How To Artificially Age Paper (Nerd Series)

Why Would Anyone Do Such A Crazy, Odd Thing?

There are several reasons that someone would want to artificially age paper (or at least give the appearance of age).

1) Letters – Some people like to make their letters look old, as if they were sent a long time ago.

2) Maps – For writers, giving the map of our fictional world a aged appearance makes it look much more authentic.

3) Languages – Whether it’s a fictional language or just a really cool, old language you’re using, making the paper look old gives it an ancient feel.

4) Pulling Off An Art Heist – Comes really useful when stealing an ancient piece of art. Aging the copy’s paper to the same texture and quality of the original makes it easier to go undetected by the cops.

5) Anything else you can think of.

The Two Most Common Methods:

Tea: One of the most common methods of giving paper the appearance of age is to soak it in black tea. I can testify that this does indeed work, and it gives the paper a fine, authentic aged color.

  1. To do this, make a large batch of black tea. (I used Lipton Tea).
  2. Get two baking trays that are larger than the paper, and have raised edges on every side.
  3. Pour in the tea. 
  4.  Next, take your paper and lay it flat on the surface of the tea. Allow it to sink to the bottom.. Try as hard as you can to smooth out any wrinkles in the paper. This may cause some of the tea to pool on that part of the paper, giving it a much darker stain than the rest of the sheet.
  5. Wait a while, and you will have a nicely stained, parchment-looking sheet of paper. The exact amount of waiting you will have to do just depends upon the type of paper and the tea. Experiment a while with that paper type before doing this on anything you want to actually use.
  6.  Note: this does not actually age the paper; instead, it simply stains the paper to give it an aged look.

Some people say you can also use coffee for this, but as I’ve never tried that, I can’t recommend it for use.

Another method some people use with tea is to simply smear the teabag across the paper.

Heat: Another common method is by simply baking the paper. The one time I tried to do this, it simply didn’t work. Most paper that you buy these days is designed to resist catching on fire and aging. Feel free to experiment on your own, though. You can also use a cigarette lighter to slightly burn the edges of the paper to give it a crisp look. Hold the flame far enough so that it effects the paper, but not close enough to catch it on fire. You will most definitely want to experiment with the type of paper you are going to use before using this method on anything you want to keep.

Note: Be VERY CAUTIOUS around heat and open flames!!! Do not catch your house on fire!!!!

A Couple Less Common Methods:

Vinegar and steel wool: This sounds a bit odd, and there is good reason for that. This method involves vinegar, a jar (Mason jar or pickle jar), and fine steel wool. Doing this will take a lot longer than any other method, but has produced the best results that I’ve seen.

1 mason jar or pickle jar.


Steel Wool. (Find the finest kind that you can, as it will react with the vinegar quicker. Note that “fine” in this case means ‘thin’ not ‘expensive’.)

If you use a smaller mason jar, then only put one half of a roll of steel wool. Otherwise, not all of it will react and you will be left with a mucky mess of half-rusted steel floating in the jar. Not pretty and isn’t very useful. Pour the vinegar into the jar and plop the roll into it. Do not seal the jar completely. Otherwise the expanding gases will bend it, pop it off, or shatter the glass. Next, find a room that there will not be a great deal of thru traffic in. A basement would work. The fumes are a wee bit weird and caused me a dry throat and nose, as well as a headache. Now you wait for a couple weeks for all of the steel wool and vinegar to react and create the solution you need. Experimenting with the precise amounts and waiting times is encouraged.

Next comes the application. A paintbrush seems to do the job pretty well. Make sure it is a stiff brush. I would not advise using this brush for anything else, or using a brush that has already been used in another project. Another possibility is soaking a paper towel into the solution and rubbing it onto the paper. Only do this if you do not have a paintbrush, though. Apply the solution evenly and generously, taking care to not tear the paper.

Now hang it somewhere and let it air. (A clothesline or similar set-up will work.) After just a few minutes you should start to see the effects. This method produces, by far, the best appearance I have seen.

Before you ask me why the heck I am performing weird experiments with chemicals, this is actually a technique used by carpenters to stain wood. So don’t fret about my sanity. Well, feel free to, but not in this respect. :-D

Waiting: I have found another, very efficient method of aging paper. However, this method requires half a decade or so and a bunch of sitting around,  so I wouldn’t be my first suggestion.

That’s all, folks!

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