My son wants to have a treasure hunt themed birthday party (we'll be geocaching at a local park). For the invitations, he wants pirate treasure maps to tell guests where to go.

I'm going to be typing up the directions and information and map and printing multiple copies. What paper should I use (compatible with a printer or copier), and what dye could I apply (presumably after printing) to make these "maps" look aged, handled by many generations of pirates?


4 Answers 4


tl;dr: tea!

Yup, that's right, good ole' Lipton (or whatever other type of black tea you happen to have on hand). Diluted coffee can also work, but will smell like, well, coffee-stained paper.

Note that this shouldn't be used on inkjet printouts, as inkjet ink isn't waterproof. So I would suggest printing out the master map (in black and white) and heading out to your local office supply store to make copies.

After applying the tea, you can hang up the maps to dry. The paper will get crinkly, but that's actually a good thing for this application. If they get too crinkly, apply a cool iron (barely above its lowest setting) to smooth them back out.

As a final step, go out to your garage (or a similar well-ventilated but sheltered spot) and use a candle or a lighter to burn away the edges of the maps. Keep a bucket of water handy, just in case. Don't go overboard - just do the corners and a little bit of a few edges. After blowing out the flames, break off most of the black stuff, leaving only a browned, ragged edge.

Note that the results will not be archival: tea is acidic. But for a prop for a birthday party, that shouldn't be an issue.

  • +1: exactly what I would have said. Welcome to Arts & Crafts! :-) Commented May 24, 2016 at 0:20
  • Seems like just the right liquid to use (and I often have leftover teabags). How do I apply the tea -- splashes, brush it on, sort of dunk the paper into a flat pan of tea?
    – Erica
    Commented May 24, 2016 at 1:00
  • @erica Flat pan is what most do. Lay the sheet in a shallow pool but don't cover it. Paper will soak what it needs to. But to get a non uniform effect you can do a secondary coat with erratic brushing or flicking it off with your hands onto the paper.
    – Matt
    Commented May 24, 2016 at 1:15
  • @Erica, I'd try the "dunk into a flat pan" method - no chance of tell-tale brush marks that way.
    – Martha
    Commented May 24, 2016 at 1:15

Dye (coffee, tea), acid (vinegar or lemon juice), and heat (oven baking) are the typical methods for 'aging' paper, but they're also much more liable to make the paper more brittle, so if you are going to go the DIY route, you may want to start with a lighter hand on a few trial sheets and see if you can still run them through the printer.

You might also want to consider simply using a parchment-looking paper (most office supply stores have some form of this type of paper) or printing a parchment design on the paper instead, and simply cutting/burning a more ragged edge, if these maps have to stand up to kid-handling for a long period of time.

  1. Add a teabag to about 1/2 cup hot water and wait a few minutes for the water to darken.

  2. Using a paintbrush, paint the paper with the tea

  3. Dry the paper using a blow drier. This way you can blow the tea around a bit which makes the paper look more "naturally" aged.

    You may choose to do another coat of tea if you are wanting to darken the color.

  4. Depending on the look you are going for gently burn the edges with a lighter. Blowing the flame out resulted in the best effect. But just in case have a wet cloth (with excess water squeezed out) on hand.

  5. Once completely dry, the paper is ready to write/draw on just like normal paper.


When burning the edges, holding the paper at different angles to slightly smoke stain it also helps complete the look. (Of course be careful you don't set the entire piece of paper on fire.)

I find burning most of the edges but leaving some parts not burnt looked quite good.

  • This sounds very much the same as Martha's answer
    – Matt
    Commented Oct 27, 2016 at 14:20
  • 1
    @Matt This one has some specific details not in the other answer: Amount of tea, use a paintbrush, tips on burning. Very helpful.
    – user24
    Commented Oct 28, 2016 at 5:02

Tea or coffee will dye it brown, but it won't look that realistic. You can try burning the edges, but that looks fake, and you can easily burn off too much. I've found that brushing paper with vinegar and baking it at 250º F for about half an hour works well, although it had a slightly funky smell to it.

If your going this route, you should make sure to do any sort of writing first, because it can ruin your pens if you write on it after baking with acid. Also, don't use water-based pens— they will smear.

The paper will be acidic. It will not be archival. If you want something archival, you should probably get out some watercolors and go that route, which gives you much more control.

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