The Polaroid process is based on negative paper carrying a silver halide emulsion and a nonsensitized, positive sheet containing development nuclei. After the exposure the two sheets are brought into intimate contact by being pulled between a pair of pressure rollers. These rupture a sealed pod (attached to the positive sheet) to spread processing chemicals—in the form of a viscous jelly—between the two sheets. This reagent develops a negative image and causes the silver salts from the unexposed areas to diffuse into the positive layer and deposit metallic silver on the development nuclei. After about 30 seconds to one minute the negative and positive sheets are peeled apart and the negative can be discarded. In special versions of the process the negative may be washed and treated to give a conventional negative for normal enlarging.
Silver diffusion-transfer processes were invented in 1939 in Belgium and Germany and were used for a number of years in office copying systems until superseded by dry copying processes.
Polaroid colour film has a larger number of active layers, including a blue-sensitive silver halide emulsion backed by a layer consisting of a yellow dye–developer compound, a green-sensitive layer backed by a layer of magenta dye–developer, and a red-sensitive layer backed by a cyan dye–developer. The dye–developer in each case consists of dye molecules (not colour couplers) chemically linked to developing agent molecules.
The Polaroid single-sheet, or integral, films contain all the negative and positive layers in a single preassembled film unit that is exposed through the transparent positive layer. The unit incorporates a viscous processing reagent that acts in principle similarly to the chemistry of the Polacolor process. It includes “opacifying” dyes and a highly opaque white pigment that together protect the negative layers against light during processing outside the camera. The pigment provides a background to the positive image after the dye–developer molecules from the negative layers have migrated into the receiving layer. Other constituents of the system neutralize residual active chemicals after processing, for all chemistry remains within the single-sheet print. The print size is about 3 1/2 × 4 1/4 inches, the effective image size about 3 1/8 × 3 1/8 inches. The Eastman Kodak and Fuji Photo Film companies also have marketed single-sheet films and cameras that accept each other's films. These materials and cameras are not compatible with the Polaroid products.