Restoration of expired Polaroid pack film

 

 

an illustrated guide to bringing dead pack film back to life

 

 

The Problem

After just a few years the chemical pods in Polaroid film start to deteriorate. In un-refrigerated conditions, color shifts and tone changes will be noticed within two years. If left for too long the chemical pods completely dry up, rendering the film useless. But what about those fantastic textured borders that came on the very old films? The film we’re talking about in this guide is the first few generations of Polaroid Polacolor Type 108, the first color peel apart film.

The Solution

Using the best of the old and the new, we can create a hybrid film pack. In this guide we will show you how to use Type 108 prints, and attach them to new Fuji FP-100c negatives and film pods. We’ll repack the new film into an empty cartridge, allowing you to photograph and develop the hybrid film as normal. When you peel your film apart, peel it in such a way that the borders remain attached to the print.

 

 

Supplies:

  1. Old Type 108 film (Catalog what works)
  2. Fuji FP-100c
  3. Empty film packs
  4. Dark slides that come from the old film or the Fuji
  5. Double sided tape
  6. Thin clear packing tape
  7. A dark room (without any lights, including safe lights)
  8. Binder clips
  9. Scissors
  10. Gloves for handling film and prints
  11. Soft cloth for protecting print when working

 

Outside of the Dark Room

In this guide, there are a few steps. We spent considerable time developing the technique, and it reflects the methods that gave us the best results. Stick with it! In the end, the beauty of the old films will be worth all the work. After you get the process down and have tuned your setup, it does get quicker. Hands become agile and able to do the darkroom work accurately and quickly. So without further ado, let’s get started!

Take apart the Type 108 film pack. Unwrap the package and slide out the dark slide, you’ll need it later so save it. Carefully remove the metal cover from the pack. Take a moment to familiarize yourself with what we have here if this is your first film dissection. Here, you will see that there are two sides, the positive receiving print side and the negative side that actually gets exposed on the underside. Over time the liquid in the goo packs dries out and becomes unusable. We’re going to fix that in this tutorial. The first step is carefully separating the print including the tissue from the negative side of the pack. The only part that we want to save is the actual print.

It’s best if it you are working from a sealed pack of old film. Over time the prints tend to warp and curl from age if they become exposed to air. It’s important to have flat receiving prints for your new negative and magic goo.

The print side is not sensitive to light, so this can be done in normal room light. After you’ve separated the entire pack, we need to do some repair to the prints. Inevitably, after so many years they have started to warp, at least at the corners.

The warping presents a problem during the developing process when pulling it out of the camera. We found that when the prints get too warped they don’t run through the rollers properly. In our testing process this ended up with a sticky mess inside the camera and ruined photo. We’ll also be using tape to affix the print to the new Fuji negative; this is a good time to do that as well.

{Tip! If all you have is a partial pack of curled old film you can fix that. Sandwich the film between two paper towels. Use a clothes iron on the lowest heat setting WITHOUT STEAM. Carefully iron it flat until it is better. It won’t be perfect, but it will definitely help!}
 

Apply the tape to the backside of the print, on the border between the tissue and the actual print. It’s this junction that prevents proper feeding into the rollers of the camera, we need to strengthen it. Firmly seal the tape onto the tissue and print. Make sure to trim off any excess tape on either side.

Now we need to add a small strip of tape to the top of the print tissue. Further along in the process, this is how we’ll re-attach it to the new negative sheet after the darkroom. Again, a small strip of tape is best. If you’ve got some thin (1/2″ or less) clear tape, use this. If not, cut strips from wider packing style tape. Normal desktop scotch style tape may not be strong enough, so we encourage you to use something more stout. Be gentle with the prints, they’re very old and brittle. We recommend using a towel or something under the print so it doesn’t get dirty or scratched during this process.

Put the tape on the top edge of the tissue where you separated it from the old negative.

