At Undisposable we've been in the industry of polaroids for more than 3 years on a commercial basis, and decades before that personally. We've seen so many people look to do their own polaroid guestbook for weddings and other events, so here is some home-grown advice on how to do it well.
What is a polaroid guest book?
In the days of film, wedding photographers would charge their clients per photo, so getting lots of photos of the guests would cost too much. To record guest attendance a couple would often have a signing book at the door for the guests to add their name and maybe write a quick bit of marriage advice.
Next came disposable cameras, which guests used to take a few hit and miss photos that the couple had to expensively have developed sometime later.
Then came Fujifilm's revival of the polaroid camera (known as the Instax camera) where photos were printed instantly, but the idea of combining them into the guest book was not popular at all.
Enter the modern day where polaroid style printing is affordable, accessible and back in style. A polaroid guest book combines instant photo prints alongside messages from your guests - it's the perfect memorabilia of your event and it'll help remind you that your guests had a blast, no matter what they've written next to their photo.
How does it work on the day?
If you're going to DIY (i.e. not pay for someone to come and manage this on the day for you), what you need to do is set up a small table at your reception/event with a couple of polaroid style cameras and an album. Guests take photos with the cameras and add them with a message into the book. If you've looked through Pinterest for polaroid guest book inspiration (Polaroid Albums on Pinterest) then you might also have a sign arranged with cutely written instructions that should direct people on what to do if they want to get involved.
The best way to set up a polaroid guest book
Purchase list: 2 polaroid film cameras, 5 colour textas or pens, 2 glue sticks or mini glue-tape dispensers, 1.5 film sheets per guest and 2 spare battery sets. This is a great starting point that gives you some backup while keeping it all affordable. See Buying Recommendations for all of these items below.
Put up a sign saying something like "Take two photos, one for you and one for the book, and please decorate your page". More on this later.
Pick a close friend or family member, teenage cousins too, and ask them to do you the favour of running the polaroids. This makes sure it is done.
Put 5 photos of you and your partner in the book on random pages and decorate the pages. This is crucial to encouraging guests to add their own on the day.
Tell your polaroid manager to go around early in the day/night and take 30 photos of guests in groups and couples, tell the guests those prints will be stuck in the album for them to decorate. This ensures you get lots of good original photos to keep.
After some food, get the MC (or anyone who's comfortable doing so) to announce that the polaroids are now ready to use and the album is ready for decoration. Hungry guests aren't great at taking on new information, so holding off until they've had something to eat will mean they're ready to get involved once you give them the go ahead.
Common errors and our solutions
There are a few simple things that will result in your album not meeting your inspiration expectations and leave you with a meme worthy 'Insta vs Reality' outcome. Here is how to solve them:
Difficult Equipment - Don't buy a digital bluetooth printer - you're never going to be able to educate people well enough to get many photos. Stick to cameras and without extra features, so that when someone presses the button it prints out, easy. If you absolutely want to use a digital printer then assign a person to take photos on their phone and do all the prints at convenient intervals because it's going to take about a minute per photo, plus the printers require you to download a proprietary app to print.
Guests having to replace things - Batteries go dead? Film run out? Can't find a power button because there isn't one? Assign a person to regularly check each of the cameras to refill the film, replace batteries and if you're using Fujifilm Instax cameras (where you pop-out the lens to turn on the cameras), leave the cameras turned on for the whole night. You can also consider printing out a small instruction sheet like this one: Film Instructions. Either way, make sure you assign someone to be in charge of the cameras.
Single Print Copies - The cameras only print one copy of each photo so if they turn out flattering, then the guests will often take it home for themselves. A digital camera with prints, like Polaroid Snap or the Fujifilm SQ20, will give you digital files you can print again later and ensures the guests don't take the only copy. Alternatively, we recommend you have a sign stating "Take two shots, one for you and one for the book".
Personal Interest - You can't force people to want to take selfies, middle aged men are notorious for just not caring about that sort of thing. To counteract that, we recommend assigning a person to go around to each table and take all the couple and group shots so everyone gets a photo taken, even if they need to be coaxed a little.
Doubling up on messages - You don't need the message from the card to be written again and often guests will not want to write anything too heartfelt because they don't have the confidence, interest or sense of creativity with words. I highly recommend you don't ask people to write a message, instead ask them to "Decorate your photo page". Since making this simple change, we have noticed a 100% increase to the number of people who will put pen to paper.
Fujifilm Instax Mini 9 - Most affordable.
These cameras are very common and generally easy to use. While they have a plastic toy construction, they are party friendly cameras which will mean everyone wants to have a go. The photo prints are 5cmX7.5cm which is about business card size.
Fujifilm Instax Square SQ20 - Digital + Analogue Hybrid
This camera is fairly new to market, replacing the SQ10. The photo quality is similar to the Mini 9 but prints are stored digitally as well which is great news to hosts that don't want guests to steal the only print. Film for these are 8cmX7.5cm..
Camera: $273 on Ebay
BIC Metallic Textas - Colourful and reliable
8 Colours - $11.55 at Officeworks
2 Colours - $5.94 at Officeworks
UHU Blue Stick - Decent adhesive and very easy to use
Blue (dries clear) - $3.12 at Officeworks
Clear - $3.12 at Officeworks
Note: We use double sided tape dispensers when our attendant is doing the management, but they're too difficult for drunk guests to understand, so a glue stick makes it easy.
30cm square, black, 60 pages - $35 at Officeworks
A5, white, lined, 64 pages - $26.95 at Kikki K
A4, white, custom engraved wooden cover - $135 at Personalised Favours
You'll notice that most of the prints in those post also have a custom printed border. We operate a full service guest book operation at events with a full time attendant and industrial photo printer. That is the reason we advocate so much for you to have a person to manage the album, we know first hand how much of a difference it makes. The same style of prints can also be achieved with Instagram printing services where a digital border is printed around the photos.
Do you have any of your own experiences and tips for Polaroid Guest Books? Leave a comment below so everyone can benefit.