How to Make Paper Look Old for Arts & Crafts

How to Make Paper Look Old
Image by Ulkan / Canva Photos

When you’re trying to make a decoration or piece of art look old, sometimes the hardest thing to deal with is paper. There are a number of different techniques for how to make paper look old.

In this article, we’ll go over each different technique to help you achieve that antique look in no time at all.

The Type of Paper Makes a Difference

You may not think which type of paper you use makes a big difference, but each different type will be easier or harder to age with the following DIY techniques. While standard printer paper is easy to come by and more affordable than the others, it is the hardest to age because it doesn’t absorb liquid well.

If you’re looking at a few different papers, start by feeling a sheet of it. You’re trying to find a coarse texture rather than a smooth, shiny one. 

Try blotting or waterpaint paper. You can also use a durable, multipurpose textured art paper from a sketch pad — this was ideal for aging as it takes stain exceptionally well.

Before starting any of these aging techniques, it’s best to do the writing or painting first. Make sure it’s a water-impermeable ink or that you don’t mind it running a bit. After all, faded lettering can also add to the aging effect. Remember — it will be harder to write on or use the paper once you age it.

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Method #1: How to Make Paper Look Old With Tea or Coffee

Staining Paper With Coffee and Tea
Image by Canva Photos

Tea staining paper is affordable and effective.

All you need is some tea, water, and various kinds of paper products. Have a look at the tutorial below to discover. Plum Deluxe has many excellent loose leaf teas to pick from, so choose your favorite mix and make certain to get a little extra to have a cup yourself.

You can drop droplets down onto the paper, paint it completely, or simply paint the edges. Whatever you prefer. 

To get a fully saturated effect, you can use tea as well. Fill a pan with a little layer of black tea and soak the entire piece of paper in it for about three minutes or longer. The more time it is in the tea, the darker it will be.

Once the paper is the color you’re looking for, you can either let it air dry or turn your oven on the lowest setting and bake the paper overnight to dry on a cooking sheet. This will completely dry it out and add to the brittle and aged textured.

You can use coffee in the same way as tea, but you’ll have fewer color variations to choose from. The benefit is that you’ll only have to buy one product and can brew different strengths to achieve different rich brown tones.

Try the soak and dab method with an old sponge with your coffee on your paper and get a whole different look. Soak and ring out a piece of sponge with the coffee. Next, working from the edges in, dab it on. As you move further into the center of the paper, you’ll achieve an aged gradient effect, like the edges of the page were sticking out of a very old book or was underneath a stack of other papers.

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Method #2: How to Make Paper Look Old With Vinegar or Red Wine

Staining Paper With Vinegar
Image by Steve Photo / Canva Photos

While coffee and tea work well to stain the paper, there are other methods you can use that change the paper itself as well as staining the paper.

Using vinegar to make paper look old changes the chemical composition of the paper while changing the color. Depending on the vinegar you use, you’ll end up with different looks. 

Using Balsamic Vinegar to Make Paper Look Like Old Thin Cured Leather

For this technique, you’ll want to grab a vessel larger than the paper you’re going to be treating.

Now, this is not the time to use your 10-year aged balsamic. A cheap balsamic vinegar will do quite nicely. You’ll want to place enough vinegar to coat the entire bottom of the dish you’re using.

Then float your paper onto the top of the vinegar. Press it down with a spoon and start spooning the liquid over the top and letting it absorb in. Once you coat the paper, it will begin to hiss as the vinegar goes to work.

You can leave the paper in for about 3 minutes. Don’t let it sit in there too long, though, or it will fall apart. It’s a delicate balance. Once the paper has soaked, carefully pick it up and let the excess vinegar drain off.

You’ll notice bubbles across the surface of the paper. This is a good thing! Place the paper onto a baking sheet and place in the oven to heat dry. Once the paper is dried out, the result will look like the cured leather that old envelopes were made out of.

Using Red Wine or Red Wine Vinegar to Make Paper Look Like An Old Parchment

Red wine and Red wine vinegar have the same curing effect on the paper, but since the color is lighter, it results in a paper that looks like old parchment rather than cured letter.

Follow the same instructions as before but instead of the balsamic, replace the vinegar with red wine vineger.

