Easy methods to Make a Digital Polaroid Digital camera for Low-cost Thermal Immediate Pictures

On this article, I’m going to let you know the story of my newest digital camera creation: a digital Polaroid digital camera that mixes a receipt printer with a Raspberry Pi. To construct it I took an outdated Polaroid Minute Maker digital camera, stripped out its guts, and changed the innards with a digital digital camera, an E Ink show, a receipt printer, and an SNES controller to function the digital camera.

Should you like this mission, don’t overlook to follow me (@ade3) on Instagram.

There’s something magical a few piece of paper immediately popping out of a digital camera with an image. It produces a thrill that you simply simply don’t get from the video feeds of contemporary digital digital camera screens. Outdated Polaroid cameras all the time make me a bit unhappy as a result of they’re such splendidly engineered machines however when the movie went out of manufacturing they have been lowered to nostalgic artifacts that accumulate mud on our cabinets. What in case you may breathe new life into these outdated cameras by utilizing a receipt printer as a substitute of immediate movie?

As I’m susceptible to do, this submit goes to go fairly deep into the technical particulars of how I constructed the digital camera. I do that as a result of I hope that my experiments encourage a couple of folks to do that mission on their very own. It’s not a easy modification. The truth is, it is perhaps the toughest digital camera hack I’ve tried, however I’ll attempt to give sufficient particulars from my expertise to stop you from getting caught in case you determine to sort out this mission.

Why did I do it? After my coffee stirrer camera made the rounds I needed to attempt one thing a bit completely different. Wanting by way of my digital camera assortment, the Polaroid Minute Maker digital camera jumped out at me as an incredible candidate for digital conversion. This was the proper mission for me as a result of it mixed a few of the issues I used to be already enjoying with: the Raspberry Pi, E Ink shows, and receipt printers. Put them collectively and what do you get? Right here’s the story of how my digital Polaroid digital camera was constructed…


I’ve seen a couple of folks try comparable initiatives, however no person has carried out an incredible job of explaining how they did it. I hope to keep away from that mistake. The problem of this mission is getting all the assorted components to work collectively. Earlier than you begin shoving all of the items into the Polaroid shell, I like to recommend spreading all the pieces out as you check and arrange all the assorted elements. It will prevent from reassembling and deconstructing the digital camera each time you hit a snag. Under you’ll be able to see all of the components related and dealing previous to all the pieces getting stuffed contained in the Polaroid shell.

I made a couple of movies documenting the method as I went. Should you plan on tackling this mission you must begin with this 32-minute video as a result of you’ll be able to see how all the pieces comes collectively and get a way of the challenges you may face.

Under are the components and instruments I used. When all the pieces is all stated and carried out the fee will in all probability surpass $200. The massive bills would be the Raspberry Pi ($35-$75), the printer ($50 — $62), the show ($37), and the digital camera ($25). A part of the enjoyable shall be making this mission your personal, so relying on what you need to embrace or exclude, improve or downgrade, your prices will range. Listed below are the components I used:

Issues You’ll Want



  • Mouse, keyboard, and monitor (for Raspberry Pi setup)
  • Wire stripper/cutter
  • Pliers
  • Dremel software
  • Soldering iron
  • Small screwdrivers
  • Scorching glue gun
  • Wires, tremendous glue, rubber bands, and different random issues

The Polaroid Digital camera

The digital camera I used is a Polaroid Minute Maker. If I have been to do it once more I’d use a Polaroid Swinger as a result of it’s principally the identical design however with a prettier entrance plate. In contrast to newer Polaroids, these fashions have extra room inside they usually include a door on the again that permits you to open and shut the digital camera which shall be very useful for our wants. With a little bit of looking you must be capable of observe one in every of these Polaroids down at an vintage retailer or eBay. You’ll be able to in all probability snag one for lower than $20. Under you’ll be able to see a Swinger (left) and the Minute Maker (proper).