With the preparation process finished, set aside your prints. We used a cabinet in the above photos to hang them, a handy technique for when we’re ready to affix the print to the negative in the final step.

 

In the Dark Room

Now we’re working with the new film, and new negatives. Because we’re working with color film, standard darkroom safelights will not work. This process will need to be done in absolute darkness so we don’t spoil the negatives. If anyone knows what type of safelight works with Polaroid/Fuji negatives WE’D LOVE to know.

In the darkroom here's what you'll need:
  1. Empty film packs: Polaroid or Fuji work equally well
  2. Double sided tape
  3. Darkslides, one for each piece of film you’ll be reloading
  4. Binder clips, these help to keep the reassembled film pack secure and light free.

The following few steps can be done in full light, you can even do it in the previous section; we just found it easy to do it in the darkroom while laying our supplies out. We will be putting a very small strip of double back tape on the separator plate. The plate functions to keeps the negatives separate and flat inside the pack of film. This piece of tape prevents slippage when pulling out the darkslide before taking your photo. In the original pack you’ll notice that they used a staple that holds the entire pack of negatives in place. Since we’re only using one image per pack, we don’t need to hassle with a special staple. Here’s what your plate should look like with the tape applied. Make sure you put it on the correct side, same as the staple. Repeat this for all the plates which you intend to use in this process.

With the lights still on get your pieces ready. Lay out all the pieces in a nice and orderly fashion on your workspace so you can find them in the dark.

Before you turn off the lights, review the process (below) and familiarize yourself with the anatomy of a packfilm pack. In the previous section you should have familiarized yourself with how the packfilm pack is put together. In this process we’re going to be preserving the negative side, exactly the opposite of what we did with the old film. Conserving the first pull tab is critical, as it’s the only way there is to mate up the two halves of the film inside the camera without going into the darkroom to develop the photo.

Here's how to separate the film pack when you're in the dark:

Once you’ve harvested all the negatives you’ll need for your batch, put the remaining unused Fuji pack in a towel, or otherwise safe from light when that time comes later.

 

Re-constructing the film

Now we’re ready to put the negative back in the empty cartridges laid out before you. Here are the steps

  1. With the negative in one hand, mate it up with the separator plate. Align it so it is square and centered.
  2. Secure it with the double sided tape that is on the plate.
  3. Place the Dark Slide over the negative, again align square and centered.
  4. Holding that assembly with one hand, place it in the Bottom tray. The short side of the tray goes to the tape side of the negative assembly
  5. check to see its fully seated, and clip the binder clips on the sides to secure it from slipping
  6. repeat as necessary for all your negatives.

Turn on the lights!

Finally, we’ll be taping the Print to the negative assembly. Carefully flip up the Dark Slide so the top side of the negative sheet can be seen. You will see a glue line where you removed the Fuji print in the dark room. Using the notches on the side of the negative and print pieces, properly align the Print to the negative. Seal the tape, double checking your alignment. Now fold the Print in the top of the tray, use the old film pack as an example if you need more visual references. Replace the top tray of the film pack and you’re done!

Reattaching the Print to the Negative and comletion

Go shoot your new film!

Now that you’ve got it down, it shouldn’t take you too long to make another batch. We’ve found that once you’ve got your setup correct it takes about 5 minutes total to do all the steps.

Results
Observations

There seems to be a number of things that go wrong in the development process. Its our belief that it all depends on the Print. What kind of condition is it in, was it exposed to moisture, decaying chemicals, air etc.. Furthermore, we’ve found that the developing times are quite sensitive unlike modern fuji film. Develop your photo for around 1:20 (80 seconds). Anymore and the print seems to deteriorate and separate from the emulsion.

We will keep this post updated with new information as our and your results become available. Finally have fun with it! If you want perfect prints, use unmodified Fuji film. This process will produce quirky, unique, aged looking photos. Enjoy instant photography for all its imperfections and you’ll never take a bad shot!

-LC