Turn a Photo Into a Polaroid with Photoshop Elements

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Introduction to Polaroid Effect

Polaroid Frame Photo
Follow this tutorial to learn how to make a Polaroid frame for your photos like this one using Photoshop Elements. © S. Chastain

Earlier on the site, I posted about the Polaroid-o-nizer Web site where you could upload a photo and have it instantly converted to look like a Polaroid. I thought it would be a fun tutorial to show you how you can do this effect on your own with Photoshop Elements. It's a great way to learn about working with layers and layer styles. This is a neat effect for when you want to add a little something to a photo you plan to use on the Web or in a scrapbook layout.

Although these screenshots are from an older version, you should be able to follow along with any recent version of PSE.

There is also a video version of this tutorial and a Ready-To-Use Polaroid Kit you can download.

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Starting the Polaroid Effect

Introduction to Polaroid Effect

To get started, find an image you'd like to use, and open it in the Standard edit mode. If you like, you can use my image to follow along. Download it here: polaroid-start.jpg (right click > Save Target)

If you do use your own image, be sure to do a File > Duplicate and close the original so you don't accidentally overwrite it.

First thing we will do is convert the background to a layer. Double click on the background in the layers palette and name the layer "photo."

Next we make a square selection of the area we want to use for the Polaroid. Select the Rectangular Marquee tool from the toolbox. In the options bar set the mode to "Fixed Aspect Ratio" with width and height both set to 1. This will give us a fixed square selection. Make sure feather is set to 0.

Click and drag a square selection around the focal point of the photo.

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Make a Selection for the Polaroid Border

Make a Selection for the Polaroid Border

When you are satisfied with your selection, go to Select > Inverse and press the Delete key. Then Deselect (Ctrl-D).

Now go back to the rectangular marquee tool and switch the mode back to normal. Drag a selection around the square photo, leave about an inch of extra space at the bottom and a quarter-inch of space around the top, left and right edges.

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Add a Color Fill Layer for the Polaroid Border

Add a Color Fill Layer for the Polaroid Border

Click on the second icon on the layer palette (new adjustment layer) and choose a Solid Color Layer. Drag the Color Picker to white and click OK.

Drag the Color Fill layer below the photo, then switch to the photo layer and use the move tool to adjust the alignment if you need to. While the move tool is selected, you can nudge the active layer in 1-pixel increments using the arrow keys.

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Add a Subtle Shadow to the Polaroid Photo

Stroke the Selection

Next, I want to add a subtle shadow to give the effect that the paper is overlapping the photo. Switch to something other than the move tool to get rid of the bounding box. Hold the Ctrl key down and click the photo layer in the layers palette. This loads a selection around the pixels of the layer.

Click the new layer button on the layers palette and drag this layer to the top of the layers palette. Go to Edit > Stroke (Outline) Selection… and set the stroke to 1 px, color black, location outside. Click OK.

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Add Gaussian Blur to the Shadow

Add Gaussian Blur

Deselect. Go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur and apply a 1-pixel blur.

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Fade the Shadow Layer's Opacity

Fade the Shadow Layer's Opacity

Ctrl-click on the photo layer again to load its pixels as a selection. Switch to the color fill layer and press delete. Now Deselect and move the color fill layer to the top of the layers palette.

If you click the eye next to the stroked outline layer in the middle, you can see the subtle difference it makes. I'd like it even more subtle, so select this layer, then go to the opacity slider and dial it down to about 40%.

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Apply the Texturizer Filter

Apply the Texturizer Filter

Switch to the Color Fill Layer and go to Layer > Simplify Layer (In Photoshop: Layer > Rasterize > Layer). This will remove the layer mask so we can apply a filter.

Go to Filter > Texture > Texturizer. Use these settings:
Texture: canvas
Scaling: 95%
Relief: 1
Light: Top Right

This will give it the slight texture that Polaroid paper has.

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Add a Bevel and Drop Shadow to the Polaroid Picture

Adjust the Style Settings

Now merge all these layers together. Layer > Merge Visible (Shift-Ctrl-E).

Go to the Styles and Effects palette and choose Layer Styles/Bevels from the menus. Click on the "Simple Inner" bevel effect. Now switch from Bevels to Drop Shadows and click the "Low" shadow effect. Looks bad, doesn't it? Let's fix it by clicking on the tiny circled f on the layers palette. Change the following Style Settings:
Lighting angle: 130°
Shadow Distance: 1
Bevel Size: 1
(You may need to adjust these setting if you're working with a ​high-resolution image.)

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Add a Background Pattern to the Image

Add a Background Pattern to the Image

Use the move tool to center the Polaroid in the document.

Click on the second icon on the layer palette (new adjustment layer) and choose a Pattern Layer. Select a background pattern you like. I am using the "Woven" texture from the default pattern set. Drag this pattern fill layer to the bottom of the layers palette.

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Rotate the Polaroid, Add Text, and Crop!

The Final Image
The Final Image.

Duplicate the Polaroid layer by dragging it onto the New Layer button on the layers palette. With the top Polaroid layer active and the move tool selected, put your cursor just outside the corner handle until your cursor changes to a double arrow. Click and rotate the image slightly to the right. (If you don't have corner handles with the move tool selected, you may need to check "show bounding box" in the options bar.) Double click to commit the rotation.

If desired, add some text in your favorite handwriting font. (I used DonnysHand.) Now just crop the image to remove the excess border and save it!

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There is also a video version of this tutorial and a Ready-To-Use Polaroid Kit you can download.