How to Make a Realistic Old Paper Graphic from Scratch in GIMP 2.8

If you’re making old maps, newspapers, or charts, try this quick way to make an old paper graphic in GIMP 2.8. Check out the embedded video for a demonstration, or scroll down for a step-by-step guide.  I’ve provided links to GIMP 2.8 support pages to identify most tools and processes; all these open in a new tab.

Start with a new image; the size is up to you, but give yourself some room to work. I needed one that was 700×490.

Background Color

Create a new layer above the background (the folded paper icon at the bottom left of the layers window is a shortcut for this) and name it “Background Color.” Use the bucket tool to fill the selection with a brownish yellow or sepia tone. I dragged the hue slider to the redder region of yellow, then dropped the coordinates in the lower right where it begins to turn gray. The html notation I used is cbbd85.

Define Your Edges

Select all with ctrl+a, then go to Selection > Shrink and move the selection 20 pixels from the border. That’s the rough shape. Then click Select > Distort; set the spread to 20 and granularity to 3. This will make it look like the page is torn and ragged.
Invert the selection (ctrl+i) and delete the border from the shape.


Add Folds and Creases

Add a new transparent layer and name it “Crinkles” – just like your pet goldfish. Reset the colors and grab the gradient or “blend” tool with the Bi-linear pattern and drag it over the image once. Now set the Blend mode to “Difference” (be sure to set this back before the next time you use the tool) and drag the gradient over the layer around 15 to 20 more times, using the Bi-linear and Radial patterns.

Go to Filters > Distorts > Emboss; set the Depth > 2; defaults are fine for “Azimuth” and “Elevation.”  Looks a bit more like paper now, doesn’t it?

Go to Colors > Curves and set the curves to follow the left side of the color profile on the graph. That will smooth out some of the wrinkles and make the folds more pronounced.
Set the “Crinkles” layer mode to overlay.

Naturalize the Colors

No aged paper has the exact same color by hexcode throughout. To create natural irregularities in the color, create a new layer and name it “Plasma.”  Go to Filters > Render > Clouds > Plasma, and the default settings are fine. Now go to Colors > Desaturate, and the default settings are fine.  Now set that layer mode to overlay.

Add Stains

Let’s make this paper look like it’s seen some things. Add a new layer and name it “Stains.” Reset your foreground color and go to Edit > Stroke Selection, using a blur radius of about 9 pixels. Then go to Filters > Blur > Gaussian Blur, and set the width to at least 75 pixels, depending on your original image size. Notice that the blur only applies to the color inside the selection.

Now go to the paintbrush tool and add some spots and smudges with some of the brushes. You can download a variety of different brush patters for GIMP 2.8 for this purpose, but if you want to stick with the ones available by default, I recommend Texture Hose and Oils.

The key with any brush you use for this purpose is to only click it on the page once – the human brain is really good at spotting patterns. Set the brush size pretty large relative to your image size, several hundred pixels in this case.

Set the layer mode to overlay. Notice that the black border outside of the selection disappears as it overlays with the white background layer. If the stains don’t show up well, duplicate the layer with the shortcut button below the layers.How to Make Old Paper in GIMP 2.8

And that’s it!

If this tutorial was helpful, let us know!  Tell us in the comments how you used this GIMP tutorial for your graphic design needs.


Check out our next GIMP 2.8 tutorial, “How to Make a Newspaper Clipping,” for more advanced paper-making techniques.

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