Theatre in Asbury Park, NJ. I tried a selection of various uncoated fine art papers such as Stonehenge White, 250gsm, Weston Diploma Parchment, Canson Bristol, Savoire-Faire Lama Li decorative paper (made in Nepal), a white pulp wavy-lined paper, (beautiful, but not well suited for the transfer process), fabric and a few scrapbooking papers. I also tried aluminum foil and an aluminum printing plate—the metals did not work — the emulsion peeled off— If you want to use a metal I suggest trying a non-water soluble spray coating first.
How To Transfer
Soak the selected paper with the transparency floating above it in cool water for at least two minutes.
Gently “lift” the emulsion that contains the printed photograph from the transparent sheet. This is a delicate operation, rock the tray back and forth as needed, and gently push back the emulsion from the edges without tearing it.
Remove the transparent sheet. It is helpful to have an assistant help with this (like I did) especially to step in and remove the clear transparency from the tray after the emulsion is lifted from it.
Rock the tray to spread out the emulsion and position the paper underneath it (while still in the water) to flow the emulsion onto the paper. This takes practice. I got most of the image where I wanted it on the paper, then lifted out the wet print/emulsion combo (holding the top with both thumbs) and placed it on the back of a darkroom tray. You could use any smooth flat surface. I splashed water on the emulsion to continue moving it around. Do not let it dry out, and take care not to rip it.
Let the final print air-dry flat, blot carefully and gently with paper towels to soak up excess water if needed.
Denser areas of ink may require more time to remove- soak longer and cool down the water if needed. Do not use hot water.
The emulsion transfer dries with a semi-matte finish on most substrates. I noticed a glossier finish when adhering it to textured surfaces and fabric. You can spray or brush it with a semi-matte or matte varnish. Always test first to make sure the varnish does not dissolve your image.
The product performs as described and the color rendition is accurate. Don’t be afraid to experiment with slightly textured papers, I used a few with almost a glitter-like surface, but although they looked good, they unfortunately didn’t scan or photograph well to show here. Remember, you are making original art with digital emulsion transfers and each piece is a one of a kind. If you are looking for that emulsion transfer look with the ease of digital photography, go for it!
Jellyfishphoto, jellyfishphoto.es; Weston Diploma parchment, bostickandsullivan.com; Savoire-Faire, Lama Li Venetian Mask paper; savoirefaire.com or dickblick.com; Stonehenge printmaking paper, most local and online art supply stores; Scrapbooking paper, basicgrey.com, americancrafts.com, and various local or online crafts stores;
This article was originally published in photo technique Magazine, Sept/Oct 2013 and was used with permission of Preston Publicatons and the author.