In principle, you may use any Polaroid digital camera for a mission like this. I even have some Land Cameras which have bellows and fold down however the good factor in regards to the Swinger or Minute Maker is that they’re product of arduous plastic and don’t have many shifting components apart from the again door.
Step one is to strip all the center out of the digital camera to make room for all our electronics. All the pieces should go. By the tip you should have a bunch of junk that appears like this:

Many of the components of the digital camera could be eliminated with pliers and brute pressure. These items aren’t made to be taken aside so you’ll be combating in opposition to glue in some areas. Eradicating the entrance of the Polaroid is tougher than it appears to be like. There are screws on the within that require some software that apparently solely Polaroid has. You may be capable of unscrew them with pliers however I gave up and compelled the entrance off. In hindsight, I’d take a bit extra care right here, however the harm I prompted was fixable with tremendous glue.

After getting the entrance off you might be once more going to proceed battling with components that aren’t meant to be taken aside. Once more, pliers and brute pressure are required. Simply watch out to keep away from damaging something that’s seen from the surface.

The lens is among the trickier components to take away. There’s no straightforward resolution that I can consider apart from to drill a gap by way of the glass/plastic and pry it out. I needed to maintain as a lot of the look of the lens as doable so that individuals won’t even see the tiny Raspberry Pi digital camera on the middle of the black ring that previously held the lens.

In my video, I present a earlier than and after comparability of the Polaroid so you’ll be able to see precisely all the pieces you’ll be eradicating out of your digital camera.
Take care to be sure that the entrance faceplate could be taken on and off simply. Consider the faceplate as ornament. More often than not will probably be held in place, however do you have to need to join the Raspberry Pi to a show and keyboard you’ll be able to take away the entrance and plug issues in. You’ll be able to provide you with your personal resolution right here, however I made a decision on a magnet because the mechanism that retains the faceplate in place. Velcro appeared too flimsy. Screws have been overkill. Right here’s an animated picture displaying the digital camera with the faceplate on and off:

The Raspberry Pi

I opted for the total Raspberry Pi 4 Mannequin B over the smaller Pi Zero. That is partly for velocity, and partly as a result of I’m extra comfy working with it since I’m comparatively new to the Raspberry Pi world. Clearly, the smaller Pi Zero would have some benefits working within the tight house of the Polaroid.
An introduction to the Raspberry Pi is past the scope of this tutorial, however there are many assets accessible if you’re new to the Raspberry Pi.

One little bit of basic recommendation is to take your time and be affected person. If you’re coming from a Mac or PC background it should simply take a while to familiarize your self with the nuances of the Pi. You’ll have to get comfy utilizing the command line and also you’ll decide up some Python coding abilities. If that scares you (I used to be intimidated at first too!) don’t be discouraged. So long as you come to it with a mindset of persistence and endurance you’re going to get it. Almost each impediment you encounter could be overcome with an web search and persistence.

Above is a photograph that exhibits the place the Raspberry Pi will match within the Polaroid digital camera. You’ll be able to see the place the facility connects on the left. Additionally observe the grey divider that extends throughout the width of the opening. That is principally to create a prime edge for the printer to take a seat in opposition to and to maintain the Pi separate from the printer. You’ll want to take care when inserting the printer to not smash the pins that the pencil is pointing at within the picture. The show cable connects to the pins right here, and the ends of the wires that include the show are a few quarter-inch too lengthy. I needed to prolong the cables with smaller ends in order that the printer didn’t press in opposition to them.

The Raspberry Pi is positioned in order that the aspect with the USB ports is pointing on the entrance. This permits the USB controller to attach from the entrance utilizing an L-shaped adapter. Whereas it wasn’t part of my unique plan, I additionally ran a small HDMI cable to the entrance. This permits me to simply pop the entrance off and plug a monitor and keyboard into the Pi.

The Digital Digital camera

The digital camera is the Raspberry Pi V2 module. The standard isn’t nearly as good because the newer HQ digital camera however we don’t have the posh of house. The digital camera connects to the Raspberry Pi with a ribbon. Lower a skinny gap beneath the lens the place the ribbon can match by way of. The ribbon will want a twist on the within earlier than it connects to the Raspberry Pi.

