Adding Polaroid Border and Watercolor Paper Effects

In last week's post, I described a composite digital photograph as one which combines more than one image to create a new effect. True composites, as I use the term, are created manually using a photo editing program with layer and mask features. In this article, I describe how to use Photoshop Elements (version 10 or newer) to add a Polaroid film border and a watercolor paper texture to a digital picture. You can also use any version of Photoshop to accomplish the same thing.

Polaroid border and watercolor paper texture effects


Original digital camera image
This process uses four steps:
  1. Editing the photo
  2. Adding the Polaroid border
  3. Creating a watercolor paper image
  4. Adding the paper texture

Editing the Photo
Begin by selecting the image you want to add these effects to. It can be any subject from flowers and macro to still life, portraits or landscapes. I chose an image of a magnolia blossom.

Pictures made with Polaroid film were sometimes transferred to watercolor paper. In the process the image lost some saturation and sharpness.

To create these effects, first I used a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer and lowered the Saturation to -100%. I then used the Opacity slider in the Layers panel to bring back some of the color with a setting of 60%.

Next I duplicated the Background Layer using Ctrl-J (Windows) or Command-J (Mac). I blurred this layer using Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur with the slider set to about 10 pixels. If the effect is too strong, reduce the Opacity in the Layers panel.

I wanted to preserve sharpness in the center of the magnolia, so I added a layer mask. Choose Layer > Layer Mask > Reveal All. This adds a white mask to the blurred image layer. I then selected a large, soft Brush tool and set the Foreground and Background colors to their defaults by typing D. This makes black the foreground color. I clicked on the mask thumbnail in the Layers panel to select it. Then I painted on the mask with black paint to hide the blurred effect on that layer so the sharp original image would show through.

I saved this file with a new name to preserve my work.

Image blurred and desaturated

Adding a Polaroid Border
Polaroid Corporation made a variety of instant films. One version produced both a black and white print and a film negative that could later be printed in the wet darkroom. Once the film was exposed and developed (automatically in about 60 seconds), you peeled the print apart from the negative. The print always had a unique edge.

While Polaroid Corporation is no longer in business, you can find a variety of Polaroid borders other people have scanned by searching online for "free Polaroid edge."  It's easiest to select a border that is "empty" inside; in other words, there is no picture or color.

Scanned Polaroid film border

If necessary, rotate the border image to match your photo's orientation. You can do this in the Organizer before opening the border image or in the Editor after opening the border file.

To add the border to your picture, choose Select > All, then Edit > Copy. Use the Photo Bin to switch to the edited picture and choose Edit > Paste. Then close the border image.

The Polaroid border is smaller than the image
and needs to be resized.

If necessary, resize the border to match your image dimensions. Choose Image > Transform > Free Transform. Elements puts a box around the border so you can drag the handles to match your photo. Press Enter or Return to apply the resizing.

You can play with different blending modes to change how the border blends with the image. In the Layers panel, click on Normal and choose one of the effects from the list. I used Color Dodge which allows some of the image to show through the irregular border.

Creating a Watercolor Paper Image
If you don't have a scanner, you can photograph any textured paper to use with your image. Pay attention to the light falling on the paper when you take the picture. Low-angled side light brings out the texture of the paper. You might also want to include the ragged edge of the paper as in the example below.

Open the watercolor paper image in Elements. Most watercolor papers are a warm, cream color. You won't need the color for your project, so turn the image to grayscale using Enhance > Adjust Color > Remove Color. Save the image as a PSD file and close it. 

Watercolor paper with torn edge in grayscale

Adding the Paper Texture
Now you want to apply the texture of the watercolor paper to your image with its Polaroid border. To do this, you will use the Texturizer filter. The filter works on images, so you first need to create a new layer in your file that merges the image with the border.

In the Layers panel, click on the top layer to make it active. Hold down the Alt key (Windows) or the Option key (Mac) and select Layer > Merge Visible. Elements combines all the existing layers into one new layer at the top. Here is where you'll apply the watercolor paper texture.

Choose Filter > Texture > Texturizer. Elements opens a new window showing your image. Click on the arrow in the bottom left corner and choose 100% to better see the texture effect.

In the far right panel next to the Texture drop-down list, click the menu icon and choose Load Texture. Locate your watercolor PSD file and open it. Increase the Relief slider to accentuate the texture. Adjust the Scale slider if you see lines where the paper image repeats. Play with different Light directions to see how they affect the texture's appearance. To see a before and after preview, click on the eye icon next to the Texturizer entry on the lower right side of the window. When you are satisfied, click OK.

Texturizer with watercolor paper at 100% view

Your image is finished! Save it and share a copy on your favorite social media site or have it printed on matte paper.

Final image with border and texture layers