Does anyone know how/if you can fade the color from pages in for example old guidebooks with very strong colored photos? - and without using any chemicals.

I’ve tried using sandpaper or a hard brush, but it smudges the colors more than ideal, and also quite time consuming. I’m aware of fading the papers in the sun, but even more time consuming :-)

I would like to fade the pages, so that I can use them as notepaper while still keeping a slight view of the original photos.

Anyone with suggestions or experiences? Thanks!

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    If the original was printed with toner (by a laser printer) I don't think bleaching in the sun works. Toner basically creates a thin colored plastic layer fused with the paper. AFAIK black toner is extremely lightstable and might actually be more stable than paper in sunlight.
    – Elmy
    Apr 3, 2020 at 5:55
  • @Elmy I've certainly seen fading in laminated black laser-printed stuff left in the sun for long periods, but I don't understand why, because the black is basically pure carbon. Colour toner can be expected to fade, especially reds, as the dyes absorb light. Coloured plastic does after all fade in the sun - think of garden toys
    – Chris H
    Apr 7, 2020 at 7:25

2 Answers 2


I agree with Elmy's comment. Not just toner, but most commercial inks are probably more stable than the paper they're printed on. It would be hard to substantially bleach the printing without affecting the paper.

If you just want the image as a light background, you could scan it, lighten it with image processing software, and print it as a faint background on fresh paper.

Another approach you could try is give the pages a very light misting of white paint or semi-pigmented white wood stain. It would be a challenge to get a uniform coating of the desired transparency; it would be worth practicing on some sacrificial pages. It's also likely to affect writeability, so you might need to experiment with different kinds of pens, markers, and pencils to see what writes on it acceptably.

Your comment suggests something else you could try. There is super-fine grit sandpaper (e.g., 2000 grit and higher), that's used for polishing. You could try very gently buffing the paper with that. It will remove some of the surface and the ink on it. However, this will also affect the surface of the paper and change it's writing characteristics, so you might need to experiment with pens, markers, and pencils to see what works best.

I just tried that using 2000 grit sandpaper on a pretty page from a magazine (high quality photo printing on shiny coated paper). The results were awful. In this case, the colors might have been laid down sequentially, so rather than lightening everything evenly, it removed almost all of one color before attacking the next color. Getting it light enough to be a background for writing, the result was ugly, unrecognizable blotches of color. Also, the printing is only microns thick, so it's impossible to remove it evenly; by the time it was reasonably light, the printing was full of blotchy holes, where almost all of the printing had been removed. So YMMV depending on the type of paper and the nature of the printing.

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    Thank you so much for both of your input! Most of the pages are from old guidebooks, so there’s definitely some kind of layer to them. My idea was also to sustain and reuse some of the beautiful paper that I already have, and therefore scanning and printing again would not be ideal. But covering it with paint or wood stain may work! I’m also looking into if some whether a tool exist where you could actually kind of gently polish the paper.
    – Mia
    Apr 5, 2020 at 11:06
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    @Mia perhaps try polishing with a slurry of baking soda on a cloth. Making the slurry with water may work, but you could also try water or denatured alcohol. Different inks may require different liquids.
    – Chris H
    Apr 7, 2020 at 7:27

Many inks fade in sunlight, but reds tend to fade worse than blues as red ink absorbs blue light, and blue light has more energy (per photon) to cause chemical reactions. So this is unlikely to give an even fade. It's still worth a try, perhaps on a less beautiful page. If you have a UV lamp, either for curing resin or a sunbed, that would speed up the process, while putting the paper under glass will slow it down and perhaps change the evenness of the fade.

Some prints will wash in alcohols (rubbing alcohol is largely isopropanol, while denatured alcohol sold as a solvent or fuel is mainly ethanol).

Unfortunately a solution for one print process could be completely useless on another.

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