For several applications, I don’t like the cool look of modern bright white paper. For some valuable prints, I prefer natural white paper without optical brightening agents. In some cases, however, I also want the paper to look old. Therefore, I am looking for a technique to age paper.

The paper should look like a page in an old book, not just yellow like paper with optical brightening agents that was exposed to the sun. The result of artificial aging should resemble naturally aged paper. However, the “forged document” does not have to stand up to forensic analysis. Preferably, the process should not leave any residue that isn’t naturally found in old paper. Thus, I don’t want to simply stain or dye the paper (e.g. with coffee, tea, or brown watercolour). The use of volatile chemicals would be acceptable.

The artificial aging should not unnecessarily damage the paper. The paper should not become warped and wavy (cockled).

The content of the paper is written or printed in black (calligraphy ink, woodcut, letterpress printing, or laser printing). Some fading or discoloration of the black content would be acceptable or could be even desirable.

(Note that the question “How can I prevent my drawings and paper from yellowing over time?” is about the opposite situation.)

  • 4
    Is there a reason you're not simply using unbleached paper? If you don't want white... don't buy white paper. – Catija May 23 '16 at 16:10
  • Depending on what you going for this could be a very involved topic. The type of paper you are using is also important. Heat, humidity, presence of air pollutants and other factors all play a part in the reactions that occur in papers naturally over time. There are also several chemical processes, like acid hydrolysis, the play there part. Surely playing with these in a controlled environment will get the result you desire. I think, if nothing else, you might need to get specific about what paper you would be using. – Matt May 23 '16 at 17:08
  • Also, you could cheat your entire process if you are only looking for a few pages. Old books usually have a page or two that is intentionally left blank in the beginning or end of the book itself. This way you can have authentically aged paper. – Matt May 23 '16 at 17:12
  • As Catija said, is there a reason you're not using paper of the desired color? There ain't no law that you have to buy paper that has optical brightening agents. Many art supply stores will sell you a sample pack of their papers, which will give you more colors and weights to pick from than you'll know what to do with. Or are these prints that you're buying from someone else? There must be a fundamental detail that we're not understanding, because "bright white paper" is just not a problem that's imposed on you unless you get your supplies at the office store or something. – Martha May 24 '16 at 3:02
  • Very old books often't made from paper at all but may be processed animal skins (vellum or parchment) or linen (as many banknotes still are today). The most easily available modern equivalent is paper with a high cotton fibre content, this is usually available in various off-white shades. It is also a lot more robust than wood pulp paper and so is better suited to mechanical distressing – Chris Johns May 26 '16 at 12:14

Place the paper in a sealed box or plastic bag together with an open jar with a bit of ammoniac in it and leave it. The fumes will ages it (works good with wood too).

Another way is to bake the paper at around 100 degr C (200F). It will give you an even brown colour.

You can put some steel wool together with vinigar in a jar and leave it for a week or 2. Then apply it to the paper and let it dry. It will give a nice yellowish colour. This method also works very good to stain wood.

  • 1
    Nice suggestions -- I just want to add the fact that baking the paper has the potential of damaging it. I did that once and it became brittle and flaky. Perhaps I used too high a temperature or something, though – Nick Weinberg Jun 23 '16 at 22:43
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    @NickWeinberg -- Indeed it has the risk to damage the paper if you want to do it to quickly. Do it at a faily low temperature. – Janw Jun 24 '16 at 6:08

The only way you're going to be able to "forge a document" to look natural, without leaving any artificial residue that isn't naturally found in old paper, is by letting it age naturally over time. You might be able to speed the process slightly with:

  • direct sunlight
  • heat (maybe by leaving it in a closed up car on the dash)
  • smoke
  • natural oils/dirt from being handled frequently without gloves
  • dust from places like attic storage
  • small spots of water damage on a corner or two of the paper that one may get from basement storage

An old paper could get its look from being folded repeatedly, or having the edges of it rubbed on a rough surface. Older documents and paper also have a certain smell to them from coming into contact with all of these different environmental "toxins", it's a musty sort of wet/moldy scent. I've seen a lot of paperwork age quite quickly from not being cared for or protected from the natural elements, in these ways.

  • It sounds like you could leave it on the dash of the car of a heavy smoker! I was definitely going to suggest some sunlight, especially if it is not an acid free paper. – BrownRedHawk Jun 17 '16 at 14:45

Place the paper you want to make look old between 2 pieces of glass, and put it in open sunlight. The paper gets its old look within days.

  • 1
    This seems an interesting technique! Do you have any pictures or links to information about it? I'd love to see how this aging process compares in look to others. – Web Head Jun 17 '16 at 19:47

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