how to age paper headerIf you read my “March ATCs” post, you know I lean to the distressed side of art.

I recently had a conversation with someone who wondered how I achieved the look of aged paper with those images. When he was completely surprised by my answer, I decided I should share my two “secret weapons.”

The first secret weapon is found at every thrift store in the USA: really old books. The paper from old books is difficult to duplicate and cheap old books are easy to find.

I know. Some people feel it’s sacrilege to destroy any book.

I think of it as saving books from an undignified death in a landfill. ;)

But when it comes to printing images from my computer, there are two problems with old book pages: 1) they have all these words printed all over them, and 2) they’re generally too fragile to survive my laserjet.

So secret weapon #2: wood stain.

minwax wood finish stain marker Yep, wood stain. In particular, Minwax Wood Finish Stain Markers. My top color choice is “Golden Oak.” All of the other colors I’ve tried are too dark for overall aging (though they come in handy when adding stains and smudges).


printoutsHere’s how the image starts — printed on standard computer paper.


coloringAs a safety precaution, I add the stain on the reverse side of my printout. Both sides of the paper get soaked, but working on the reverse side helps keep the marker tip from smudging any heavily inked area.


dryingOnce the image is covered with the stain marker, I gently buff it dry (both sides of the page) with a paper towel.


translucencyAs you may have noticed in earlier steps, the stain causes the paper to be translucent. Most of this translucency disappears when the stain dries. Most, but not all.

Because of this translucency, when mounting “stained” images on a collage, I usually mount on a light-colored background. When I do use a dark background, I paint the back of the stained image with a light coat of white acrylic paint. The paint doesn’t greatly alter the look of the image, but it prevents the dark background from showing through.


after drying/comparisonHere’s a comparison of the original printout and the stained one.


other colorsWhile “Golden Oak” is my primary stain color, I do use other colors (such as “Provincial”, “Red Mahogany”, and “Dark Walnut”) for adding spots, spills, darkened edges, etc.

Then, once the the staining is done, it’s on to the standard tearing and crumpling. ;)


aging paper finished piece