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I really had meant to finish this series sooner, but a combination of things held me up. However, here it is now, the final instalment, dealing with transferring the emulsion to a new backing. Last time we visited this topic we ended up with an emulsion floating free in a shallow tray of water, or possibly attached by just one edge to the transparent plastic front sheet.

At this point the transfer can be as simple as sliding in a sheet of paper and gently lifting the emulsion out. Experience suggests that it is rarely as simple as that. Firstly, you need to use a fairly heavyweight paper to avoid it disintegrating or tearing – watercolour paper is good, and also adds texture. Secondly the emulsion is very thin and lightweight and tends to flow with the water, so will either flow right off the paper as you lift it out, or at least roll and tangle itself up, and be difficult to straighten out later. So here’s a method that works for me and despite the number of hands required to use it being generally at least equal to the maximum I have available, I managed to get some photos to illustrate.

On the left is the emulsion still attached along its left-hand edge to the transparent front sheet, on the right is an inkjet print on heavyweight matt paper, both in about 5mm depth of water. As you can see the faces point in opposite directions, because the emulsion is face down and needs to be flipped over. In this case the print was bigger than I had thought and so I had to put it in a bigger tray and then move the emulsion over – this is why it’s still attached. So I lifted it out slowly by the attached edge and placed it emulsion side down above the print, then lift off the transparent sheet.

Once flipped like this it’s easy to separate the last bit of glue by gently working with a paint brush. At this point there’s enough water here that it’s easy to move the emulsion by gently pushing with fingers or a brush. It is very soft but can also tear easily, and if it was already torn – during the peeling process, for example, like this one – then extra care is required.

Here it is positioned over the print, roughly where we want it. At this point the water is now more of a hindrance than a help, as any disturbance in the water can move or wrinkle the emulsion. We need to drain as much as possible, but if we just tip up the tray the emulsion will slide off with all the water. My method is to hold down the emulsion on three sides using something flat, and then tip up the tray so that the unsecured edge is at the bottom. This allows the water to drain out from between the emulsion and the paper, but without the emulsion being able to move much.

Here I used flat wooden lollipop sticks around the edges. I can just about hold them all in place with the fingers of one hand, while using the other hand to lift the tray over to a sink to drain out the water. If the emulsion is split or torn you may need more sticks or some other method, just be careful to use something that is not going to snag the emulsion, since once the water is gone the danger of tearing is increased.

Here it is out of the water an laid on a flat smooth surface – I use the top of an old side table with a formica surface on one side. Because I found that the paper I was using stuck like glue to the surface, and nearly ruined the first transfer I made with it, I put a layer of clingfilm underneath.
You can see the emulsion is a bit wrinkly. While the paper is still wet you can smooth it out with a wet brush, and also do some fine tuning of the position. This will get harder as the paper starts to dry out so add a little more water to soak the emulsion if you’re having problems, but not enough to lift it again. Finally to stop the paper curling when it dries, you should tape the edges down. I trimmed the clingfilm underneath to the edges of the paper, and then use brown paper gummed tape on all four edges. When the paper dries out it shrinks and the tape holds it securely so that it pulls itself flat.
Here’s the finished transfer taped to the board and ready to dry.

I hope this has been a useful little series. I’ve certainly learned a lot through trial and error, and I thought it was worth writing up for anyone else who was interested.

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