The Polaroid’s entrance plate has a flat floor that’s good for attaching the digital camera. To connect it, I used a double-sided adhesive strip. You need to be a bit cautious on the again as a result of the digital camera’s board has some digital components that you simply don’t need to harm. I used some bits of the adhesive tape as spacers to stop smashing these components.

A few different issues to notice within the picture above is you can see how the USB and HDMI ports could be accessed. I used an L-shaped USB adapter to direct the connection to the suitable. For the HDMI cable within the upper-left nook, I used a 6-inch extension cable with an L-shaped connector on the opposite finish. This may be seen higher in my video.

The Show

E Ink appeared like a sensible choice for the show as a result of the picture is so much like what would get printed on the receipt paper. I used the Waveshare 4.2-inch E Ink Show Module with 400×300 pixels.

E Ink has an analog high quality that I simply love. It actually does appear to be paper. There’s something actually satisfying about having a picture on the display when there isn’t a energy. As a result of there aren’t any lights powering the pixels, as soon as the picture is created it stays onscreen. That implies that even with out energy the images stay on the again of the Polaroid reminding me of what the final picture I took was. And let’s be trustworthy, the digital camera goes to take a seat on my shelf for much longer than it’s in use, so it’s sort of good that the digital camera nearly turns into an image body every time it isn’t in motion. The power financial savings aren’t trivial, both. In comparison with light-based shows that draw energy consistently, E Ink solely sips power when it must redraw.

E Ink shows have disadvantages, too. The massive one is velocity. It simply takes longer to show every pixel on or off than a light-based show. The opposite shortcoming is refreshing the display. Dearer E Ink shows can do partial refresh, however cheaper fashions redraw your complete display each time something modifications. The impact is that the display goes black, white, then the picture seems inverted earlier than the brand new picture seems. The flashes solely take a second, however that provides up. All stated, this explicit display takes about 3 seconds to replace from the time I push a button to the time a photograph seems on the display.

One other factor to bear in mind is that in contrast to a pc show that exhibits a desktop and mouse, it’s essential consider the E Ink show a bit in another way. Mainly, you might be telling the show what to point out one pixel at a time. In different phrases, this isn’t plug-and-play, you want some code to make this occur. Each time an image is taken, a operate is executed that pulls the picture on the show.

Waveshare gives drivers for his or her shows however their documentation is horrible. Plan to spend time combating together with your show earlier than issues work accurately. Here’s the documentation for the display I used.

The show has 8 wires that you’ll be attaching to the pins of your Raspberry Pi. Usually you may simply use the wires that include the show, however since we’re going to be working in such a decent house I needed to prolong the wires with ends that weren’t so tall. This saved a few quarter-inch of house. I suppose one other resolution can be to chop further plastic off of the receipt printer.

To attach the show to the again of the Polaroid you’ll drill 4 holes. The show comes with holes for mounting on the corners. Place the show the place you need it, ensuring to depart room beneath for the receipt paper to come back out, then mark and drill the 4 holes. Then screw the display down from the again. There shall be a 1/4 inch hole between the Polaroid’s again and the again of the show.

You is perhaps considering that the E Ink show is extra hassle than it’s value. You is perhaps proper. If you’re in search of an easier possibility you may need to search for a small shade show that may join by way of the HDMI port. The draw back is that you’ll all the time be trying on the desktop of the Raspberry Pi working system, however the benefit is you’ll be able to simply plug it in and go.

The Receipt Printer

Chances are you’ll want a refresher on how a receipt printer works. They don’t use ink. As a substitute, these printers use thermal paper. I’m not completely certain how the paper is created, however consider it as drawing with warmth. A black space is generated when the warmth reaches 270 levels Fahrenheit. Should you have been to get the roll of paper scorching sufficient it will flip completely black. The massive profit right here is that no ink is used and in comparison with actual Polaroid movie, no complicated chemical reactions have to happen.

There are cons to utilizing thermal paper as properly. Clearly, you solely get to work in black and white, there isn’t a shade. And even throughout the vary of black and white, there aren’t any shades of grey. You need to draw the picture completely with black dots. As you attempt to coax as a lot high quality out of those dots you’ll inevitably fall down the rabbit gap of understanding dithering. Of explicit observe is the Floyd-Steinberg algorithm. I’ll allow you to go down that rabbit maintain by yourself.

