There are plenty of ways to turn an iPhone picture into a Polaroid-like print, from online services like Moo to portable Wi-Fi printers to Polaroid’s own Socialmatic Android camera. The problem with all of these options, though, is authenticity. Sure, you might be able to print out a picture from your iPhone that sort of looks like a vintage Polaroid, but there will be a number of key differences. Where a picture from a Polaroid or Lomocam achieves its distinctive look due to plastic lenses, light leaking through the camera housing, and the chemical composition of the instant film itself, an iPhone can only mimic that using software filters. For aficionados and nostalgists alike, it just isn’t the same.
Now there’s a better option. Previously stuck in Kickstarter limbo, the Impossible Lab is finally here. It’s a clever kit that allows you to print a real Polaroid instant photo from your iPhone, and unlike other smartphone photo printers, like Polaroid’s own Zink, the Impossible Lab doesn’t connect to your smartphone using Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. Instead, it’s literally a lightbox you place your phone in, which takes a real Polaroid picture of the screen and prints it out. A free app overrides your iPhone’s brightness and color balance settings, guaranteeing a perfect exposure any time.
Asked about the Instant Lab when it was in the earliest prototype development phase back in 2012, the Impossible Team told Co.Design that the project was born out of a desire to create a new Impossible analog instant camera. “Using our iPhones often to snap photos, we were looking to free them from the screen,” the Impossible Team said. “When we realized how well the first prototypes worked, it dawned on us that this actually may become a great product in its own right.”
Given the portable nature of our smartphone, a lightbox dedicated to taking photographs of our iPhone screens might seem like an absurdly clunky hack, but the truth is that what we have gained from our cameras in portability, we have also sacrificed in tangibility. Pictures are much more easily taken than they once were, but they are also much harder to turn into physical artifacts. The vast majority of photos we take will never have the chance to bring a smile to our lips as we stumble upon them in a drawer or browse through a photo album. They are sinking to the bottom of the digital ether from the moment they are taken.
All of these reasons are why I’m sort of in love with the Impossible Lab. It’s an ingeniously analog contraption that, without sacrificing authenticity, fishes digital photos up from the abyss and turns them into a physical memory. Even better, it does it without being a bulky accessory you need to carry around: Shoot pictures with your iPhone when you’re out, then come back home and print them into Polaroids. It’s expensive–an Impossible Lab will cost you $299–but in many ways, it’s the best of both worlds.
The Impossible Lab is now available for order here.