Polaroid photos still work on old-school chemicals and engineering

Don’t shake it, shake it, shake it, shake it.

In the 1970s, Polaroid made instant photography irresistibly simple: Press one button to capture and print a cherished memory (or questionable decision). To this day, the Polaroid Originals company relies on the same dual-layer film, chemicals, and clever engineering as those early cameras did to develop each square. This is how shots come about—no shaking necessary.

  1. Press the shutter button to expose the top film square in an eight-count pack. A ­photo-­sensitive coating on the sheet’s bottom layer captures the image.
  2. Rollers squeeze open a pod of chemicals and disperse them ­between the film’s two layers as it ejects, developing the negative version of the picture.
  3. The resulting ­reaction activates dye on the negative and transports it to the clear surface on the top section of your print, producing the final image you see.

This story appeared in the Spring 2020, Origins issue of Popular Science.


Stan Horaczek
Stan Horaczek

is the senior gear editor at Popular Science and Popular Photography. His past bylines include Rolling Stone, Engadget, Men's Journal, GQ, and just about any other publication that has ever written about gadgets. For a short time, he even wrote the gadget page for Every Day With Rachel Ray magazine. He collects vintage cameras, eats pizza, and hopes you won't go looking at his Tweets even though the link is down there.