As you experiment with completely different distinction settings and dithering methods you’ll inevitably find yourself with lengthy strips of images. Here’s a collection of the various selfies that I took as I honed in on the perfect picture output.

Personally, I just like the look of dithered photos. It jogs my memory of my first artwork courses after they taught us how to attract by stippling. It’s a distinctive look, but it surely isn’t the identical as the sleek gradations of black and white pictures that we’ve got been skilled to understand. I point out this as a result of this digital camera is departing from custom and the distinctive photos it generates must be thought of a “function” of the digital camera and never a “bug.” If we needed pristine footage we are able to use actually another shopper digital camera in the marketplace and avoid wasting cash within the meantime. The entire level right here is to do one thing distinctive.

Now that you simply perceive thermal printing, let’s speak about printers. The receipt printer I used was bought from Adafruit. I purchased their “Mini Thermal Receipt Printer Starter Pack” however you may purchase the items individually in order for you. In principle, you may get away with shopping for a battery, however you in all probability need the facility adapter so you’ll be able to plug it into the wall if you are testing. The opposite good factor is that Adafruit has good tutorials and that gives you confidence that all the pieces will work. Begin with this one.

I hoped the printer would slot in the Polaroid with out modification. It’s a bit too massive although, so you’ll both have to chop the digital camera or trim down the printer. I opted to trim the printer as a result of a part of the enchantment of this mission is to maintain as a lot of the Polaroid’s exterior as doable. Adafruit additionally sells a receipt printer without the enclosure. This could avoid wasting house and some {dollars} and now that I understand how all the pieces works I’d in all probability use that one the following time I construct one thing like this. That may include a brand new problem of determining maintain the paper roll, nonetheless. A mission like that is all about compromises and choosing the challenges you need to clear up. You’ll be able to see within the picture beneath the angle that’s wanted to chop to make the printer match. This lower might want to occur on the suitable aspect as properly. Watch out to keep away from the wires and inside electronics of the printer once you make the cuts.

One downside with Adafruit’s printer is that the standard modifications primarily based on the facility supply. They suggest a 5v energy supply. It really works, particularly for text-based printing. The issue is that when you’re printing photos the black areas are likely to get mild. The facility required to warmth your complete width of the paper is rather more than when you’re printing textual content and because of this, black areas can come out grey. It’s arduous to complain, these printers aren’t designed for printing images in spite of everything. The printer simply can’t generate sufficient warmth throughout your complete width of paper at one time. I experimented with another energy cords with completely different outputs with out a lot success. Ultimately, I wanted this to be powered by battery anyway, so I deserted the facility wire experiments. Surprisingly, the 7.4V 850mAh Li-PO rechargeable battery I selected resulted within the darkest printing of any energy supply I examined.

As soon as the printer is match contained in the digital camera, lower a gap beneath the show that strains up with the place the paper will come out of the printer. To chop the receipt paper, I used the blade from an outdated packing tape cutter.

The opposite shortcoming except for the spotty black output is banding. Every time the printer pauses to meet up with the information it’s being fed it leaves a small hole when it begins printing once more. In principle, this hole could be prevented in case you may remove the buffer and let the information stream constantly feed the printer. And certainly, that appears to be an possibility. The Adafruit website mentions an undocumented pin on the printer that can be utilized to maintain issues in sync. I’ve not examined this as a result of I don’t fairly perceive how this is able to work. Should you sort out this query, please share your success with me. Right here is one other batch of selfies the place you’ll be able to clearly see the banding.

It takes a superb 30 seconds to print a photograph. Here’s a video of the printer in motion so you will get a really feel for the way lengthy it takes to print a picture. I imagine this might be elevated with the Adafruit hack. I’ve a suspicion that the gaps of time between printing are synthetic delays that forestall the printer from out-pacing the information buffer. I say that as a result of I learn that the paper advancing needs to be synchronized with the printer head. I might be incorrect.