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Method #3: How to Make Paper Look Old With Lemon Juice

lemon juice
Image by Fascina / Canva Photos

Using lemon juice to age paper may seem strange. After all, lemon juice isn’t dark at all, and won’t it just make the paper look, well, wet?

The key to lemon juice aging is the combination of lemon juice and direct heating.

Grab a paintbrush and your lemon juice and place your paper on a flat surface. You can either paint it just onto the edges or across the whole sheet. You can also use a spatter effect by flicking the juice over the page.

Keep in mind that wherever you place the liquid is going to be much darker than the spots where the liquid isn’t present.

Once you’re happy with your design, grab a heat gun or a hairdryer on high and start heating the paper. As the heat reacts with the juice, the page will become browned where you’ve placed the lemon juice. A longer heating time equals a darker result.

We call this “lemon juice burning” since the high acidity of the lemon burns the paper making the rich brown color.

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Method #4: How to Make Paper Look Old Without Liquid

For this technique, you’ll want to start with a brown craft paper instead of the nicer art paper. Cut the paper to the size you need and go to destroying it.

Crumble the paper in your hands into a tight ball and then smooth it out. Do this again until you get some nice solid wrinkling in there. Then take an iron and go over the paper a few times to flatten it out again. The heat will make the paper more pliable and easy to work with.

Once it is warm, go ahead and crumple it a few more times, making sure to flatten it in between. Keep doing this until you have a fully distressed look, and then go over it with the iron again.

Once you have you achieve your distressing design goal, then you’ll go about beating up the edges. Place something smaller than your paper but with some weight to it on top of the flattened page. You’ll only be able to access the edge of the paper.

Using something rounded and very smooth so it doesn’t snag the paper (a toy car works well, or even the rounded edge of a chunky paintbrush or hairbrush), start rubbing it on the edges of the paper. You’ll notice the edges curling up and off the surface. They may even start to tear a bit, which is perfectly fine.

This process simulates the natural aging that occurs when numerous people handle the page. Once you’re happy with the look, remove it from under the heavy object.

How to Make Paper Look Old With a Lighter

Burning paper with a lighter
Image by Canva Photos

Once you’ve finished those steps, you can certainly stop if you’re going for a more subtle aging. But, to really bring it home, you’ll want to burn the edges.

Light piece by piece if you want to target specific areas. Or, roll the piece of paper up into a loose cylinder and take a lighter, and light the edges on fire. Blow it out quickly to not burn up the whole page.

Do this to the other side of the roll as well. Now you have something that genuinely looks like it’s been through the wringer.

How to Make Paper Look Old With Paint

So, maybe you want old looking paper, but you don’t want the whole piece to look old. Or maybe you don’t want to actually destroy the paper or wear it down. Maybe you want to make a canvas look like an old parchment, so you can’t do any of the above methods.

You can also make paper look old using paint and art tricks to fool the eye.

You’ll want to use a few different shades of brown to achieve an aged effect. Try to use at least three varying shades.

Apply the paints in all different directions. You’ll want to add the paint in layers. Start with a dark layer first and remain inconsistent in your brush strokes. Before the layer is dry, begin working in a lighter color, then back to darker, and then lighter again.

Keep playing with the paint until you have achieved the look you want. You want to let the brush stroke show through so you can wait different amounts of time between each layer — allowing some to dry more than others.

How to Make Paper Look Old With Colored Pencils

Suppose you don’t have paint and only have colored pencils. In that case, you can still achieve a pretty cool aged technique by combining colored pencils with solvents. The technique will be similar to paint but instead, you’ll use different brown colors of colored pencil and then paint over them using a solvent.

The result ends up looking more like watercolor in the end.

Using a solvent like turpentine or mineral spirits allows your colored pencils to take on a rich, vivid appearance. If you use a solvent containing linseed oil, it will break down the paper itself, making it look more aged.

Apply several layers of different colors in a variety of directions before attempting the solvent. Then using a paintbrush or q-tip, begin application. You’ll notice the colors begin to breakdown and start to become smooth and move around.

Play with it until you achieve the desired look.

What Will You Use Your Newly Aged Paper For?

Now that you have some amazing aged paper, what will you use it for? A pirate’s treasure hunt? A scavenger hunt with the kiddos? A hand writ poem to your beloved? The sky is the limit.

We hope this gave you some great ideas on how to make paper look old.


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