How to Make Paper Look Old


Altered book artists apply various techniques to make paper look old. aged look in an altered book

The aged look is in -- whether it's for heritage layouts, shabby chic looks, vintage designs, or to indicate distressed paper.

In the picture to the right, I have used a variety of techniques to give the layout an aged look. I have incorporated special heritage papers, paper tearing, decorative chalks, and used buttons and embellishments that suggest age.

Altered book artists often ask the question,"How do I make paper look old?" A number of products will help you get that aged look you want -- many of which are found in your own kitchen.

You will have to experiment to get the look you are going for -- or perhaps you will inadvertently discover a look you just love! Serendipity is a big factor in making altered books.

Tips for Making Paper Look Old

  • Tea Bag Staining
    Drag a wet (not dripping) tea bag over your paper. Weight your paper down while it dries to avoid warping. The paper will be stained a brownish color. A lingering tea-smell might remain. Tea-bag staining is not acid free, if this matters to you.

  • Coffee Grounds Staining
    Like tea, you can use coffee grounds to make paper look old. Apply wet coffee grounds to your paper. Remove grounds. The paper will be stained brown. Dry paper under a weight to avoid warping. As above, there is likely to be a coffee odor afterwards. Coffee grounds are also not acid free.

  • Balsamic Vinegar Spattering
    Same as above. Expect odor. Vinegar is not acid free.

  • Lemon Juice
    Paint your paper with lemon juice, then heat with a heat gun. The paper will take on a brownish, aged look. It will continue to darken as you continue to apply heat. Lemon juice is not acid free.

  • Decorating Chalks
    These chalks are my favorite way to make paper look old. Apply the chalk (one of the brownish colors) to the paper using a cotton ball, makeup sponge, Q-tip or swab. This is especially effective on the ripped edges of paper or vellum. Allow the chalks to set, or spray with a fixative if speed in important. Decorating chalks have many uses when making altered books. Acid free decorating chalks are available at

  • Walnut Ink
    Walnut ink is made from black walnuts. It is usually sold in crystallized form, and must be hydrated before using. Apply the wet walnut ink to the paper, lace, fabric or other material. You can create various effects as you strive to make paper look old. For more information about walnut ink, refer to the Definitions page of this web site.

  • Paper Tearing
    Instead of cutting your paper neatly, tear it. Holding the paper towards you while you tear will produce one look; holding it away from you will produce another. Color the torn edges with decorative chalk, walnut ink, tea bags, or similar to give an aged appearance.

  • Bleaching
    Apply household bleach to your paper. Apply directly with an eye-dropper, brush or sponge, or use a water-color pen. If it is available in your area, a Chlorox Bleach Pen is also a good choice. Note that some papers could contain inks that are colorfast and bleach-resistant. You will find more information about bleaching in the tip on using bleach in this section of the website.

  • Sanding with Sand Paper
    Lightly sand shiny paper or other paper to produce "tooth" or a worn look. Sand the same way you sand wood -- in a directional move, rather than circular.

  • Paper Crumpling
    Crumple up your paper. Flatten it out, then crumple again. Repeat as often as you wish before using the paper in your layout. Iron the finished paper if desired, for a special look, or try placing the (thickish) paper in water before crumpling for yet a different look.

  • Paper Burning
    Another way to make paper look old is to burn the edges of the paper. For safety's sake, do this over a sink, using a candle or stick of incense. Pinch the firey edges out with your finger. If desired, wet an inner border on your paper before applying the flame. You can do the wetting with a damp Q-tip, paint brush, or your finger. This prevents the paper from burning more than you want, since the wet inner border will prevent the flame from going further.

  • Candle Waxing
    Write over your paper with a white candle, covering as much area as you can. Crush the paper so the wax cracks. Apply paint over the surface, forming random cracks. Remove the wax by ironing your paper. Place it between two sheets of paper towels padded with newspaper on both sides and use a hot iron.

  • Matte Gel or Matte Medium
    These products will take the shine off paper or pictures, etc.

Return to Altered Book Home Page when you know how to make paper look old.