Similar to the E Ink show, getting the printer working goes to take some endurance. There isn’t a print driver, you might be primarily sending information straight to the printer utilizing code. Once more, one of the best useful resource might be Adafruit’s web site. The code in my GitHub repo is tailored from their examples so in case you get caught, Adafruit’s documentation goes to be your finest guess.

The SNES Controller

The benefit of the SNES controller, except for the nostalgic retro profit is that it provides me a set of controls that I don’t must overthink. I would like my focus to be on getting the digital camera, printer, and show to all work collectively, and having a pre-existing controller that I can shortly map my features to makes issues straightforward. Plus, I have already got expertise with utilizing controllers from my Espresso Stirrer Digital camera so it made it straightforward to hit the bottom working.

The retro controller connects with a USB cable. To take an image I press the A button. To print an image I press the B button. To delete an image I press the X button. To clear the show I can press the Y button. I haven’t used the beginning/choose buttons or the left/proper buttons on the highest, so they continue to be accessible for brand spanking new performance if I’ve new concepts sooner or later.

As for the arrow buttons, the suitable and left buttons of the keypad cycle by way of a slideshow of all the pictures I’ve taken. Urgent up does nothing at the moment. Urgent down advances the receipt printer paper. That is useful after an image is printed and I need to spit out a bit extra paper earlier than tearing it off. It is also a fast check to know that the printer and the Raspberry Pi are speaking. I press down and after I hear the paper advance I do know that the printer’s battery continues to be charged and it is able to go.

The Batteries

I take advantage of two batteries within the digital camera. One powers the Raspberry Pi whereas the opposite one powers the printer. In principle, you may run each off of the identical energy supply however I don’t assume you’d get sufficient energy to sufficiently run the printer.

On the Raspberry Pi aspect, I purchased the smallest battery I may discover. Sitting on the underside of the Polaroid it’s principally hidden. I don’t love the truth that the facility wire has to run up the entrance and round to the outlet earlier than connecting to the Raspberry Pi. Maybe you’ll be able to determine a approach to squeeze one other battery within the Polaroid, however there simply isn’t a lot house left. The drawback of getting the battery inside can be that you would need to open the again to show issues on and off. It’s good to have the ability to merely unplug the battery to show the digital camera off.

I used a USB wire with an on/off swap that I bought from CanaKit. I is perhaps getting just a little too cute with this concept. I assumed it will be nice to simply be capable of use this button to show the Raspberry Pi on and off. In follow, it’s simply as straightforward to disconnect the USB from the battery.

On the printer aspect I used a 850mAh Li-PO rechargeable battery. A battery like this has two cords popping out of it. One is the output and the opposite is the charger. To present me a “fast join” on the output aspect, I needed to exchange the connector with generic 3 wire connectors. That is essential as a result of I don’t need to must take away your complete printer each time I have to disconnect the facility. A swap can be higher right here and I would enhance this sooner or later. Even higher can be if the swap have been on the surface of the digital camera so I don’t must open the again door to unplug the printer.

The battery sits behind the printer and I run the wires out in order that I can join and disconnect the facility as wanted. To recharge the battery, a USB connection can also be fed from the battery. I clarify this in my video, too, so examine that out if you wish to perceive how this works. As I stated, the shock bonus was that this setup yielded higher picture printing than when it was related on to the wall.

The battery (backside proper) printed the darkest blacks

The Software program

Right here’s the place I would like to provide a disclaimer. I can write Python that works however I can’t say that it’s stunning. There are absolutely higher methods to do that, and a greater programmer may enhance my code tremendously. However as I stated, it really works. So I’ll share with you my GitHub repository however I can’t actually provide assist. Hopefully, it is sufficient to present you what I’m doing and you’ll enhance it. Share your enhancements with me and I’ll gladly replace my code and provide you with credit score.

Github Repo: https://github.com/adrian3/digital-polaroid-camera

So let’s assume you might have the digital camera, show, and printer all arrange and dealing. Now you’ll be able to run my Python script which is known as “digital-polaroid-camera.py.” Finally, you’ll want to set your Raspberry Pi to auto-run this script when it boots, however for now, you’ll be able to run it out of your Python editor or the terminal. Right here’s what’s going to occur:

  • The newest picture is shipped to the show
  • This system watches for button presses on the controller
  • When an image is taken (A button) it’s despatched to the show
  • When the print button is pressed (B button) it prints no matter picture is on the show
  • The arrow buttons are primarily biking by way of a slideshow of all of the images which have been taken

I attempted so as to add feedback to my code to clarify what is occurring, however there are a few issues occurring when a photograph is taken that I ought to clarify additional. When a photograph is taken it’s a full-color, full-size picture. This picture is saved in a folder. That is useful as a result of you should have a traditional, high-resolution picture in case you ever have to consult with it later. In different phrases, this digital camera continues to be creating regular JPGs like another digital digital camera.

When the picture is taken, a second picture is created that’s optimized for the show and printing. Utilizing ImageMagick, the unique picture is resized, transformed to black and white, and the Floyd Steinberg dithering is utilized. I can pump up the distinction on this step, too, though by default that is turned off.

This new picture is definitely saved twice. First, it’s saved as a black and white jpg so that you could see it and use it once more sooner or later. The second save creates a file with an extension of .py. This isn’t a traditional picture file, moderately it’s the code that takes all of the pixel information from the picture and converts it into information that we are able to ship to the printer. This step is critical as a result of, as I stated within the printer part, there aren’t any print drivers, so you’ll be able to’t simply ship a traditional picture to the printer.

There may be additionally some code to make beeps when buttons are pressed and pictures are printed. That is non-obligatory, however it’s good to get just a little little bit of audible suggestions to let you realize that issues are working.

One final time, I can’t assist this code, it’s meant to level you in the suitable route. Please use it, modify it, enhance it, and make it your personal.

Conclusion: What I Would Do In a different way

This was a enjoyable mission and in hindsight, there are some things I’d do in another way or I would replace sooner or later. The very first thing is the controller. Whereas the SNES controller does precisely what I needed to do, it’s a clunky resolution. The wire will get in the way in which. It forces you to carry the digital camera in a single hand with the controller within the different. It’s awkward. One resolution is perhaps to strip out the buttons from the controller and fasten them on to the digital camera. If I’m going to go to that hassle, nonetheless, I would as properly ditch the SNES altogether and use extra conventional buttons.

One other awkward a part of the digital camera is that I have to open the again each time I flip the digital camera on or off to disconnect the printer from the battery. It looks like a small factor, however each time I open and shut the again I’ve to re-thread the paper by way of the opening. It wastes a little bit of paper and takes time. I may transfer the wires and connections to the surface however I don’t need that stuff uncovered. The perfect repair can be to have a single on/off swap that controls each the printer and the Pi that’s accessible from the surface. Maybe the printer charger port might be accessed from the entrance of the digital camera as properly. Should you sort out this mission contemplate fixing this downside and share with me what you got here up with.

The very last thing that’s ripe for an improve is the receipt printer. The printer I used is nice for textual content but it surely isn’t excellent for images. I’ve been on the hunt for the best choice for upgrading my thermal receipt printer and I feel I’ve discovered it. My preliminary checks present that an 80mm ESC/POS suitable receipt printer might be going to yield one of the best outcomes. The problem is discovering one that’s small and battery-powered. That is going to be a key a part of my subsequent digital camera mission so keep tuned for my recommendation on thermal printer cameras.

P.S. This has been a protracted submit and I’m certain I overlooked some essential particulars. I’ll come again with updates as I inevitably enhance my digital camera. I actually hope you loved this story. Don’t overlook to comply with me (@ade3) on Instagram so you’ll be able to hold observe of this and my different pictures adventures. Keep artistic.

Concerning the writer: Adrian Hanft is a pictures and digital camera fanatic, designer, and the writer of User Zero: Inside the Tool that is Reshaping Dystopia. The opinions expressed on this article are solely these of the writer. Yow will discover extra of Hanft’s work and writing on his website, blog, and Instagram. This text was additionally printed here.

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